A new study on the way songbirds learn to sing has piqued researchers’ interest for what it might teach us about how humans learn to talk – and more specifically, about how to tackle certain speech disorders.
Children who struggle with communication development may be diagnosed with language and speech disorders if they are unable to vocalize words or understand what is being said to them. Some common childhood speech disorders include:
- Articulation disorder. This is when children have trouble making certain sounds correctly.
- Apraxia of speech. This is when the motor programming system for speech production is affected, making speech difficult (specifically, sequencing and forming sounds).
- Fragile X syndrome. This is a genetic disorder most common among boys with intellectual disabilities or autism or Down syndrome. It can be mild or severe, and is associated with repetition of words or phrases, difficulties with speech pragmatics and cluttered speech.
- Stuttering. This is when there are involuntary repetitions, interruptions or hesitation of speech.
This new research by biologists at UCLA, published in the journal eLife, may shed some insight into what causes certain speech disorders and how to resolve them. It involved examining how songbirds learn to sing (their way of communicating with one another), and how certain genetic factors might hinder that process.
A child who struggles to explore their environment on the same level of their peers due to a gross motor delay may struggle on other fronts too, including cognitive development and behavioral challenges.
Recently, the journal Physical Therapy published a study determining that gross motor delays were associated with problem daytime behaviors and quality of life issues for children with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers examined cross-sectional, retrospective data of more than 3,200 children between the ages of 2 and 6 diagnosed with ASD. They found that children who struggled more with gross motor skills had more daytime problem behaviors. So when the goal is targeting problem behaviors for children with ASD, researchers concluded it’s important not to overlook the possible need for physical therapy.
Children with a wide range of conditions and diagnoses may have gross motor delays, which are those skills involving the large muscles of the arms, legs and torso. Gross motor skill delays might become apparent when a child is learning to crawl, sit, walk, run, throw a ball or balance. All kids reach developmental milestones at varying increments, but those who are far behind can benefit from physical therapy to help them catch up.
Gross motor skill delays can be linked to any number of conditions – or may exist independently of anything else. Untreated, these delays can impact your child’s ability to reach their full potential.
Power to the puppets!
For children with a range of difficulties and disabilities, our speech and occupational therapists in Fort Myers have seen striking benefits in working with puppets during our sessions with kids. Puppets, first and foremost, are fun (who doesn’t love Sesame Street?). But they can also help us engage children in ways they might otherwise struggle, namely in peer-to-peer and child-to-adult interactions. They can also help kids better understand certain functional roles and responsibilities in everyday life.
Puppets can be an entertaining yet powerful visual to help us illustrate action-word vocabulary or spatial concepts. As speech and occupational therapists, we can use puppets to help teach the rules of conversation, general social interaction and causal connections. A puppet might “forget” they shouldn’t interrupt or talk so loudly or push to the front of the line. Puppets can be frustrated, sad or angry about something, and it allows the child to explore those complicated feelings and situations without being overwhelmed – because puppets are inherently silly too. They also tend to be more effective than a two-dimensional picture because they rely on visual, audible and tactile senses.
You may have heard your occupational therapist use the term “sensory diet.” It’s how we describe those activities employed to help assist children with sensory processing disorder. The technical term for these activities is “sensory integration intervention.” Many children with autism spectrum disorder are also diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, but not everyone with SPD has ASD (or visa versa).
Here in Southwest Florida, the beach is a main draw for tourists and residents alike. Our occupational therapists know it’s a great place to help your child feed their sensory diet.. Exploring sensory input – from the gritty sand to the bubbly waves – can provide just the right amount of stimulation and calming for your child, and it can be adapted depending on your child’s needs.
Communication delays occur when a child doesn’t meet key milestones that would reflect typical speech development.
For example, by 8 months, a child should be responding to their name and recognizing themselves in a mirror. By 12 months, they should be saying a couple of words, recognizing familiar sounds and pointing to objects. By 18 months, they should have 10-to-20 words and start to combine two word phrases (i.e., “all gone,” “bye-bye, momma,” etc.). (All this is established by researchers at The University of Michigan, and these milestones are pretty standard and widely accepted.)
If your child isn’t meeting these milestones, our pediatric speech therapists would encourage you to raise the concern with your pediatrician or seek a free consultation from one of our therapists to determine if intervention may be necessary. The effect of a communication delay goes far beyond just not being able to say words. Too often, communication delays spur behavior problems.
Really if you think about it, behavior IS communication – perhaps the most basic form of it. Tempers, tears, tantrums – even if it seems nonsensical to adults – these are ways children communicate their needs to adults. As they grow older and their communication skills expand, they no longer need to resort to those behaviors to ensure their needs are met. They can point to objects. They can request things. They can say no. They can understand there are times they must wait (even if they don’t like it). Children with communication delays – those who are impaired in their ability to communicate with others and to understand when people are communicating with them – are going to lag in developing those same coping mechanisms, and that means the behavior problems will continue. Speech therapy and ABA (applied behavioral analysis) can help them catch up.
At FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers, we understand that when children are lagging behind developmentally, interconnected services are vital to helping them catch up. For instance, children with language delays who clearly need speech therapy many times also benefit from occupational therapy to work on things like improved social interaction or classroom skills. Children with conditions like autism, down syndrome, brain injuries or ADHD struggle with speech, but also need ABA therapy to help curb problem behaviors. Similarly, occupational therapy helps them master self-care (i.e., brushing their teeth, feeding themselves, managing their time, etc.), while physical therapy is effective in helping them accomplish those goals by strengthening key muscle groups.
The benefit of interconnected services was recently further underscored in a study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Study authors found that when a child’s fine motor skills improved, so too did their vocabulary development – to a pretty significant degree. Researchers concluded this lends credence to the “nimble hands, nimble minds” theory of child development.
The “nimble hands, nimble minds” theory is that when we focus on improving a child’s motor skills (i.e., using hands to manipulate a puzzle, grasp a pencil, cut with scissors, etc.), we will also boost cognitive learning. One reason is that kids tend to “get it” more when the cognitive skill sets we’re trying to teach are rooted in some kind of hands-on physical activity. So for example, when our FOCUS therapists are teaching a child to understand and communicate about spacial concepts (over, under, in, out, bigger, smaller, etc.), we will usually do so through some form of physical play, like building blocks or coloring or putting a puzzle together or climbing into a ball pit. Because we have rooted the cognitive lesson in a physical action, the child is more likely to retain it (and have fun doing it!).
FOCUS is gearing up to begin offering applied behavioral analysis, or ABA therapy (behavior therapy), to children in Southwest Florida. ABA is one of the most effective early intervention treatments for children with autism spectrum disorder and other conditions. Behavior therapy rewards positive behavior, and can be applied to a host of life aspects, including nutrition.
A 2014 study of 6,000 children and teens on the autism spectrum revealed they are more than twice as likely to be overweight and five times as likely to be obese as their typical peers, which in turn translates to many other associated health issues. A more recent study of nearly 50,000 children with autism in the U.S. revealed much higher rates of conditions often associated with obesity, including high cholesterol and hypertension.
Researchers speculate there could be several different issues going on. Things that can make them susceptible to unhealthy eating patterns include:
- Heightened senses;
- Aversion to new tastes and textures;
- Higher rates of gastrointestinal and sleep issues;
- Higher likelihood of being on medications for anxiety, depression or epilepsy that can affect weight gain;
- Fondness for routine.
Further, they tend to have social and motor skill impairments and have an affinity for screen time, which can result in limited physical activity. What’s especially concerning is that a 2015 study found that unlike a lot of typical children who outgrow their weight problems in their teens, children with autism too often do not. We aim to help change that.
Researchers at Florida State University’s School of Communication Science and Disorders just announced a breakthrough study regarding anticipated speech therapy for children with hearing loss.
Teaming up with a group of international scientists and accessing high-tech brain scans and algorithms, the researchers were able to ascertain which parts of the brain were most associated with speech learning among children with cochlear implants. By identifying this, the team hopes to develop a tool to help more accurately predict which children would need more intensive speech therapy.
The study was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, and the hope is that the findings of this research will help parents and clinicians identify more quickly which children are going to need a regimen of more speech therapy and speech-language support once they have had a cochlear implant.
Handwriting is a part of our daily lives, whether we’re jotting down a shopping list or taking important notes at a meeting or filling out forms at a bank. Right or wrong, people make judgments about us based on our handwriting, and a failure to conquer this skill can prove a hindrance in basic tasks. Fort Myers occupational therapists at FOCUS are committed to helping children in Southwest Florida master the skill of handwriting.
January 23rd marked the recognition of National Handwriting Day, as designated by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association in 1977 – coinciding with John Hancock’s birthday. (You may remember from history class John Hancock was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence who infamously penned his signature in an over-large font).
It’s not just our signature that says a lot about us. Handwriting is a form of communication, and our occupational therapists believe it’s essential for the promotion of clear thought. Issues with handwriting can be a red flag of certain developmental problems in children, and it can potentially hinder one’s ability to learn because so many instructors rely heavily on written coursework to grade progress. While it’s true that an increasing amount of our communications are conducted via keyboard these days, handwriting has not been abandoned. We see it in medical notes, prescriptions, journalistic work and more. The ability to write legibly helps us not just in student coursework, but in many tasks of everyday living – and that’s ultimately what occupational therapy is all about.
Play dates are often a welcome respite for many parents, offering an opportunity for the adults to interact as much as the children. What many parents may not realize, though, is that these are golden opportunities to model socialization for your child. Our speech therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers recognize that children learn most from us as role models by watching us, and then practicing it for themselves. For a child who is struggling to socialize, play dates can be so beneficial.