There are lullabies that promise pretty horses and twinkling stars and some over-the-rainbow places where dreams-come-true. But pediatric music and speech therapy researchers have learned that lullabies may hold another promise: Better health for premature babies.
Recent analysis shows a parent who sing to preemies still receiving treatment in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can:
- Soothe a child amid scary new sensations and hospital noises, bonding parent-to-child.
- Regulate breathing and improve oxygen absorption for those who haven’t yet developed reflexive breathing.
- Boost a baby’s nutritional intake, imperative for those with immature oral-facial muscles struggling to suck and swallow
Speech Therapy Pros: Preemies – All Babies – Need Your Voice
At our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy clinic, we treat many children born prematurely, as they are at much higher risk of neurodevelopmental difficulties. The earlier we intervene the better, but encourage parents to start first. Even the simple act of talking regularly to your child from a young age can do wonders.
For a premature baby, lullabies serve much the same purpose – but with power that extends beyond just speech and language development extending to objectively improved odds at survival for babies born at 37 weeks or earlier.
A 2013 study published in Pediatrics found that a parent’s lullabies or even just humming – gentle and rhythmic – played to the backdrop of low guitar strings reduced stress levels and promoted bonding, as evidenced by:
- Regulated babies’ heartbeats;
- Promoted longer, deeper periods of sleep;
- Improved weight gain;
- Shorter hospital stays;
- Better long-term cognitive development and function.
Down syndrome, the most common chromosomal disorder in the world, affects 1 in every 700 children, or about 6,000 annually, a figure representing a 30 percent increase since the 1970s, according to the CDC.
Our Fort Myers speech therapists routinely treat children with Down syndrome, who frequently experience challenges to speech and language development. At minimum, speech is usually delayed, though many can be taught effective sign language to help with communication the first few years and beyond.
Most children with Down syndrome can benefit from speech therapy
Exact challenges and goals for speech therapy often vary depending the severity of certain physiological traits inherent in those with Down syndrome as well as whether they have co-occurring other conditions (to which they are prone) like hearing and vision problems, epilepsy and autism.
Early Intervention Speech, Occupational, ABA Therapy Preparing Wave of People With Autism for Workforce
As rates of autism diagnoses climb steadily, roughly 500,000 teens with autism are poised to enter the workforce over the next decade, according to advocates at Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism. Yet the majority of those people with autism struggle to land their first job, and 4 in 10 won’t work at all in their 20s. The spectrum is incredibly broad, so each comes to the table with their own strengths and challenges, but there is no question those who receive early intervention ABA therapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy fare much better long-term.
Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated autism prevalence rates by 15 percent to 1 in 59 children. That’s more than double what the rate was in 2000. Part of this has to do with improved awareness, earlier diagnoses and improved treatment models. Research published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health indicated early diagnosis (before 24 months, as early as 12 months) leads to earlier eligibility for intervention services (like ABA therapy), and other evidence-based research has indicated clear indication early intervention is causally related to better prognoses – including success in education and employment.
The AFFA reports that while most adults with autism want to work, fewer than 60 percent can land a job. The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability. Yet an adult deprived of early intervention therapies as a child has missed out on a critical development window to address significant challenges associated with everyday function and independence. This isn’t to say it’s ever entirely “too late” to initiate intervention strategies, but our ABA therapy team members know it’s most effective when it starts before age 5 (and the earlier the better).
Premature babies (aka “preemies”) born earlier than the 37th week of pregnancy, are more likely to survive today even compared to the 1990s – and they are more likely to have less severe disabilities. That’s according to research published in the British Medical Journal. Globally, about 15 million babies every year are born before the 37th week, placing them at higher risk for conditions like cerebral palsy, delayed language, speech and motor skills. Study authors further concluded preemies who receive early intervention therapy have a much better chance of catching up to their peers.
Preemies are already starting out behind the curve. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of serious illness and disability. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports preemies who survive those early weeks and months in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) may still struggle with breathing trouble, intestinal/digestive problems (including feeding and swallowing) and developmental delays. About half of all children born more than eight weeks early or at a very low birth weight develop problems with language, learning and executive function.
As our FOCUS Fort Myers therapy team can explain, early intervention therapy involves a combination of separate but interrelated services, tailored to meet the specific needs of each child, with the core aim of helping a child develop skills that will allow them to reach their full potential. This generally includes some combination of speech and language therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Although many preemies benefit from this therapy up to age 5 and sometimes beyond, commitment to therapy now reduces the struggles preemies will face down the road.
Our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists must admit: We were a little heartbroken upon learning there would be no more Sweethearts Conversation Candy Hearts this Valentine’s Day (MISS U!). In addition to the fact they can be used in a bunch of fun kids’ speech-language therapy exercises, we had a great idea for a special speech therapy line: TALK 2 ME. I LUV SPCH. WORD UP. LETS LINGO. I HEAR U. SLPZROCK. Not to worry, though – our speech therapists have other ways of making you talk…
In the spirit of spreading the love (despite being candy heart-less), our speech therapists are sharing some of our favorite positive affirmations for kids. Positive affirmations are the kind of declarations that go a step beyond praise and shine a light on something that is special and inherent in that child. Instead of simply, “Nice work!” we say, “You are a hard worker!” Instead of, “Good job on that one!” we say, “You are so brave to try new things.” Rather than just, “Cool picture!” we might say, “You have such a creative mind!”
Praise and compliments obviously are great too, but positive affirmation is more specific. It shines a light on something that is both inherent and special to that person. It acknowledges the challenge and validates the effort. Positive affirmation can help a child gain the confidence to keep going – even when it gets hard. Research shows that children who receive regular positive affirmations will believe, internalize and be motivated by it. In speech therapy, we often see them excel farther and faster.
The positive affirmation boost is backed by extensive research. One analysis published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that children with cancer who practiced self-affirmation were overall more optimistic and coped better, achieved goals faster and ultimately had better health outcomes. Another study by psychology professors Carnegie Mellon University found that when people are under pressure, they can actually improve their ability to problem-solve by using positive self-affirmations. And a brain scan study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience established that people who practice self affirmation had higher activity levels in areas of the brain associated with reward.
Many of our FOCUS pediatric speech therapists were initially drawn to this field in part because we share a love of language. Sure, some of us are self-professed grammar nerds and logophiles, but in working with kids with special needs, we’ve seen that the real beauty of language is the way it facilitates communication and sparks connections. That’s a universal truth of language, but in helping children overcome speech delays, receptive language deficits or phonological disorders, we’ve come to appreciate language on a whole new level.
In stacking the developmental blocks for communication, social interaction and connection, one of the best (and easiest) things any parent can do: Read bedtime stories. This is especially true for kids with special needs, for whom language doesn’t come easily. Frequent storybook sessions help children learn new words, recognize the importance and subtle differences of tone, inflection and pitch, explore complex feelings and confusing interactions in a safe space and better grasp the intricacies of the world around them.
Most children – even if some have shorter attention spans – love bedtime stories. (Although story time can be anytime, bedtime is ideal – especially if you’re child is antsy – because you’re more likely to have a captive audience just before bed, as opposed to morning or mid-day, unless they still nap. Plus, many parents who work find it difficult to nail down a story time routine in the morning rush or simply can’t swing it on their lunch hour.) Making stories-and-snuggles part of the nightly groove works best for most, gives kids something to look forward to and a chance to wind down. And, as most parents of kids with special needs know, having a routine is a lifeline.
Even if your child doesn’t seem to understand the stories, follow along or pay much attention, research shows they still glean advantages from the one-on-one time, routine and mental exercise. Most speech, ABA and occupational therapists would argue children who struggle with expressive and receptive language skills may even need those bedtime stories more than most.
Most any Fort Myers speech-language pathologist will tell you one of the first questions families of young children ask when inquiring whether certain missed milestones are cause for concern: “What if my child doesn’t respond to his name?”
It’s impossible to give a blanket answer because every child develops at a uniquely individual pace. (It’s also physicians – usually specialists – responsible for the actual diagnosis.) That said, a long-time speech-language pathologist will likely agree: If your child doesn’t respond to his name by the time they turn 1-year-old, it could indicate a developmental delay that requires action. You’ll want to alert your child’s primary care physician and discuss whether the concern warrants referrals for closer evaluation by specialists.
Responding to one’s name is a critical building block of functional communication. This wouldn’t be just a single instance when he couldn’t tear his attention from a riveting show or “selective hearing” in a moment of intense fun. This would be an issue that is consistent and noticeable (at least by you).
What Child’s Failure to Respond to Name Could Mean
“Alexa, where can I find the best speech therapy for child stuttering in Fort Myers?”
In this increasingly digital age, we’re engaging with artificial intelligence more than ever. It’s a trend unlikely to slow, and chief among these new communication advances are voice assistants. Apple’s Siri, unveiled in 2011, is a great example. Amazon’s Alexa is another. However, for as “intelligent” as these devices are, they have by-and-large failed to account for user difficulty by those with speech and language disorders, like stuttering, childhood apraxia of speech and more. In an era when these kinds of technologies are becoming more pervasive than ever, early intervention speech therapy for child stuttering and other speech impairments becomes even more critical.
Speech Impairments and Artificial Intelligence
Part of the problem with voice assistant technology is that it wholly fails to account for those with speech delays or difficulties. Let’s take Siri, for instance. It’s supposed to be a time-saving device that allows us to cull information hands-free (making it ideal for multi-tasking or safer for activities like driving). But in giving speech therapy for child stuttering, we’ve noticed Siri doesn’t account for the stutter. Once a person pauses or stops over a word – the voice assistant stops listening. In other words, something that was created to help save time ends up creating more stress.
Speech recognition software systems used in technology like Alexa and Siri fail are undoubtedly impressive. However, it has not been programmed to account for the extra pause or sounds that can be created when a person stutters or has some other speech impairment.
Critical School Shortage of Florida Pediatric Speech-Language Therapists Makes Private Therapy More Pivotal
A critical shortage of Florida pediatric speech-language therapists in public schools is making private speech therapy for kids with special needs in Fort Myers all the more crucial. It’s important to note off-the-bat that the Lee County School District does hire some phenomenal speech-language therapists. (Some of our own, including founder Jennifer Voltz, MS/CCC-SLP, are proud to have launched or furthered careers there). The problem is the Florida pediatric speech-language therapists hired by the district are very limited in allotted time for each school and every child with an individualized education plan (IEP). For many of these kids, consistency is key to generalization of communication skills in everyday life.
Parents whose children aren’t getting adequate time investment from the district’s speech therapy (which honestly is probably most) can make sure their kids don’t fall further behind by researching and arranging speech therapy at FOCUS Fort Myers. Our self-pay rates are competitive, but many health insurers will cover Florida pediatric speech-language therapists’ services with certain diagnoses and/ or documented supporting evidence of medical necessity.
Shortages of speech therapy professionals isn’t an especially new problem, nor is it unique to Florida. In 2007, University of Central Florida researchers concluded the lack of Florida speech-language therapists in public schools was “critical.” The National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services, an advocacy group of about 30 participating member organization, reported 47 percent of schools in 2014 didn’t have enough speech therapists for their students.