Fort Myers occupational therapist

Parents as “Speech Therapists”: Study Shows YOU Are Key to Child’s Success

Speech therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers study for years – first in the classroom and then for the rest of our careers in practice at our clinic – learning ways to help children master key communication skills, from appropriate conversation to phonological awareness to comprehension. We use all sorts of tools to make that happen – including puppets, games, puzzles, swings, crafts – even a ball pit! But the most effective tool? Parents!

Parental engagement in helping carry over these same strategies with their child undeniably results in better, faster progress. (And the earlier we/ you get started, the better!)

We can cite countless examples that have us convinced, but it’s backed up by peer-reviewed research too.

Parental Involvement Helps Children Make Faster Speech Therapy Progress

The American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology followed the effects of parental involvement in language intervention on children between 1.5-to-5-years-old with language impairments that were both primary (language only) and secondary (accompanied by cognitive impairment or disability). Researchers reviewed 18 previous studies examining how well children did when speech therapists offered parents specific strategies to work with their kids outside the clinic setting.

They pointed firstly to several studies showing children’s communication skills markedly improve when their parents:

  • Interacted more frequently with their child.
  • Responded to the child’s attempts to communicate.
  • Focused on key words in their sentences (e.g. “You’re eating an APPLE!”).
  • Used speech that is child-directed (e.g. Discuss topics or objects in which the child is interested in or focusing on, and also using speech that is both simplified and melodic).
  • Made a point to expand on what the child is saying (e.g. Your child says, “Dog.” You respond with, “You’re right, that is a big dog!”).

Next, study authors pointed out prior analysis showing when therapists share their strategies with parents, kids reached their communication goals faster.

Taking it a step further, they looked at whether formal parent-led speech intervention programs had the same results (and also make sure kids with a broad range of challenges were represented, including those with delays, autism, down syndrome and other conditions. In the studies reviewed, parents worked closely with speech therapists to craft outside-the-clinic strategies they could work on at home. Then their progress was compared to a control group of children whose parents didn’t receive this extra help.

The result? Kids whose parents took on a more active role made much further progress strides than those who didn’t receive the extra instruction. Specific improvements were reported with children’s:

  • Expressive skills (speech and non-verbal communication);
  • Language comprehension;
  • Grammar;
  • Vocabulary;
  • Frequency of communication.

This pattern was consistent across the board among children with many different challenges.

The takeaway? Parents DO make a difference! 

What’s more, the most marked progress happened with intensive parent involvement and early intervention.

The reason parents are so effective is because firstly of the tight bond you share, but also because of the constant daily interaction you have. Practicing the speech therapists’ strategies throughout the day, over weekends and during holidays gives children more time to practice and grasp it. There are so many opportunities throughout a given day to help your child build on his or her language learning and speech skills.

Practice Speech Therapy at Home

Although the exact strategies for each child will vary depending on their age, nature of their condition and their individual personality, some that we know work for a lot of our FOCUS kids include:

  • Turn off the TV. It’s not only about limiting their own viewing time, but also the background noise, which can make it harder for a child to concentrate and it doesn’t enhance development. In fact, JAMA Peditarics has reported children in homes where the television is usually on may have delayed development of meaningful words.
  • Spend a half hour to an hour every day (or as often as you are able) just playing with your child. When you do, use simple words and phrases (“car fast!” “blue ball”).
  • Work with simple flash cards. For children with speech delays, labeling can be huge. This gives them a clear an immediate visual for the words you’re saying, helping to solidify it in their minds.
  • Have them use straws for drinking – and more! When a child drinks from a straw, they are fine-tuning those oral muscles they need for speech. Silly straws may be even better because they require even more work – and they’re fun! Don’t limit it to easy liquids; have your child use straws for things with different textures (e.g. milkshakes, pureed fruits, applesauce, milk, etc.). There is also the straw/ cotton ball game: Put a cotton ball on the floor or table and have your child blow through the straw to move the cotton ball. It’s another way you can help your child get a motor muscle workout.
  • Put things they want just out of reach. This could be a much-loved toy or favorite book or something on which they love to snack. Yeah, you know what they want without them having to say it – but the point is you WANT them to SAY it! We call these “communication temptations,” and the goal is not just to teach your child those words, but also the reward they get when they come to you and use their words (or non-verbal communication to start) to get what they want. Kids will be more motivated to talk if it means they’ll get something they want out of the deal.
  • Shower them with praise. When your child “gets it right,” let them know how VERY proud of them you are! Don’t afraid to even exaggerate a little. Children thrive on praise. It’s good for their self-esteem and they’ll be more driven for more of the same.

At FOCUS, our speech therapists give a five-minute report and question-answer with parents after every session so you have an opportunity to learn what we did, what worked, what didn’t and what kinds of activities you can practice when you leave so those skills will carry over. And as always, feel free to ask if you have questions on something specific.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

The Effectiveness of Parent-Implemented Language Interventions: A Meta-Analysis, Aug. 1, 2011, American Journal of Speech and Language Pathology

More Blog Entries:

Child Too Young For Speech Therapy? No Such Thing!, July 22, 2018, FOCUS Fort Myers Speech Therapists Blog

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