FOCUS Therapy evaluations

Why FOCUS Asks Parents to Stay in the Waiting Room During Evals, Sessions

FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers conducts a range of in-depth evaluations for children who have been referred for speech, occupational, physical, or ABA therapies as well as ADOS testing. During our evaluations and therapy sessions, we rarely allow families to directly participate – but we have evidence-based reasons for our position.

During evaluations, we want to ensure every child receives an assessment that is as accurate as possible because that is what is going to allow us to:

  • Determine whether the child needs therapy.
  • Calculate the frequency/level of therapy that might be recommended.
  • Make a strong case to the relevant insurer(s) about the medical necessity of the therapy.

Parents, when present in the room during FOCUS evaluations, can unwittingly stand in the way of those goals. Why? Mainly because children rely on their caregivers when things get tough – to help them, to comfort them, to make it better. When a child is struggling in a certain area, such as communication or independence with self-care skills, our clinicians need to independently observe the particulars.

Parent input is a key aspect of our evaluations, but we need to see for ourselves, too. Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, MS-CCC/SLP and FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder, explained that when a child is accompanied by a parent during the direct observation portion of the assessment, parents often interfere without intending to do so or even realizing it.FOCUS Therapy

“For example, in speech evaluations, parents might talk to the child or give clues to help their child ‘get the right answer’,” Voltz-Ronco explained. “We might ask the child to point to an object out of an array of 3-4 items by saying, ‘Show me the cup.’ Standardized testing requires that we be very specific in how we present these items – and with the requirement that we wait. And while we wait, we’re looking to see how long it takes them to process the directive and what they do. Will they look at us to see if we’re looking at the object? Will they point to it or make a face if they’re unsure? They might associate a cup to mealtime and instead point to a cookie. If the child looks to our face to get a clue, that would indicate social awareness and joint attention – key pre-linguistic communication skills. If there is a delay in their response, there may be an auditory processing issue. If they grab the first thing in reach, they may have impulsivity issues. Watching a child while they’re thinking tells us so much. But parents in the room might think the evaluator presumes the child doesn’t know the answer, so they interject. They say to the child, ‘You know what a cup is, like the blue sippie cup you have at home.’ Unfortunately, what that does is give the child numerous opportunities to hear the word, ‘cup,’ and in many standardized tests, we aren’t allowed to repeat the word or give a description or synonym. So with that, we lose the opportunity to see what we needed to see, and must in turn score the response incorrectly – which impacts the overall results.”

She went on to explain that often the key responses FOCUS therapists are looking for aren’t necessarily what an untrained observer may presume.

What’s more, some children can become what we call “prompt dependent.” That means the child looks to the parent to prompt them (to take an action, answer a question, etc.) – even if they don’t necessarily need the prompt. Many of our team members are parents ourselves, so we wholeheartedly understand how difficult it is to wait for your child to “do it themselves.” It is actually instinctual to intervene when we see or sense our child needs help. But during these evaluations, this intervention – however slight – can actually prove more of a hindrance when what we’re seeking are accurate results.

We DO Want Parents Involved in Their Child’s Therapy Journey

Although it is important for parents to remain outside the room during evaluations, this does not mean we lack transparency or that we don’t want parents involved at all in the therapy process. In fact, we get the best results from therapy when parents are fully engaged!

But we discourage direct engagement during the evaluation process and therapy sessions because we want to ensure our findings are accurate and that your child gets the true level of support they need.

While we want parents to be involved in consultation, goal-setting, education, and carryover, we strongly advise parents against sitting in during therapy sessions for the following reasons:

Speech Therapy – by The Numbers

Although many parents are concerned when their child’s communication indicates a possible speech-language delay or disorder, the reality is speech therapy is one of the most common services available for young kids.

Sometimes, speech therapy helps resolve problems with articulation (how words are said). Other times, it helps with more complex neurological social-communication conditions like autism spectrum disorder. Lots of kids may also struggle with feeding/swallowing and voice issues.

With early intervention, many of these kids go on to thrive – and you would never know they had a deficit at all!

Contact us online or by calling (239) 313-5049. FOCUS offers pediatric therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida.

Additional Resources:

Be Tech Wise With a Toddler, American Speech-Language Hearing Association

speech therapy

At What Age Should My Child Start Speech Therapy?

Most parents know the thrill of hearing a child say, “mama” and “dada” for the first time. Then comes the adorable baby talk. But what if your child isn’t saying words by the time they’re 1 year old? What if they’re still mispronouncing lots of basic words by age 5? At what point do you decide a speech therapy consultation might be in order?

The first thing to bear in mind is that kids develop at all different paces. So the fact that your child is behind a bit isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. That said, it never hurts to have your child evaluated if you aren’t sure. FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers offers free initial consultations to help parents determine if a more extensive evaluation is necessary. Evidence has shown time-and-again that “wait-and-see” is an ineffective approach when it comes to children with speech-language disorders or delays. The reason is the longer kids go without early intervention, the more developmental skills they must catch up on. Plus, the older they are, the harder it is to unlearn bad habits and adopt new ones because neuropathways have less plasticity as we age.

Fort Myers ABA Therapy“If there is reason to be concerned when your child is 18-months-old, there is no reason to wait until they’re 3 or 5 to have them evaluated,” explained FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, MS/CCC-SLP. “The earlier we can diagnose a speech-language disorder or delay, the less impact it is going to have on your child’s development, academic achievements, and social/emotional well-being.”

Speech delays can have a number of causes, including oral impairment (problems with the tongue or palate), oral-motor problems, hearing issues, or a neurological condition like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although we treat children of all ages, we do recommend initiating assessments as early as possible, ideally as soon as you notice an issue.

Steps to Take if You’re Concerned Your Child Might Need Speech Therapy

If you think there’s a possibility your child might need speech therapy services, consider the following steps:

Fort Myers speech therapy

How We Use Storytelling in Fort Myers Speech Therapy

From fables and fairytales to silly rhymes and serious plots, kids LOVE story time! At its core, storytelling is about connection and communication. Everyone has a story to tell, and stories help us to understand the world around us and empathize with the people in it. Being able to follow – and tell – a story helps to understand the actions and opinions of others, and allows others to understand us too. Stories can be poignant and meaningful, giving us insight into an important life lessons, or they can be simple, everyday conversations, such as what someone did that weekend. When children learn how to tell stories, they learn how to be better communicators. At our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapy clinic, we love using creative stories in sessions. It not only teaches children important communication skills, it keeps them interested and engaged!

Teaching storytelling involves not just reading stories, but breaking them down into the most basic parts for kids to understand. In our experience with young children, it’s best to start with simple narrative stories and then help them to identify the beginning, middle, and end. We teach them the transition words (first, then, next, last…). Even if retelling the story is difficult, sparse, or choppy at first, the idea is to help ensure the retelling isn’t random – it’s an organized beginning-middle-end structure.

For instance, we’d tell the story of the Three Little Pigs like this:

  • First, three little pigs built three houses.
  • Then, a big, bad wolf said he would blow their houses down.
  • Finally, the three pigs found safety in the house made of bricks.

Once they’ve mastered this basic Beginning, Middle, End, we can help them work on the more complicated story structures, such as orientation/setting (answering the who, where and when questions), the complication/plot (answering the what questions), the action (this answers the what and also how), the resolution (also the what and how questions) and the ending.

No doubt these are skills your child will need in school. The sooner we begin working on it when they’re younger, the better.

language delay Fort Myers

Four Things to Know About Developmental Language Delay in Kids

Some kids are “language late bloomers.” A percentage will catch up to children their same age on their own. Others, however, will continue to struggle with language learning. We call this a developmental language delay. If these difficulties persist beyond the earlier stages of development (past the age of 5), it can significantly impact their reading, writing, math, reasoning, and social skills later on.

Kids whose language troubles can’t be explained by some other cause (such as a disability, syndrome or physical impediment) and continue until they’re in school are typically diagnosed with Developmental Language Disorder.

Some indications of a language delay may include:

  • Not babbling by 15 months.
  • Not speaking by the age of 2.
  • Inability to speak in short sentences by the age of 3.
  • Trouble following directions.
  • Difficulty putting words together in a sentence.
  • Leaving words out of sentences.

If you suspect your child may be struggling with language comprehension or expression, you do not need to wait until they are school age to have it addressed. In fact, you should have it assessed and treated much sooner, if possible. As noted by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), early intervention (before age 5 and preferably before age 3) can have a substantial impact on the long-term implications of a speech-language disorder or developmental language disorder.

Our early intervention speech therapy team at FOCUS Therapy can help your child struggling with language skills to catch up to their same-age peers, specifically targeting skills like:

  • Cognitive thinking (problem-solving, thinking, learning).
  • Communication (listening, talking, understanding, gesturing).
  • Physical/sensory skills (seeing, hearing, crawling, walking, climbing).
  • Social-emotional skills (playing, understanding feelings, making friends).
  • Adaptive/self-help skills (eating, drinking, bathing, dressing, etc.).

If you think your child may need some extra help in the area of language development, here are four things to know:

speech therapist Fort Myers

Fort Myers Speech Therapist Tips on Reducing Kids’ Screen Time

Kids’ recreational screen time more than doubled in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. This is concerning news because, as a Fort Myers speech therapist will tell you, excessive use of screen time can have numerous adverse impacts. In particular, these include:

  • Unhealthy weight gain.
  • Reduction in social skills.
  • Depression.
  • Delay in speech-language development (particularly for younger children).

The researchers looked at a group of more than 5,400 kids. Their average daily screen time prior to the pandemic was about 3.8 hours (still pretty high!). (The data was initially gleaned to study how cognitive development is impacted by screen time.) Then during the pandemic, kids’ use of electronic screens doubled to 7.7 hours daily. It should be noted that figure excluded school-related screen time, which many kids engaged in on-and-off, either in virtual school or some hybrid. Here in Southwest Florida, many schoolchildren are also assigned a set number of weekly minutes through a reading-math program called iReady. This too would have been excluded.

Analysts were solely looking at recreational screen time. That would include the use of electronic devices (phones, iPads, gaming systems, etc.) for things like:

  • Multiple-player gaming.
  • Single-player gaming.
  • Texting.
  • Social media.
  • Video chatting.
  • Browsing the internet.
  • Watching streaming movies, videos, or television shows.
Fort Myers speech therapy

Why Early Intervention Speech Therapy is SO Important if Your Child is Delayed

Speech and language skills are critical to a child’s ability to learn and interact in the world around them. When speech-language delays are identified and treated right away, there are exponential benefits for their social-emotional and academic growth. The early years are the most important for building strong speech and language skills. In this stage, your child’s brain is growing extremely fast in the first five years of life. During this window, kids are more open to learning than they’ll ever. To minimize the long-term negative impacts of a speech-language delay or disorder, our Fort Myers speech therapy team recommends early intervention – starting before age 3, if possible.

Communication is one of the most critical developmental tasks of early childhood development. It’s the way children start to form their understanding of the world. When a child has trouble communicating (being understood and/or understanding others), it can hinder their ability and confidence to express their ideas and observations of the world around them.

Kids who struggle with communication in earlier stages of development may struggle with:

  • Low frustration tolerance.
  • Emotional outbursts.
  • Excessive shyness.

They may also appear less academically advanced than their peers. That’s because reading, writing, and verbal assertions are essential to the learning process. The foundation for these skills starts very early – from birth. Your child may be too young yet for school, but if you notice they aren’t on pace with their peers in terms of speech and language skills, it’s a good idea to act promptly. The sooner you can address it, the less chance they’ll fall too far behind academically.

Also by the time kids get to school, their speech and language delays or difficulties may become markedly obvious, sometimes even to them. This realization can be a blow to their confidence, leading to lower class participation and performance. The earlier they can start working on it with a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP), the less the deficit is going to impact them later on.

A child’s inability to express themselves or understand what’s being expressed to them has an undeniable negative impact on their ability to fully enjoy and participate in daily life. The earlier we can intervene with speech therapy, the less difficulty they’ll have as they get older.

Fort Myers speech therapy

Fort Myers Speech Therapy Insight: Strategies We Use to Help Your Child Talk

Our Fort Myers speech therapy team has many strategies to help children learn important speech and language skills.

So much of it is creating opportunities and encouraging practice in a fun, play-based atmosphere. Some examples include:

  • Putting things just out of reach, to encourage the child to ask for it.
  • Provide only part of a game to play with, and encourage them to ask for other pieces.
  • Pretend to be forgetful. Let the child “catch us” being forgetful or getting an answer wrong – the love to be helpful so we can get it right!
  • Pause during an activity that is predictable. It could be singing a favorite song or game and just pause. This encourages them to retrieve and use their vocabulary.
FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapy preemie low birth weight

Why Our Fort Myers Speech Therapy Intake Forms Inquire About Low Birth Weight

Some parents note when filling out our Fort Myers speech therapy intake forms that we inquire as to whether their child had a low birth weight. You may wonder what this has to do with speech therapy. The answer, as noted in research published by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, is that compared to babies with a birth weight in the normal range, those with low birth rate:

  • Were more likely to have a communication disorder.
  • Were more likely to have used speech-language, occupational, and physical therapy services.
  • Had weaker motor abilities.
  • Had lower school performance.
  • Had higher incidence rates of pneumonia.
  • Were three times more likely to repeat a grade.

In short, while some babies with low birth weight are perfectly fine, some are at high risk for communication and developmental problems that can extend well into childhood. Our Fort Myers speech therapy team at FOCUS Therapy can help.

FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers

FOCUS Therapy Opening Second Fort Myers Location Near Gulf Coast

Big news, FOCUS Family: FOCUS Therapy is opening a second location in Fort Myers!

Our new FOCUS Therapy location, conveniently situated near FGCU, Gulf Coast Town Center and Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), will allow us to expand our vital services (speech, occupational, physical & ABA therapies and ADOS testing) to hundreds more children in one of the fastest-growing communities in the country.

The new FOCUS Gulf Coast Office, located at 9961 Interstate Commerce Dr., Unit 150 & 160, will officially open its doors Aug. 9, 2021. This new facility will allow us the capacity to ultimately onboard an additional 20 therapists and treat 200 more children than our existing patient list. We’ve hired 10 new therapists to start, and will bring on more as we grow throughout the next year.

“Opening this new site is both extremely exciting and deeply humbling,” said FOCUS Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “I set out to fill a critical need in this community 10 years ago, at a time when there weren’t enough clinics providing pediatric therapy in Southwest Florida. There still aren’t. As the population in our area continues to grow at a rapid speed, the demand for quality therapy has expanded at an even faster clip. This brings us one step closer to ensuring all children in Southwest Florida have access to the therapy services they need to succeed.”FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers

At our existing location on Royal Gulf Circle off Colonial Boulevard, we have a waitlist of 160 children. Similar waitlists are reported at other pediatric therapy clinics throughout Southwest Florida.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, roughly 9 percent of kids in the U.S. have a speech sound disorder. Further, about 5 percent of kids have a noticeable speech disorder by 1st grade. Now consider that in 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That’s 1 in 34 boys and 1 in 144 girls, with diagnoses being reliably made as early as 18 months. There is a mountain of clinical evidence showing these kids can thrive – but only with access to intensive, early intervention therapies (speech therapy, occupational therapy and applied behavior analysis).

Whether we’re talking about a speech delay, down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, brain injury or other condition, the more assistance a child receives early on, the better their odds of school readiness, social engagement, academic success and long-term independence. That’s because neuropathways for young children are still developing, and young minds are little sponges for new knowledge. This ability of the brain to change, rewire, relearn and strengthen key connections is called neuroplasticity. It’s especially agile during early childhood, and that’s why we’re so adamant in preaching early intervention. It’s also why we couldn’t delay any longer in opening a second FOCUS Therapy clinic location.

“Children cannot wait for services this important,” Voltz-Ronco said. “This new Gulf Coast location of FOCUS Therapy is going to allow us to reach more kids in this community – and faster – benefiting not just themselves, but their families, the schools and our entire community as a whole.”FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, physical therapy and ADOS testing in Fort Myers. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

More Blog Entries:

Therapy Isn’t a Quick-Fix – Why You Should Still Follow Our Course Until Successful, May 7, 2020, FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Blog

Why FOCUS Therapy Celebrates With “Therapy Graduation” Ceremonies, Sept. 5, 2020, FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Blog