Children learn speech and language through immersion. They closely watch your lips and hear the sounds while working to grasp the meaning. When there is a delay or disability that impedes that process, FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists can help – but that doesn’t mean you should stop talking.
A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals that when adults regularly engage young children in conversation, those kids will have stronger connections between the two developing regions of the brain known to be critical to language development.
This discovery held true even when researchers controlled for parental education and income, meaning engaging your children from a young age can help give them a language skills boost regardless of socioeconomic status.This is significant because many prior studies dating back to the early 1990s have established a so-called “word gap” when between children of disparate socioeconomic means. Those who grow up in lower-income households tend to have heard an estimated 30 million fewer words in their lives compared to classmates of more affluent means by the time they reach the ages of 4-6. Thusfar, it’s not been proven that the link is causal, but even if it were, this new research suggests to our pediatric Fort Myers speech therapists it can be overcome when parents devote the time to chatting their kids up at every opportunity.
Pediatric speech and language therapy is hard work – best achieved through fun-and-games.
Adults tend to disregard play as a silly childhood indulgence. However, consensus among speech therapists AND child development researchers is playtime is pivotal in speech-language progress – and overall development. In fact, almost all learning in those first five years occurs in play-based exploration. Further, these skills take root much faster when adults actively participate in child-led play.
FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists have a treasure trove of toys, games, crafts and other fun things to encourage play, which directly spurs expressive and receptive language development. We’re also constantly on the lookout for new ideas. Sometimes we even make our own! Sometimes playful interest is captured in the simplest forms, like mushing food, making a paper bag rattle or blowing bubbles.
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.
When it comes to speech therapy, there are two general schools of thought: Early Intervention and Watch and Wait. Increasingly, doctors, specialists and teachers are on board with what our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists have been saying for years: Early intervention is key!
You may be familiar with the legend of Albert Einstein’s childhood speech delay leading to his parents’ concern he might not be bright. This purported speech delay of an unequivocal genius lends inspiration to many who struggle with similar issues. Unfortunately, it’s also given families of “late talkers” validation for the “Watch and Wait Approach” – which is typically not what we advise.
Until fairly recently, most pediatricians were content to let parents wait before seeking assistance with their children’s speech concerns, often not pressing for speech therapy until the child was school-age. That is changing – much to our enthusiasm! Clinicians are increasingly aware that speech impairments in children can lead to a greater likelihood of social struggles and reading problems. The younger the child, the more malleable their brains, and the better outcomes we have.
Smartphones in the hands of little ones is generally frowned upon, and usually for good reason. Researchers have linked excess screen time to speech delays, stunted socialization and repetitive motion “tech ache.” BUT – it’s not all bad.
In speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy and sometimes even physical therapy, we’ve found at FOCUS Fort Myers that smartphones can have some pretty amazing applications – and we’re discovering new uses all the time! (We LOVE when parents share their own ideas too!)
There is no getting around the fact these small, glowing boxes are an integral part of our daily lives, with approximately 92 million smartphones in the U.S. – a figure that’s still growing. Limits on screen time are important – necessary even (and, let’s be honest, not just for kids). But our FOCUS occupational, behavioral and speech therapists are embracing the many ways this technology has become a key tool in achieving occupational, behavior and speech therapy goals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes children with speech and language delays need a bit of additional help learning about social situations and appropriate responses. Our speech therapists in Fort Myers know one tool that has proven extremely useful is “Social Stories.”
A social story is basically what it sounds like: It’s a short, simple story intended to teach children what to expect in certain social settings. These short books, which include pictures of the child and familiar settings, don’t have to be fancy. They can incorporate photos you shoot on your smartphone and print out on your computer. A therapist can craft or help you create a social story for help with certain scenarios in which your child seems to be struggling. When the story is read repeatedly to the child, combined with images of themselves and the difficult scenario they are confronting, it can be powerful. Social stories can also help those with language delays and deficits to understand certain nuances of interpersonal communication – giving them tools to interact in a manner that is both appropriate and effective.
Social stories were first developed in the early 1990s by Carol Gray, a Michigan school teacher whose four children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She explained it helps children understand what can be difficult for those with language delays or deficits to comprehend.