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.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
At some point, most parents have been on the receiving end of judgmental looks due to a child’s behavior. Tantrums in the cereal aisle are practically an official rite of passage for all toddlers. But “bad” behavior could be a sign of a deeper issue. Occupational therapists and speech therapists in Fort Myers know that sometimes, “bad” behavior goes hand-in-hand with a clinical condition with symptoms that can be mitigated with prompt and proper treatment.
For instance, a child grappling with a speech delay may find the most effective form of communication is behavior some find socially unacceptable. These behaviors can include tantrums and aggression, but also non-compliance, running away or resistance. Understandably, parents may feel unprepared or unequipped, and respond ineffectually with tactics like yelling, repeated admonition or just giving in. Both parent and child remain trapped in a frustrating cycle.
According to one study published by researchers with Western Michigan University, a significant portion of children with language disorders also have co-occurring emotional or behavior disorders. Despite this, most children diagnosed with an emotional or behavior disorder have not been evaluated for speech-language problems. When a child has receptive and expressive delays or disorders, it can directly impact their social functioning – and in turn, their behavior.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
An increase of screen time among young children – particularly involving smartphones and iPads – may heighten the risk of a speech delay, according to new research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.
As Science Daily reports, the analysis examines whether handheld screen time use is associated with an increase in language delays among infants. Over the course of four years, researchers looked at how closely about 900 children, ages 6 months to 2 years, interacted with electronic devices. Then they compared their rates of language and speech delay.
By the time these children reached 18 months, 20 percent of them were using a handheld device an average of a half hour daily. The children were then screened for a speech delay. Researchers found that for each 30-minute increase in the time these children had access to handheld screens, there was a 49 percent higher risk of expressive speech delay.
Expressive language skills are broadly understood to describe how a person communicates their wants or needs. It encompasses both verbal and non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, vocabulary and syntax (grammar rules).
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
This week, FOCUS Therapy was among the many organizations promoting awareness of childhood apraxia of speech, a motor speech disorder that typically becomes apparent as a young child is just learning to talk. The condition is often misdiagnosed because it is relatively rare, though our speech therapists in Fort Myers have successfully treated numerous children with this diagnosis.
The 2017 Apraxia Awareness Day was recognized May 14, the fifth year since it was designated by the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (CASANA). The motto of the organization is, “Every Child Deserves a Voice.”
We work toward that goal in our own speech therapy program, with the firm belief that it starts with correctly identifying the condition early on, and beginning therapy as soon as possible. Children with apraxia who do not receive early intervention may have great difficulty developing speech that is intelligible – a problem that can lead to struggle in all aspects throughout their lives. This is precisely why Apraxia Awareness Day is so critically important.
By Jennifer Voltz, MS/ CCC-SLP, Owner/ Founder of FOCUS
As mothers, we know what our children want even before they do. We know when they will be thirsty or hungry, because well, we just know.
But think about it: If we get out a juice box and have the straw already inserted and the first sip taken to make sure it’s not too full – and we hand it to our little one, they never have any need to communicate. We met their needs before they even had to say one word.
One of the ways our speech therapists compel children with speech delays to engage in communication is to resist giving into that need or desire – even when we know exactly what it is.
Parents can employ this same tactic.