May is Better Speech & Hearing Month, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports 1 in 12 kids age 3-17 in the U.S. has a disorder related to voice, speech, language or swallowing. Our Cleveland speech therapists recognize that speech problems (difficulty being understood by others) are the most common among kids ages 3-10. Language problems (difficulty understanding others) ranked No. 2. More than one-third of kids with communication disorders has more than one.
As Cleveland speech therapists, we have decades of combined experience in engaging with children with speech-language disorders and delays, and helping to encourage their development on these fronts. But we also recognize that speech therapy is only part of the puzzle! The more consistent practice and carryover a child has across environments, the better these new skills are going to “stick,” and the faster kids will reach their speech therapy goals!
So what’s the best way to practice these skills with your kids? Play!
“Your child’s most important job is to play. It’s through play that young kids learn and grow. So playing with your child is really the best way to help them sharpen those speech & language skills.”
Jaclyn McClymont, speech-language pathologist, owner and founder of Therapy & Wellness Connection.
Any play that engages your child is generally going to be good for encouraging speech and language (as well as positive mental health and interpersonal connection). That said, there may be some activities/games that are more beneficial than others.
Here, our Cleveland speech therapists offer a few of our simple favorites!
Pretend Talk on the Phone
Pretending to talk on the phone is great for teaching kids important words, family member names, and social skills like turn-taking. If they’re very young, you can work on the basics, “Hi!” “Ok!” “Yes.” “No.” “Momma.” “Grama.” “Bye!” Modeling speech & language doesn’t need to be super complicated for it to be effective. The key is to keep it fun!
“Who’s on the phone? Is it Daddy? No, Ok. Is it Momma?”
“Did you tell Momma hi? Hi, Momma! Ok, bye!”
Sing Songs in Motion
The list here is endless, but to name a few:
- Wheels on the Bus
- Itsy Bitsy Spider
- Old Macdonald
- Five Little Ducks
- Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes
- Baby Shark (if it doesn’t drive you crazy!)
- Hokey Pokey
Often, kids will copy the motions first. Eventually, they’ll wade in with a few of the words. Before you know it, they’ll have it all down to a T!
YouTube has some engaging videos to go along with these, and the extra visual may help too.
Look Through/Read Books
You don’t have to read a 40-page book. Most kids won’t sit through that anyway. But start with picture books. Think small – 3-5 pages. And you don’t necessarily have to “read” them all either. Look through the pictures. Point to various objects or people in the story. Label them. Talk about what might be happening.
It will take time, but eventually you’ll be able to get through the whole book. Then you can start reading it. Rhyming or sing-songy books are often best for memorization.
Kids love balls. They’re great not only for gross motor skills, but also for development of joint attention, turn-taking, and other key social skills.
You can work on words like roll, throw, bounce, catch, down, up, around, over, your turn, my turn, etc.
If you’re trying to encourage requesting, wait a few beats after you’ve gotten the ball for them to motion or ask for it returned.
“You want the ball? Say, ‘Ball!” or “Ball please!”
Narrate everything you’re doing.
“The ball went over the chair!”
Once they master some of the basics, you can start adding other adjectives.
“You’re playing with the big, blue ball!”
Play With Bubbles
Bubbles are so easy and simple, they’re sometimes overlooked – but they can be a source of ENDLESS fun and enjoyment for kids.
Help your child work on requesting the bubbles, model for them “more bubbles” and say words like, “up, down, pop, jump, catch, circle, over, under,” etc.
Bubbles are great at bath time year-round, but spring & summer are perfect for taking it outside, and giving them a chance to get some fresh air & soak up some Vitamin D!
Play With Pretend Food
Kids are crazy about pretend food. They love to play as if they are planning, preparing, and eating it. It’s been our Cleveland speech therapists’ experience that even when kids don’t have utensils or plates or cups or play-food, they’ll get imaginative and make do with what they have. So if you have pretend food – cool. If you don’t – no sweat. Kids’ imaginations are a wonder. You can use a block, a box, or even empty boxes or cans, cartons, etc.
You can model pouring food, cooking food, drinking, and eating. You can model words like, “Yummy! Great job! Hot! Cold! Yucky! cup, plate, fork, all done, mine, yours, good,” etc. You can also label different food items, and even put them into categories. “Apple is a fruit.” “Chicken is meat.”
Cleveland Speech Therapists Encourage Parent Involvement!
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you play – but that you’re engaged. The best thing parents can do for their kids day in and out is talk to them. Narrate what you’re doing. Narrate what others are doing. Talk about colors, shapes, animals, weather, foods, people, cars – anything that captures their interest and imagination.
If you have questions about how you can engage your child during playtime, our speech therapy team can help!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
The Importance of Play: How Kids Learn by Having Fun, Sept. 28, 2020, Healthline.com
More Blog Entries:
Why Our Cleveland Speech Therapists LOVE Repetitive Picture Books for Kids, March 19, 2022, Cleveland Pediatric Speech Therapy Blog
Any speech-language pathologist will tell you that pretty much all books are amazing tools for encouraging language development in your child. But when it comes to younger kids, it’s the predictive, repetitive picture books that are best. This is especially true for kids who may be struggling with those speech and language skills. Why, though? As our Cleveland speech therapists can explain, the repetitive nature of these books helps reduce what we call the “cognitive load.” In other words, they don’t have to think so hard to figure out what’s being said and how to say it themselves.
With repetitive picture books, kids get the chance to engage by filling in the words, phrases, and character’s names as the content of the book becomes more familiar – which is easier when it’s simple and repetitive. Bonus points if it rhymes. Repetitive texts are predictable. Lots of kids enjoy predictability because knowing what to expect provides a sense of calm.
When we’re reading to children, it’s a form of engagement and they want to participate. Non-repetitive books can be great too, but studies have shown that with those, kids will try to participate by answering reader questions or imitating the reader’s words – skills that can be really tough for them early on, particularly if they have conditions like childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, or speech-language delays. Repetitive picture books decrease their frustrations, which can boost participation, turn-taking, comprehension – and fun!
Pictures are a necessary component for children’s books because they help introduce new vocabulary in context, aiding comprehension.
Our Cleveland speech therapists use these types of books to target all types of goals, including the skills needed for receptive language (understanding what’s being said), expressive language (using language to express yourself), articulation (proper pronunciation of the words), and fluency (the continuity, smoothness, rate and effort in speech production). If a child has trouble producing certain sounds, the frequent practice provided by repetitive picture books can do wonders.
Helping small children learn to communicate is something parents innately start virtually from the moment a child is born. But our Brecksville speech therapy team knows that fostering strong speech and language skills sometimes requires acting with a bit more purpose. Even if you have zero concerns about your child’s ability to communicate, there’s no harm in thoughtfully working to boost your child’s social skills and vocabulary.
As speech-language pathologists who work with young children in the process of acquiring and developing language, we have accumulated many effective techniques that help kids not only in learning to talk, but mastering broader language and communication skills. Here, we’re sharing some of the basics you can use with your child at home, in the community, and during everyday interactions. This is useful for kids with typically-developing speech and language, as well as those for whom such skills are a bit more challenging.
Talking isn’t the only communication skill on the table. In fact, it isn’t even the first. Babies communicate by crying. As they get older, they make eye contact, use body language, and point. Words eventually become the easiest way to convey specific wants, needs, and dislikes, but that comes later. As parents and caregivers, when we recognize, encourage, and positively reinforce those language precursors, we promote healthy speech-language production.
Interesting and of note: Language development and play are very closely related. Kids first start saying their first words around 12 to 13 months, and it’s not a coincidence that this is around the same time that symbolic play begins to emerge. (Symbolic play would be something like holding up a piece of fruit and pretending it’s a phone.) When you participate in that symbolic play, you’re encouraging her language development and helping to expand his/her capacity to represent things both mentally and symbolically.
Create Communication Opportunities
There are many ways parents can create opportunities to encourage their little ones to practice key communication skills. Some of those include:
- Putting desired objects slightly out-of-reach. Instead of simply handing your child the milk you know they want, place it just out of reach of their high chair. Wait for them to ask for it, or at least signal their desire (point, make eye contact, etc.). Reinforce their communication by saying back to them, “You want the milk? Ok, momma will give you the milk.” Same thing for much-loved toys: Put them just a bit higher up (but not so high they can’t be seen.)
- Pretend to be forgetful. Kids LOVE this game. You have lots of routines your child has probably already gotten used to – morning, afternoons, dinner time and bedtime. Let’s say you’re preparing her breakfast. “Forget” to pour the milk. She’s going to “catch” you being forgetful/changing the routine/what’s expected. This is a great way to initiate conversations with young kids.
- Pause during predictable activities. Same concept as “forgetting,” but you’re waiting for them to fill in the blanks. You can start with a favorite song your child loves. “Mary had a little -” and then wait to see if she fills in the blank. That prompts her not only to use her vocabulary, but also practice the back-and-forth turn-taking of language.
Other Helpful Strategies from our Brecksville Speech Therapy Team
Speech and language are skills every child develops at their own pace, but the goal should always be to help them master the next level – while also boosting their self-confidence and keeping it fun!
Other techniques our Brecksville speech-language pathologists use:
- Imitation. If the child is babbling or making nonsense noise, make another playful sound in response. Imitating a child’s sounds and actions – and later words – shows them that they have the ability to be heard! It also helps them begin to grasp the turn-taking element of language. Eventually, they’ll work their way to more complex communication skills.
- Interpretation. If a child points to a toy, they are communicating that they want it. Our speech therapists take this to the next level by interpreting their non-verbal communication with a response like, “Truck! You want the truck.”
- Expansion & recasting. If the child says, “white ball,” we respond by saying, “Yes, that’s a big, white ball.” If a child says, “monkey jump off bed,” we recast that grammar by responding with, “The monkey did jump off the bed.” We’re using intonation and stress to underscore the words on which we want the child to focus.
- Comment and description. Rather than direct your child during playtime, play a newscaster. Give them the play-by-play. “You’re moving the yellow truck around the track.” “You’re putting the brown horse in the barn.” “You’re throwing me the ball!” This not only helps boost a child’s vocabulary, it’s going to help them organize those thoughts while they’re playing.
- Contingent responses. This is important, but it’s often one of the toughest. It involves responding right away to any and all attempts at communication. That includes not just words, but gestures or other efforts to get your attention. Kids need to know that not only is communication in general important, but so specifically is their voice.
- Labeling. You can do this with infants who aren’t talking yet as well as small children – label everything around them. Everything from the rain in the sky to the fruit on their plate to the dog you pass on the street. Label everything.
- Labeling your praise. Rather than just saying, “Nice work,” get specific. “Nice work picking up your blue bunny and red ball,” or “Great job saying more milk please.” Not only does this boost language, it encourages expected behaviors and manners.
If you have any concerns about your child’s speech-language development, our Northeast Ohio pediatric SLP team can help!
There are only five vowel letters in the English alphabet (six if you count y) but more than 20 vowel sounds we use in everyday speech. Vowels are critical to language, and are among the first babbled by babies when they’re first learning to talk. But some children struggle with them. It could be a condition like childhood apraxia of speech. It could be difficulty with the shape of the mouth and positioning of the tongue and lips. Kids who have a hard time saying vowels properly will have a tough time communicating and (eventually) spelling the proper sounds. Cleveland speech therapy for kids can help.
When it comes to speech therapy, our team carefully maps out a plan of care that is specific to each individual. Kids with multiple disabilities are going to need extra consideration and planning. Many of our patients not only struggle to communicate, but they also have:
- Visual impairments.
- Hearing impairments.
- Intellectual impairments.
- Mobility impairments.
Speech therapy alone can put a lot of goals on a child’s plate. But many of these kids are also recommended for/receive all or some combination of occupational therapy, ABA therapy and physical therapy.
Working With a Collaborative Team
One of the ways Therapy & Wellness Connection is unique in the Northeast Ohio region is that we offer all of these services in one location – and we also offer in-home care, educational services, therapy groups and camps. We understand that parents of children with multiple disabilities are dealing with enough each day as it is. They want the best care for their child, but they are also just trying to get by with day-to-day life. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible on them, while also providing top quality services. The benefit of having a multi-disciplinary team is that we’re all on the same page, working together, collaborating – so parents and caregivers aren’t having to explain the same thing to five different therapists in multiple disciplines.
Our ability to collaborate and get on the same page as providers can influence how successful we are in our strategies for working with children who have numerous disabilities. Because a child isn’t just a mouth or ears or eyes. It is a whole person. We recognize that – and work to address challenges from a holistic perspective.
Modifying Akron Speech Therapy to Meet the Child’s Needs
Our speech therapy team is always looking at ways we can be the most effective. That means we’re never going to use the exact same approach for two different children. (We don’t even always use the same approach for the same child, particularly as they make progress!)
We look carefully at each patient’s level of communication as well as their comorbidities. When we’re preparing our speech therapy sessions, we look at ways we can modify our approach so that we can keep it fun and engaging, but also allow them to actively participate and reach their target goals – even if that is inch-by-inch.
- For a child with visual impairments, we would incorporate lots of tactile and auditory input as well as possibly sign language.
- For a child with auditory impairments, we would incorporate large visual aids and clear signs.
- For a child with behavioral challenges, we set clear rules and expectations and collaborate with their behavior therapist on the strategies they are using so we can stay consistent across the board.
One thing that doesn’t change is that our efforts are always based on what is going to create the best outcomes for the child.
We invite parents and caregivers of children with multiple disabilities to call us, meet with us, tour our facilities and talk with other parents of patients about their challenges and successes and why they have chosen us to help their child communicate and thrive.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Cleveland. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Multiple Disabilities, April 19, 2019, Center for Parent Information and Resources
More Blog Entries:
Top Five Speech Teletherapy Myths, Jan. 10, 2021, Akron Speech Therapy Blog
Among the many reasons children are referred to our Cleveland speech therapists are articulation disorders. A child with an articulation disorder has trouble forming speech sounds properly. This is slightly different from phonological disorders, in which a child can produce the correct sounds, but puts them in the wrong place or order.
Both of these are forms of expressive language issues. That is, they pertain to how well a child can communicate with others. This differs from receptive language disorders, wherein a child has trouble understanding what is being communicated with them. Some children struggle with both.
Keep in mind that it’s completely normal for young kids to make speech errors as their language is developing. However, kids with articulation disorders will be tough to understand, even when other kids their age are mostly speaking clearly.
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month – a fact that sometimes has people asking, “Who ISN’T aware of Down syndrome?”
It’s true that Down syndrome is far and away the most common condition involving chromosomes. It occurs in about 1 in every 691 births, with more than 400,000 people living with Down syndrome in the U.S. today, according to the CDC, and many of us are at least somewhat familiar with it and have probably met at least one person who has it.
The month of awareness started in the 1980s by the National Down Syndrome Society. The express goal was to spread awareness as well as greater understanding about Down syndrome and to promote advocacy and foster inclusion throughout the community.
If you have asked yourself whether your child is a”late talker” or if there’s some larger underlying issue, it’s important to understand that a delay in speech may only be one part of the problem. From the point of view of our Cleveland speech therapists, receptive language delays are among the most common – but overlooked – challenges in children who struggle to communicate.
What Are Receptive Language Delays?
A child is usually going to understand what he or she hears before actually using words. In a nutshell, that is receptive language. A child with receptive language delays is one who struggles to understand what others are saying.
As the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) explains, language refers to the words we use and how they are used in order to share ideas and get what we want. It differs from speech, which is the way we say sounds and words. Speech includes our articulation, voice and fluency. Language, on the other hand, encompasses:
- Understanding the meaning of words. This can be really tricky, especially if words have more than one meaning. For instance, a crane is a kind of bird, but it’s also a type of construction equipment. It can also be an action (“She had to crane her neck to see the show.”).
- Making new words. Take the word “friend.” If we switch it up and say “befriend,” “unfriendly” or “friendship,” we build on the original word, but they each mean something different.
- How we put words together. Instead of saying, “Zack walk his dog new,” we’d say, “Zack walked his new dog.”
- Recognizing the appropriate timing for certain words. For instance, if we’re trying to pass someone in an aisle, we may politely request, “Excuse me, could I move past, please?” But in an emergency, we might yell, “Move out of the way!”
Some of these are advanced concepts, but they show how you might recognize pretty quickly in a one-on-one interaction if older child or adult struggled with receptive language. In younger children, though, receptive language delays can be trickier to spot. Parents, teachers and sometimes even doctors and therapists might miss the signs. Yet often, when a toddler isn’t saying very much, it’s often because they don’t understand very much.
Often when speech and language therapy is recommended for a child, one of the first questions parents have is, “For how long will my child need speech therapy?”
As much as our Cleveland speech-language pathologists (SLPs) would love to give parents an answer, the reality is there are numerous factors to consider before offering even an educated guess.
What we can say is that Therapy and Wellness Connection aims to maximize the time we have with your child by having speech therapy sessions at home or in school with our clients. This helps facilitate faster carry-over so that the lessons we’re teaching stick. That can cut down on the length of time your child needs to remain in therapy.
Occasionally parents are concerned when their toddlers don’t sit still and focus during their Cleveland speech therapy sessions. Sometimes, the concern extends to other settings too. They fear their child isn’t getting the most possible out of whatever the activity, anxious that they won’t be ready for day care or preschool or kindergarten.
But here’s a truth our speech therapists learned a long time ago: Whether a toddler is speech-delayed or not, you can’t force him or her to sit down, sit still and pay attention. You can’t force a toddler (or anyone, really) to do and learn something if they aren’t interested. But the fact is: That’s not how kids learn anyway – toddlers especially.
Children are Motivated By Movement, Play
We hear questions like this frequently because we are very adamant in preaching early intervention, so children younger than 5 are among our primary speech therapy patients.