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!
Sign language isn’t just for the hearing impaired. Many children with speech and language disorders who struggle to express themselves can be taught non-verbal forms of communication. As our Akron speech therapists can explain, this can help kickstart the development of verbal language and help ease their frustrations. For some kids, we’ll use sign language alone, but it can also be used in conjunction with tools like picture cards or electronic devices to further encourage engagement.
Recently, a new study published in the journal Developmental Science revealed that babies as young as 5-months0old can be influenced by sign language. Researchers used a gaze-tracking technology on two groups of infants between the ages of 5 and 14 months and children between the ages of 2 and 8 years. All were confirmed to have normal hearing. About half had parents who used American Sign Language at home and the other half had no exposure to it.
Infants who came from homes where ASL was used looked mostly at the adult’s face, barely registering the hand movements. Kids who were newly exposed to sign language still preferred the face, but watched the hand movements as well.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. The same principle applies when it comes to pediatric speech therapy. Our Akron speech therapists are committed to working with your child through thick and thin, and we won’t give up when it gets hard.
That said, study after study has shown optimal outcomes when parents and speech-language pathologists work together to help practice skills in as many environments and with as much consistency as possible to improve carryover. In one recent analysis published last year in the International Journal of Language & Communication Disorder, collaboration with parents was found to be a common theme among kids who made greater strides.
It’s estimated approximately 1 in 12 kids have a disorder related to speech, voice, language or swallowing. Pediatric speech therapy can help kids make enormous progress. Sometimes in the end, you would never know the child received speech therapy. But involving parents can accelerate the process and make the experience easier for the child.
Here, our Akron pediatric speech therapy explain some of the key benefits of therapists and parents being on the same page:
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
Our Brecksville speech therapy team at Therapy & Wellness Connection understands that more screen time among children is practically an inevitable pandemic reality. Parents are overwhelmed with juggling work, childcare and other responsibilities. But if you’re shopping for families of young children just learning to talk or those who are speech/language-impaired, there are many options that don’t involve high-tech.
The good news is non-tech games and toys are typically less expensive while also yielding rich developmental benefits. Some of the features our speech therapy team looks for in toys are those that help teach:
- Hands-on play
- Real-world interactions.
We look for those that boost all of the foundational learning and language skills that we’re focused on building and sharpening in speech therapy.
In contrast, non-tech toys are usually less expensive and yield rich developmental benefits by encouraging real-world interaction with loved ones and hands-on play. These features build children’s vocabulary and social skills, and teach cause and effect, problem-solving, and nearly every other foundational language and learning skills.
Hearing loss can profoundly impact a child’s development of speech, language and social skills. The sooner a child who is hard-of-hearing or deaf begins receiving services, the more likely they are to reach their maximum potential. Speech therapy is one of the key services deaf children need – even if they receive cochlear implants.
September is International Deaf Awareness Month, and it’s important to address some misconceptions that might result in unnecessary long-term challenges for children who are deaf.
Speech-language pathologists at Therapy and Wellness Connection know that when these issues aren’t addressed early on, children may arrive at school behind on their language and reasoning skills. A cochlear implant can dramatically help children with hearing loss – but that isn’t where treatment should stop.
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.