Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Guest Post: Ms. Lisa, Ellie's Speech Therapist


Of the questions I get on this blog and Instagram, the most common questions are about speech.  Ellie speaks fairly well for a kid with Down syndrome. While we worked hard with her, I'm fairly certain that her natural giftedness plays a big role in her non-stop chatter.

I've also received a fair number of queries about which "program" Ellie uses.  I'm a big believer in traditional early intervention therapies, and we hit the jackpot with our therapists.  While the official relationship with Ellie's first therapists ended when she entered school, I've stayed in touch with all of them.

I got this crazy idea that Ms. Lisa should be the one to tell you about Ellie's speech, since she's a professional speech therapist and I'm a mom with a special ed certification.

And then, I ran into Lisa and totally suckered her into this.  So a huge, huge THANK YOU to Lisa for being awesome even though her official reign as Ellie's SLP ended a year ago. 

First I will start by saying I’m excited to be sharing some tips and tricks with everyone here.  When Megan and I ran into each other a few weeks back and she asked me to do a guest post I laughed and said “sure,” secretly hoping that she never would ask again.  Well, she did and because Megan always took such good care of me when I worked with Ellie, I thought I better hold up my end of the deal.  
Being an Early Intervention therapist has been one of the best learning experiences of my professional career to date.  Having families welcome me into their homes to take part in supporting the growth of their child is an honor that makes my job incredibly rewarding!  

The therapy approach that I try to employ with young toddlers and preschool- aged children, especially within Early Intervention (home- based, family- centered therapy for birth to three year olds) is real- world, child- centered fun! All of you parents know that when your toddler doesn’t want to do something, there’s very little you can do to change his or her mind, so in therapy I try to let the child pick what we play.  You can make just about any activity a language- learning activity.  For example: if your child is building his or her core vocabulary (basic words that can be used in a lot of different activities), grab some containers of different sizes and shapes, some blocks or small toy items and now you have the supplies to work on requesting, turn-taking, and modeling language. 

When parents ask what they can do to make an impact on their child’s speech development, the best thing I can suggest is to talk to their child throughout the day and to give them different life experiences.  It’s all about creating a need to communicate! Go to the library for story-time, take your child to the grocery store (when your list is short!), go to the pool, the park, just about anywhere where they will encounter new things to look at and talk about and even some new friends to play with.  
Also, if your child is working with a Speech- Language Pathologist, be involved in his or her therapy.  Participate directly in sessions if you can, observe, and ask questions whenever you need to.  Ask your child’s therapist for a direct suggestion of what you can practice till you see them again (be it a specific sign/ word, or activity).  



Some of my favorite tips and activities for parents of children with developing language: 
  1. Shake things up! Put a favorite toy in a visible but high-up place (hello communication opportunity!), stick a much- loved snack in a Tupperware that your child needs help opening. 
  2. Offer choices when possible- giving forced choices serves as an opportunity to model language for your child and also lets them feel they have control to make a decision in the situation.  
  3. Pretend food or empty food containers- let you little one “make” you something to eat, pretend to mix things in bowls with spoons, and get to serve you. Children like to “play grown up” and imitate things they’ve seen you do.  
  4. Get on the floor! Get down on the floor and play with your child.  Turn off the cell phone, put up the computer and keep the television off! When you are available both physically and mentally for your child, s/he picks up on that. You are the best play activity for your child! 
  5. Play off of your child’s interests- if your little one likes trains then start there.  Make silly sounds, even sounds that trains don’t ‘normally’ make.  Model sounds and words that your child can work toward imitating in a low- stress playful situation.  

Megan shared that some of her readers might be looking for suggestions for communication with a non-verbal toddler or early elementary school aged- child.  Personally, I am an advocate of a total- communication approach to learning and teaching.  What that means is that signs, pictures, approximations of words, words, or any viable and reasonable attempt to communicate is accepted.  
One strategy is to start with a few signs, especially for activities or items that your child wants/ needs and struggles to communicate about (eat, juice, cracker, teddy, train, go, etc).  Signs are great because while you can’t physically get your child to say words, you can physically assist your child’s hands in producing the signs as they begin to understand them.  
Another strategy to teach communication is to take and print pictures of high frequency items and activities that your child wants to communicate for.  When S/he wants crackers for example, encourage her to point to or give you the picture of the cracker to communicate what she wants.  Each time she exchanges a picture for an item or activity, you pair it with the verbal word as a model.  Over time, building your child’s repertoire of signs and pictures paired with verbal words. 
Using these ideas, I try to follow a 1-3 rule, which means that I will model a word or sign, only up to three times for a child to imitate.   If after the third model the word/ sign isn’t imitated, the item is given to the child and you move on to a different communication opportunity or a new turn.  

Above all else have fun! I know struggling to communicate with a toddler is difficult.  It’s hard for us as the adults and even harder the little ones so try to keep learning and communication fun and motivating.  

Thank you, Lisa!  You are the best and we wish you could be Ellie's school therapist, too!
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