Whether your child struggles with nonverbal communication or has atypical speech patterns, therapy should not end when they leave school. While shadowing and participating in speech therapy in the school setting, I realized that there are numerous ways parents can reinforce the lessons learned in speech therapy at home.
READ, READ, READ, AND THEN READ MORE
Storytime is one of the best ways to increase language and teach speech and conversation skills such as turn-taking. If your child prefers routine, reading right before bed can help set the tone. Autistic children often have difficulties with attention, so it may be best to read in short intervals frequently as opposed to long intervals less frequently. Another way to increase attentiveness is to let your child choose the book that they are interested in. Reading the same story numerous times can help your child pick up more language. For example, reading is a great way to increase a child’s vocabulary, but it may be better to read the same book numerous times rather than numerous books one time because the more your child is exposed to the same vocabulary words, the more likely they will be able to store them in their long term memory. Asking questions and creating fill-in-the-blank sentences about the book can also help keep them engaged. Furthermore, it is a great way to add in some practice with prepositions. For example, if the book has an image of a boy standing under an umbrella, it may be helpful to say, “The boy is standing [blank] the umbrella” and have them fill in the blank.
MAKE SPEECH FUN
What’s one thing children love? GAMES! If you’re bored, then you can guarantee that your child is virtually sleeping. Speech therapy can be made fun through crafts, games, and even flashcards. It is important to make speech practice as fun as possible, which is why speech therapy often looks like play. While playing, you may want to incorporate some movement to increase blood flow. The movement will provide your child’s brain cells with more oxygen and increase blood flow throughout their entire bodies, aiding in the creation of new synapses. Movement helps increase neural connections which will help your child retain the information they are learning.
Another way to make speech fun is to ensure your child is talking about a topic that interests them. Oftentimes while shadowing speech pathologists, I notice that children do not want to talk about what the therapist wants to talk about. However, if the child brings up a topic and the therapist expands upon it, there is open, flowing communication. For example, if a child is interested in a specific toy, such as a dinosaur, and says “dinosaur”, you can ask questions about that specific object.
USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Positive reinforcement is used frequently in the classroom setting to help students acquire new skills and during speech therapy with Autistic children. Positive reinforcement for children is extremely effective in the home setting as well. A reinforcer is a stimulus provided immediately after a behavior that increases the likelihood for that behavior to reoccur. A reinforcer can be more than a toy. It can be any item or activity that a child has a predilection for. Common examples of reinforcers include tokens, a thumbs up, clapping, food, stickers, bubbles, screen time, verbal praise, or ending the current task. Autistic children have difficulties with language, which is why they can be indifferent towards verbal praise alone. Therefore, many speech therapists combine verbal praise with other rewards such as a toy. By doing so, you are not only reinforcing good behavior but also teaching the child the meaning of verbal praise.
Recasting vocalizations means correcting, expanding upon, and repeating back your child’s utterances. For example, if you and your child are playing will a ball and they say, “Ball,” you can reply and say, “Yes, it is a big red ball!” By expanding on their vocalizations, you are introducing two new concepts of size and color. You are also modeling proper syntax or word order. The recast must occur right after the child speaks so they can compare the differences between the utterances.
Marissa De Paoli is an aspiring speech-language pathologist born in Chicago Heights, Il. She is a college student attending Governors State University majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She will begin graduate school in 2021. Marissa has experience working alongside numerous speech pathologists. She strives to share strategies and resources to help individuals communicate.