Simple, but Effective, Communication Strategy

March 24, 2015

This simple strategy is easy to implement at home. At snack time, get down on your child’s level and offer two choices. Hold them about shoulder-width apart and far enough away so that your child cannot grab. Once s/he points to or reaches for the desired object, hold that one up by your face and say the name of it. Pause expectantly, giving your child the opportunity to imitate. After about 5 seconds (you can count in your head), say the name again and pause. Do this once more and then hand the item over whether or not your child has imitated. If your child does imitate (or attempt to imitate) the word, be sure to praise the effort.

Apple
Boy
Banana

Benefits of using this strategy:

  1. By offering a choice, your child has to intentionally communicate a want or need. This is an early step on the way to talking.
  2. By getting down on your child’s level, you get his/her attention and make it easier to watch your face.
  3. Children tend to look at the object they want, so bringing it up by your face while you say its name encourages eye contact and allows your child to watch your mouth as you form the word, so s/he can see how it is said.
  4. By pausing expectantly and waiting, rather than saying, “Say ___,” you are giving your child the opportunity to imitate without any pressure. This is important because many children with delayed language will shut down when pressure is put on them to speak. Please be sure not to tell your child to say the desired word.
  5. By saying the word 3 times, you ensure that s/he has heard the word 3 times in the immediate context of the item, which helps with understanding the meaning of the word.
  6. By giving the item to your child after the third time you have said it, you reduce everyone’s frustration. You, as the parent, do not have all day to wait for your child to say a word before giving a snack. By limiting yourself to saying the word 3 times, you get to move on. Your child also gets to practice being patient.
  7. When this strategy is used consistently, many children get tired of waiting for you to say the word three times, and learn to imitate after the first or second time.

Modifications:

  1. If your child points specifically to what s/he wants, you can skip the step about offering a choice, as your child has already used intentional communication to indicate a want/need. Go straight to holding the desired item up by your face.
  2. Once you’re comfortable with this strategy at snack time, try it out during other routines. (Green shirt or red shirt; play trains or blocks; milk or water)

 


My Favorite App: PicCollage

March 12, 2014

Despite the plethora of speech and language apps available for phones and tablets, I actually don’t use them that much in therapy. This is mainly because I find that most of my little clients are so proficient at using touchscreens that they tune me out as soon as they get their hands on a phone or tablet and all meaningful interaction ceases. However, there are times when I find that a specific app either makes my job a little easier or keeps the child engaged a little longer, and that’s when I pull out my tablet.

PicCollage truly is my favorite app to use in speech and language therapy sessions. I initially downloaded this free app (available for iOS and Android devices) just to make collages of pictures that my own kids could bring to school for show and tell. Then one day I had an epiphany; I could use PicCollage to create a picture schedule. Prior to that, when I needed to create a picture schedule for a session, I had been taking pictures of the activities for the day, printing them out, cutting them out, and attaching them to a board with two-sided tape. With PicCollage, I can either use pictures that I’ve taken or search the web (through the app) for a suitable picture. Then I just add them to the collage, line them up, add a heading, and I’m done. At the beginning of each session, my 4-year-old client looks at the schedule and tells me everything we’re going to do for the day. After each activity, he gets to swipe the picture into the trash to show that the activity is finished. (This is definitely his favorite part.) When all of the activities have made it into the trash, the session is over. This method is much more efficient and saves some paper too.

PicCollage Picture Schedule

Parents can use PicCollage in a similar way for difficult daily routines. For example, if your child has trouble remembering to complete all of the steps needed to get ready for bed, you can take pictures of the things he needs to do and put them in order in the collage (shower, pajamas, toothbrush, book, bathroom). Then, as he completes each item, he moves it to the trash. Once all the tasks are complete, it’s time for bed. Picture schedules are particularly helpful for children on the autism spectrum who need routine and predictability built into their day. This app provides a portable way to take picture schedules with you out of the house.

PicCollage Bedtime Picture Schedule

Another use I’ve found for PicCollage is creating interactive “worksheets.” I was working on possessive nouns with one child, and rather than using a traditional worksheet in which she would draw a line to match each object to its owner, she manipulated them on the screen and formulated a sentence like, “It is the dog’s bone.” The use of the touchscreen seemed less like work to her than a worksheet would have, but I still got her to practice the grammatical structure we were targeting. (And she got to put the pictures in the trash when she was done with them.)

PicCollage Interactive Worksheet

Here are a few other ideas for using PicCollage to support language development:

  • After a vacation, put a few pictures from your trip in sequence. Then, have your child use the pictures to help tell someone about the trip. (Skills addressed: formulating sentences, creating narratives)
  • Take pictures of the steps in a process (e.g. making a sandwich) and put them in random order on the screen. Then, have your child put the pictures in the correct order and tell how to do the task. (Skills addressed: sequencing, formulating sentences)
  • Use the web to find a collection of seemingly random pictures (shoes, car, airplane, carrot, giraffe, bird, apple, stop sign…), and then have your child find things that are alike in some way and tell how they are alike. (An airplane and a bird both fly. An apple and a stop sign are both red.) (Skills addressed: comparing, formulating sentences, identifying features of nouns)

The possibilities for using PicCollage to support speech and language development are really limitless. If you have another idea, please share it in a comment.


Bubbles Aren’t Just for Blowing Anymore

February 10, 2014

In one of my previous posts, “Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles!” I listed several speech and language skills that could be targeted while blowing bubbles with a young child. In this post, I have a few more skills that can be addressed while blowing bubbles.

Encourage your child to pop the bubbles in different ways:

  • Poking the bubbles with the index finger will encourage an isolated point, a fine motor skill. Once the skill is achieved, the child can more effectively point to indicate wants and needs and engage in joint attention.
  • Pinching the bubbles between the thumb and index fingers will encourage the use of a neat pincer grasp, another fine motor skill. Young children need this skill in order to efficiently pick up small objects and will one day use it to hold a pencil correctly for writing.
  • Stomping the bubbles while standing up encourages use of the gross motor muscles.
  • Clapping the bubbles between the two hands encourages the child to bring his hands together at the midline of the body, which requires the two sides of the brain to work together.

You can use these motor activities when playing with bubbles and integrate some additional cognitive and language skills.

  • Motor imitation – Have your child copy your action: poking like a bumblebee, pinching like a crab, stomping like an elephant, or clapping like a seal.
  • Following directions – Give your child a verbal direction without modeling the action to be done.
  • Imitating 2-word phrases – As you and your child pop the bubbles in a variety of ways, use 2-word phrases to describe what you are doing, and encourage your child to repeat them. “Pinch bubble,” or “Clap bubbles.”
  • Using verbs – You perform the action and have your child narrate what you are doing. “You poked the bubble,” or “You stomped on the bubble.”
  • Engaging in pretend play – Your child can act out how one of the animals listed above would pop the bubbles or he can think of an original one to act out.

Bubbles

In my previous bubbles post, I discouraged the use of a bubble machine because the key to the activity was the interaction between the adult and the child in requesting bubbles. However, for this set of activities, I think the use of a bubble machine is fine, since the goal is not requesting. The adult and child still need to be interacting for it to be effective, but a bubble machine could free up the adult’s hands for some good clean bubble popping fun.


Language development? There’s An App For That.

July 8, 2013

At the end of a recent speech and language therapy session, I was allowing a preschool-age child to use my Android tablet as a reinforcer for having worked hard throughout the session. I opened an app that I recently added for my daughter to use and suddenly had a great idea. The app, PBS Kids Photo Factory, can be used to target location concepts, facial body parts, and size words.

Here are the steps to follow once you’ve downloaded the app:

  1. Tap the camera button in the app.
  2. Select “Take Photo” to take a picture of your child using your phone or tablet’s camera.
  3. Once you’re satisfied with the photo, tap the checkmark.
  4. Tap decorate, and select a show your child enjoys.
  5. Choose one of the characters by tapping it.

To target the comprehension of location concepts and facial body parts, you can have your child move the character around her face to different spots you tell her. Examples include:

  • Put Elmo next to you.
  • Put Elmo under your nose.
  • Put Elmo on top of your head.
  • Put Elmo between your eyes.
  • Put Elmo below your chin.
  • Turn Elmo upside down.

For the expressive use of these concepts, the adult can move the character around and ask the child, “Where is Elmo now?”

Elmo between the eyes

The characters can be made smaller or larger by either pinching or stretching them. Then, they can be used to work on size words. To target receptive language, you could give commands like, “Make Super Why bigger,” or, “Make Clifford smaller.” For expressive language work, the adult would change the size and ask the child, “Did Caillou get bigger or smaller?”

The one caveat is that your child cannot just be left alone with the device and expected to learn these concepts. As always, it’s the interaction with another person that counts. The device is merely a fun tool.

This activity is appropriate for older toddlers and preschoolers, as well as elementary-age children with language delays.

This app is available for iPod Touch, iPhone, Android phone, Android Tablet, and Kindle tablet.

What other apps do you know that can be used this way? Leave a comment to tell us!


Car Talk

June 4, 2013

With the summer upon us, many families will be traveling, yielding potentially many hours in a car or on a plane during which you will need to occupy your child. Below are a few ideas for entertaining your child, and at the same time, fostering his language development.

Play category games. These games help your child to better organize the meanings of words and how words relate to each other in his mind. They are also helpful for working on turn taking. Here are some ideas of categories in which you can take turns naming members.

  • colors
  • vehicles
  • foods
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • clothes
  • Disney characters
  • super heroes
  • things with wheels (You can talk about how this is not necessarily the same as vehicles. Boats are vehicles without wheels. Suitcases can have wheels but aren’t vehicles.)

You can make the games slightly more complex by adding an extra feature to the category.

  • foods that are green
  • Disney characters that aren’t people
  • vehicles that don’t go on land

For kids who are a little older, you can make the task harder by making it an alphabet game. Take turns naming category members beginning with each letter of the alphabet. For example, if the category were foods, the first person could say “apple,” the second person could say “bagel,” and so on.

For preschoolers on up, you can take turns trying to come up with as many words as you can think of that start with a particular letter. For young children who aren’t yet reading and spelling, this requires the use of phonics (letter-sound associations) and phonological skills. For example, if the letter is M, your child has to recognize that M says /m/ and then think of words that begin with that sound. If your child is in speech therapy and is working on saying a particular sound correctly, this can be a great carryover activity.

There are also plenty of free printable games available on the web that are perfect for the car. Travel bingo and backseat scavenger hunts, in which your child looks out the window to find specific things, utilize attention and memory skills. This vehicle graphing activity is an easy way to work on early math skills. Once the graph is completed, you can talk about quantity concepts like more, less, most, and least.

As you can see, none of these games require you to bring a lot of extra stuff on your trip, but they can help fill what seem like endless hours in the car. What games do you and your family like to play in the car? Leave a comment to let us know!

backseat kid


Picture It

April 29, 2013

If your child is like most, she loves to see herself in pictures. Why not take advantage of this and use it as an opportunity to help develop her language skills? Of course, sources for pictures to look at and work with are numerous. You may have them tucked neatly into a baby book or scrapbook, or perhaps, they’re all uploaded to Facebook. You may have them accessible on a tablet, in which case your child can touch and scroll through them herself. Wherever they are, and however you choose to share them with your child, there are plenty of skills you can target through this simple activity.

  • Pointing – You can work on the actual act of using the index finger to point to things. This does not come naturally to some children, especially those with language delays. Simply model pointing yourself as you name what you are pointing out.
  • Referring to self – As your child points to pictures of herself, encourage her to use words like I and me, as well as her name. “There I am,” or, “It’s me.”
  • Combining words – You can model this for your child by describing a picture in two to three words. “Suzy’s hat,” or, “Johnny in wagon.”
  • Using verbs – Often, children who are language delayed develop a large vocabulary of nouns to label things, but they are short on verbs to describe actions. You can ask your child what she was doing in the picture. If she has trouble coming up with a sentence with a verb, you can model a sentence like, “Jenny was dancing,” or, “Kelly was swimming in the pool.”

If you’re really ambitious, you can take current pictures of your child and create an album or slideshow of her doing specific activities, wearing specific items of clothing, or holding specific objects you might want to talk about. For example, you might take pictures of her playing dress up and then talk about a silly hat or big sunglasses. Or, you can take pictures of her throwing and kicking a ball and then talk about those verbs. The possibilities are truly endless.

How has talking about pictures of himself or herself helped your child?

Toddler with sunglasses


Learning Language Through Natural Routines: A Walk in the Neighborhood

April 15, 2013

Now that spring is here, it’s a great time to go on an outside adventure with your child. Point to and label everything you see, feel, and hear, as you take a walk through the neighborhood. Below are some ideas that will help to build your child’s vocabulary. These activities are appropriate for young children with and without language delays.

toddler walking

  • Encourage your child to look for animals that are different sizes. This will help him learn the concepts big and little
  • If you hear a plane, point it out to your child, and say, “I see the plane. I hear the plane.” Encourage your child to repeat the word plane.
  • Talk about the weather: “It feels hot today, ” or “I see a lot of clouds in the sky. Maybe it’s going to rain.”
  • Help your child understand and respond to questions that begin with where. Ask, “Where is the red car?’ or, “Where is the stop sign?” If your child does not respond, you can point out the object, and say, “There it is.” If he points correctly, you can say, “Yes, it’s straight ahead,” or “Yes, it’s in the driveway.”
  • Talk about the words fast and slow. You might comment, “That car is going fast.” Ask your child to run fast or walk slowly.
  • Help your child understand the preposition over by asking him to jump over the cracks in the sidewalk.

Remember, young children need to hear literally several thousand words per day in order to become proficient communicators. By commenting on the things you and your child see, even if you don’t ask your child to say anything in response, your are providing good language input.

What other words and concepts can you think of to talk about as you take a walk with your child? Leave a comment with your thoughts.