4 Ways to Jumpstart Speech Therapy at Home
With the body awash in insulin to metabolize all that holiday sugar and (if you’re like me) a mildly shocking reading from the scale, the New Year is a time to set new goals—resolutions, we like to say—to make us especially steadfast. While most New Year’s resolutions tend to involve personal disciplines like not eating so much barbecue or to get more exercise, as parents it is important to consider how our resolutions could positively influence our child’s education. Here are four easy-to-implement resolutions to either get your child’s therapy back on track or to further bolster their progress with a little speech therapy at home.
1. Re-Establish Regular Communication with your Child’s SLP
Whether you’re taking advantage of private services or your child is being currently seen under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in your local school, it is often all too easy to lose the regular contact routine with your child’s SLP. Everyone gets busy; maybe we don’t want to pester our SLP; maybe my child will get annoyed with me. However, the importance of maintaining this regular communication cannot be understated. For school-based services, I advocate writing an email or calling into your SLP at least every month and for private practice services I recommend communicating considerably more frequently than this. Often, parents and therapists will directly, if briefly, communicate after sessions. At every communication, I would recommend parents asked the following questions:
- What are the current goals and how has my child responded?
- What’s likely next on the therapy agenda?
- What, specifically, can I do as a parent to follow up on these goals?
2. Get Specific Details from your SLP on how to Follow Up with your Child
I italicized “specifically” above because, as I’ve mentioned in previous Speech Buddies blog posts, you should demand instructions on exactly the following:
- what goal you are targeting,
- a couple ideas on how to target that goal,
- how often you should sit down with your child to work directly with him or her,
- how long or intensive should each home-based “session” be,
- and what type of feedback or reinforcement you should be giving your child, depending on how he or she does with that given task.
For example, to give you a sample home-based program you might receive from your SLP, if your daughter is 7 years old and working on the SH sound:
- your SLP should give you a specific list of words to use that has SH in those words;
- you should play motivating board games like Mouse Trap or Apples to Apples Jr, that can elicit the SH sound or just run those specific word lists;
- you should do this preferably three times per week for at least ten minutes
- and reward your daughter with a little extra screen time or, if you have two good weeks of home-based work, consider an ice cream or movie outing.
I have found in my experience that this specificity is absolutely essential. If parents are left to figure things out too much on their own, then this home-based follow-up work simply won’t likely get done. So, as a parent, demand specifics on exactly what to do. And, if for whatever reason, you are not clear on what to do, do not hesitate to solicit more clarification, more information – this is, after all, your therapist’s job and he or she will be more than happy to oblige.
3. Stick to the Plan
I will freely admit that I don’t go to the gym nearly as often as I’d like to or as I should. Having two young children—and the full time job of course—makes it hard to carve out the time. But I know that this is just a rationalization—an excuse, really—and ultimately I have to just make it happen. The same is true of home-based work. Once your therapist gives you a plan, stick to it. One trick, for making this really work, is to set aside a regular time or routine activity as your “speech practice time”. In other words, it can be 7:30 pm every night or it can be during breakfast. As long as it is something highly regular and not subject to change (barring extraordinary circumstances), your child will come to expect this as just another routine in his or her day. Also, if you miss a home-based session, I recommend making that session up. Over the holidays, there are a number events that might make this home-based follow-up tricky. It’s best if these don’t become a reason for not working. Otherwise this can become that “slippery slope” wherein, all of sudden, you realize your discipline has evaporated and your child might think that you’re not as serious as you once were about following through. Sure, a brief hiatus during the holidays may be sensible. After all, everyone needs a break. But, making this a part of your new year’s speech resolution will likely form the core of the success your child will experience as he continues to progress in therapy.
4. If It’s Broken, Fix It!
The last recommendation I would have for the new year definitely overlaps with the tips mentioned above, but really involves a call-to-action for parents. In your regular communications with your therapist, in which you are receiving specific instructions for home-based follow-up, make sure you are actively inquiring about progress. It is not uncommon for therapy to initially show minimal to no progress. In fact, according to a large-scale study from 2002:
28% of pre-school and school-age students make no measurable progress.
Of course, learning to overcome an articulation or language challenge can be a complex, prolonged process, and we should be patient with our clinicians and their chosen therapy methodologies. But that doesn’t mean that we, as parents, should be complacent. Ask your private or school-based SLP to provide you with rationales for each therapy goal as well as each methodology employed. It should make intuitive sense. Ask your therapist how your child has responded; what has been easy and what has been challenging. When things have been challenging, or as we speech pathologists put it—when a child hasn’t been “stimulable”—what adjustments has the therapist made or do they plan to make in order to bring about stimulability. What adjustments are being made to increase the capacity for the child to make that initial learning breakthrough? A good percentage of the 28% of kids who do not make progress can be helped by using next-generation tools, such as Speech Buddies, and it is important for your therapist to employ these tools whenever they may provide a clinical benefit.
To summarize, these New Year’s resolutions emphasize open communication and consistency. It all starts with that regular coordination of care with your school-based or private practitioner. Demand specific exercises and have high standards: if no measurable progress can be observed, then it might be time to make a change in therapy approach. This is truly a classic New Year’s resolution as the onus lies on parents to be consistent and disciplined. Just like any other New Year’s resolution that you might make, these resolutions do require perseverance and a sustained commitment.
But I know you’ll really see this pay off well before spring comes!