Hot Topic Blog - Communication
QUICK TIPS TO IMPROVE A CHILD'S COMMUNICATIONBy Scott Prath, MA, CCC-SLP, Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist in Austin, Texas
Talking comes to most children quite easily, and it is amazing to think the foundation of our complex language abilities are developed by age four – without effort! However, when children have feeding, hearing loss, or other issues, communication can sometimes be delayed or disordered. The great news is that parents and care providers can alter what they do each day to make their daily tasks more linguistically rich. This can’t be overstated.
In our work with young children we (as speech-language pathologists) find that children are more successful when parents simply alter their daily routines to include more communication. We get it! Parents are very busy people, and trying to add something new like “speech time” can be difficult. Here are some tips to make your day as a parent more linguistically rich. These ideas are taken from our book: Routines-Based Early Intervention Guidebook.
Multisensory cueing is a technical term for helping children produce sounds by incorporating the use of many of their senses. Specifically, we use visual, tactile, motor, and auditory cues. The goal is to gradually fade these cues as the child becomes more successful in producing target sounds and words. Below we discuss each of the multisensory cues. These cues are often used simultaneously.
Visual cues may include demonstrating placement through exaggerated mouth movements, calling attention to the mouth or face with hand signals, and/or providing pictures. A mirror will allow children to see their own mouths as they produce sounds, which provides a connection between the way sounds look and feel.
Visual Example: You are feeding your child and you bring the food up next to your mouth as you say the word, so the child can see your mouth move next to the food you just named.
Tactile cues may include physically touching and manipulating the child’s face, jaw, lips, and tongue in order to show them the correct placement for specific sounds or using touch to draw attention to certain sounds and their characteristics.
Tactile Example: Pointing to your nose to cue for sounds where the air goes through the nose (i.e., “m, n, and ng” sounds) or dragging your finger along the child’s arm while saying a long sound like “s” as opposed to a short sound like “d” where you move your finger to match the short sound length.
Motor/Movement cues may include the use of large or gross-motor cues such as jumping, stomping, waving, tapping, and/or clapping the sounds or syllables of a word, as well as small or fine-motor cues such as finger tapping or pointing.
Motor Example: Jumping from tile to tile across the kitchen with your child saying a phrase such as “I want milk.”
Auditory/Sound cues may include emphasizing a particular sound in a word (e.g., “mmm, mama”) or in the child’s environment (e.g., “shhh,” the sound of water while taking a bath), as well as providing melodic cues which use music, rhythm, or song-like productions to draw attention to certain sounds or syllables.
MODELING GREAT COMMUNICATION
In addition to the use of cues, speech production is also facilitated through providing models of the targeted sounds. Modeling involves giving children slow, clear, and deliberate examples of the sound or word they are attempting to produce. Below are some tips for modeling appropriate speech production.
It is natural to provide one model for the child in order to demonstrate how to correctly produce a sound. For example, if the child says “dat,” our response is “yes, it’s a cat.” However, to be even more effective as a model, you should repeat the correct production several times without interrupting the natural flow of the conversation (e.g., “Yes, it’s a cat. It’s a yellow cat. The cat is sleeping.”).
When providing a model, draw the child’s attention to the missing or incorrect sound by emphasizing the sound in your model. One way of doing this is by repeating the initial sound of the word (e.g., papa; p, p, p). We can also break groups of sounds (clusters) apart and say them separately (e.g., cream becomes “c”-“ream”) and then say the whole word (e.g., “cream”).
Many children automatically simplify adult words. You will hear speech-language pathologists call these simplifications phonological processes. However, some children may require that the adult simplify the target word for them if the word is too difficult for the child to say. For example, the adult may say, “Do you want a nana?” (for banana) slowly and with extra emphasis, so the child can say “nana.” However, it is also important for the adult to always tell the child the whole word (i.e., “You are eating a banana.”).
Expect a Verbal Response
As parents, we often answer for our children or know what they want, so they don’t request it verbally. When a child’s communication is delayed, we need to create opportunities for the child to be successful when it is not stressful. This way, when we really need to know what they are saying in a dire moment, they will have the tools to communicate.
When the child is able to produce sounds and words correctly, you can encourage him or her to repeat the correct production either immediately after you (e.g., The adult says, “Say cat.”) or with a delay (e.g., The adult says, “Up, up, up. Where is the truck going?” and the child says, “Up”).
With cloze procedures, the adult begins a familiar phrase that contains a sound or word the child is practicing with a high question-like tone. Then, the child finishes the phrase. For example, the adult might say “Ready, set…” and the child says, “Go!”
A FEW REMINDERS
-Don’t overlook the obvious. Sometimes children need help learning to use intentional vocalizations before working on higher level skills (e.g., words). For example, the child’s use of any vowel or sound attempt (such as “ah”) should be reinforced with a response from an adult. Communication doesn’t always begin at the word level.
-The more significant the speech production problem, the greater the importance of careful sound selection. Choose targets that include at least one sound the child can produce. Your child’s speech-language pathologist can help you with this process.
-Cover all your bases. Ask your child’s speech-language pathologist to teach you how to use multiple cues simultaneously and also how to choose appropriate targets.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Prath is the Vice-President of Bilinguistics in Austin, Texas and is a bilingual speech-language pathologist serving a diverse caseload in the school and early childhood settings. He is a lead writer for The Speech Therapy Blog, and he would love to hear from you at http://www.bilinguistics.com/ . He is also the author of the Routines-based Early Intervention Guidebook which can be found on Amazon.