Are parents important when their child needs speech therapy? According to many studies, they most certainly are. Even when parents enlist the services of a speech language pathologist and clinic, their involvement is critical for its success.
When assessment indicates the need, parents take their child for recommended speech therapy sessions, typically conducted by experienced speech language pathologists who use specific techniques and strategies to improve a child’s communication skills. Parents either watch the techniques from behind a two-way mirror or sit in the room with their child. At the end of the session, parents are given activities to practice with their child until the next visit. Like homework, practice between sessions is essential for a child to profit from speech therapy.
Early intervention is a crucial key to the success of any speech therapy plan. The most effective type of early intervention generally includes intense involvement with parental figures.
Changing Speech Therapy Processes
Today, parents may not directly observe their child’s speech therapy session, but they are still a very important part of the treatment. Parents are encouraged to play an active role in their child’s speech therapy, because
- parents are a child’s first teacher and know him or her best.
- children learn communication skills through everyday activities and conversational experiences.
- children usually have more interaction with parents than teachers, friends and other family members.
- parents have more opportunities than a speech therapist to interact with their child in meaningful ways.
- Interactive Speech Therapy Methods
Interactive speech therapy methods incorporate parents as active participants. For example, techniques involve communication between parent and child, rather than therapist and child. Also included are daily activities at meal, bath and bed times since these are important times of the child’s day. This has proven to be far more effective than focusing on more clinically based activities. Those activities that pertain to regular and ongoing routine life experiences within the child’s most comfortable surroundings are also more motivating and pleasant for a child.
Speech language pathologists teach parents how to use language strategies comfortably and continually with their child so “therapy” becomes a natural part of the family’s day. Parent-implemented intervention is also effective because the therapy is ongoing. Each interaction with a child turns into the opportunity to build upon his or her language learning skills. These techniques work for a variety of disorders, such as language impairments, autism spectrum disorders and developmental delays.
Studies have shown that when parents are not actively involved in their child's therapy, the results are as poor as those are for children who have received no therapy. For example, children who reside in orphanages and other institutional environments have very little success with speech therapy when there is no parental mentor to guide them. The same results are typically found for children receiving other types of health and social services. The lack of parental guidance and support is directly related to the lack of success, unfortunately often across every aspect of their lives.
Parents Make the Difference for Success
A recent study shows that children with a variety of communication difficulties make excellent progress when parents learn to use specific techniques designed to improve the child’s communication skills. It also demonstrates that trained parents are at least as effective, if not more so, as professional speech language pathologists in assisting their child to overcome his or her communication difficulties are. This confirms that parents need to partner with speech therapy providers during the entire process. In addition, studies have demonstrated that parents are easily taught how to promote their child’s ability to communicate, and as a result, their children improve.
So, Are Parents Important in Speech Therapy?
Yes, because parents influence every part of a child's life. This is why parent-implemented intervention studies continue to show how well these techniques work. When parents are trained to promote a child’s communication abilities, the child’s skills improve dramatically. This is because the parent:
- has the most interaction with the child.
- responds most frequently to a child’s attempts at communication.
- focuses child directed melodic speech on the child's interests.
- can emphasize the important words.
- can expand upon what a child says (by repeating it).
And, of course, as parents continue to work with their child, his or her speech will continue to improve as they go on to live productive lives, leaving the issues they dealt with as children far behind.