We know parents play an important role in helping students meet their speech therapy goals. In “Talk Therapy Part I,” we took a look at studies that show the connection between a parent's involvement and a student's success.
Parents of children with diverse needs might not always know how to help their children or how to help other adults in their child's life offer assistance. In part 2 of this article, we look at how parents can help their children and why it's important for parents to show other adults how to help, as well.
The Three S's
Since parents are their child's first teachers, learning how to help your child with speech and communication needs at home reflects your willingness to learn and your desire to help. Jaime Openden, a speech language pathologist and educator, suggests starting with the three S's: Simplify, Shorten and Show. These three steps break through your child’s communication problems and move both of you toward understanding the best ways to address these issues.
- Simplify: For children with communication complications, the more simple the direction the better. Don't use 20 words when 10 will do. Use everyday language rather than complicated vocabulary, especially when giving instructions. For example, rather than saying “view,” “inspect” or “observe,” simply say “look at.”
- Shorten: Shorten your message and instructions. Your child may be able to process only one instruction at a time or may become confused when he or she hears longer phrases. Instead of using 10 words, use three or four. Shorten your message to include one direction or question at a time. Use positive phrasing such as, "Please brush your teeth," rather than "Don't forget to brush your teeth." Use as few words as possible so that your instructions don’t get lost, your child doesn’t get frustrated and everyone does not lose the point of the communication.
- Show: Much of people’s communication is nonverbal. We communicate with our actions as much as we do our words. To help your child, use body language and hand gestures to get messages across. When you ask your daughter to brush her teeth, for example, make a motion with your hand, too. Showing is also critical when teaching about new or unfamiliar objects. You can tell your son what a bowl is or show him a picture. However, he will deepen his understanding of a bowl if you show him one, let him touch it, and together remove it from the cupboard or drawer and then put it away.
Become a Language Model
Using the three S's helps you and your child work through communication obstacles. Another way to significantly help is simply to be a speech role model.
Infuse your daily interactions and routine with language. This is called narrating your day. As you go about your daily routine, tell your child what you are doing. For example, model language while putting groceries away. Name each item. Name the location in which you place things. Use prepositional phrases, lists, and other forms of language to familiarize your child with words and correct usage.
"Now I'm going to take the rice out of the bag and place it next to the beans and corn. Let's put the rice, beans and corn on the shelf together. The beans are red, the rice is white and the corn is yellow."
This simple dialogue helps a child combine a sensory, kinetic experience with a language lesson. This may seem like a simple act, but often the simplest lessons are the most profound.
The Role of "Other" Adults
In our interconnected communities, children come into contact with adults beyond their parents. Coaches, neighbors, adult family friends, mentors, teachers, parents of friends— all of these grown-ups will likely interact with your child on a regular basis. Help them to understand your child’s communication needs to avoid frustration on all sides.
Miscommunication leads to negative consequences. Therefore, adults in your son’s life need to be aware of how best to speak with him. Talk with adults in your kid's life about how to use the three S's and become more aware of their use of language when interacting with your child. But talking to other adults about your child's needs may feel uncomfortable, so consider practicing what to say with a trusted friend, even developing a short script if that is helpful. In time, communicating with other adults about your child's needs gets easier, and your role as an advocate for your child becomes more natural.
As you continue to work with a professional speech pathologist or therapist to help your child conquer his or her speech problems, remember the vital role you play, as well. You are important and never more so than when you partner with the professional and your child in speech therapy.