Last week, we outlined 4 key evidence-based elements of effective language therapy. In part II of our article, we outline 4 more elements of good language therapy parents should know:
1. Give your child specific feedback about whether they are right: You’ve heard that story about the school that gave every child a 1st place ribbon because they didn’t want anyone to feel less than a winner? As with life generally, this approach is disastrous in language therapy. Rewards for hitting language targets are meaningless if we also reward errors. While we definitely don’t advocate “punishing” children for making errors or trying their best, we don’t recommend responding with fulsome praise either. The simple absence of a reward, or a gentle, specific correction (“That’s not right, you forgot to say X”) can go a long way to improving a child’s performance.
2. Repeat, repeat, repeat the targets – but not the activities: To learn effectively, many children with language delays need a lot more exposure to language targets and words than typically developing children. Now, let’s be honest: repetition can be deathly boring – for both the child and parents – if you practice with the same flashcards, worksheets or activities every day. That’s one reason we mix up the activities, even when pursuing a single goal.
For example, if you are targeting “open”, experiment with your child by taking it in turns to open different objects that make use of the word in different ways, e.g. games with boxes and bags that open to reveal a surprise, bedroom doors that should always be opened gently, play-farmhouse doors that open to allow each animal to enter, play fridges and microwaves that require you to press a button to open them, magic caves that require you to say “open sesame” ten times to open, a jack-in-the-box that opens with a pop, mystery theatre curtains that open on a puppet play’s opening night, umbrellas that open very differently to doors and jars, play cafes (that open for the morning rush), opening a favourite photo-file on a computer, car-boots and windows that open automatically, cans that must be opened with a can-opener, opening envelopes with a (blunt!) letter-opener, suitcases that require a passcode to open up and, as a reward, pass the parcel or a small wrapped gift.
3. Use familiar activities to chase new goals: Say you are working on saying “hello” when you meet someone. You could drive to Wollongong, enter a Medieval chess tournament and have your child say “hello” randomly to everyone in the room. But that would be confusing – how would your child know exactly what he or she is meant to be learning, or know to focus on the language target, when everything is a new experience? You’d be much better off finding a game or routine your child is familiar with and then “embedding” the language goal within it. For example, if your child regularly accompanies you to the supermarket every Monday, practice his or her “hellos” with the assistant at the deli, the bakery, the fruit and vegetable section, then finally the check-out. Similarly, if you are practising turn-taking, do it at the park you go to regularly, or play a board-game you’ve played together several times before.
4. Keep it real: The long term goal of speech therapy is, of course, to improve your child’s language out in the real world – not just in the clinic with the speech pathologist. While short-term goals are often pursued with highly structured, repetitive activities, speech pathologists also keep at least one eye and ear on whether the things that are being taught are transferring across to general conversation. We also want to know from you whether your child is using his or her new skills with different people in different places. It’s another reason we use lots of different kinds of examples of the same target (see point 2 above). It’s also one of the main reasons home practice is so essential. As your child’s language skills in the clinic improve, it’s a good idea to make therapy conditions more like those in the real world. For example, we might reduce the frequency and type of praise we give for correct responses. We might add distractions (like examples that don’t follow the general rule or background noise). And we will start to expect your child to start to self-monitor his or her performance, rather than relying on others to do so.
Banter Speech & Language is owned and managed by David Kinnane, a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the Spalding Method for literacy, the Lidcombe and Camperdown Programs for stuttering, and Voicecraft for voice disorders. David is also a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification.
David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean’s Scholar. David is a Practising Member of Speech Pathology Australia and a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP).