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What Can a Child with Autism Expect in Speech Therapy?

If you are a parent or a professional who has had experience with a child diagnosed with autism, you know that they are all as different as the colors under the sun. Speech therapy services areBlog-Autism-and-Speech Therapy-Main-Landscape typically recommended and necessary for kids diagnosed with autism, as they may have difficulty communicating effectively. These services will be tailored to the individual to ensure the child is making progress and achieving developmental milestones. No two speech therapy sessions are the same, as will be the case for your child. However, there are overarching goals that you can expect your child to be working towards.

Here are factors you should expect to be consistent for a child diagnosed with autism that is receiving speech therapy services:

  1. Speech therapy will be individualized.

The speech language pathologist will complete an evaluation of the child’s current speech and language skills. Based on the results of the evaluation and any observations made, goals will be formulated to target areas to improve.

  1. Speech therapy will target functional communication.

This may mean different things depending on the level of the child. Whether the child is verbal or nonverbal, therapy will address making sure the child is effectively communicating their needs and wants. If the child is nonverbal or has significant difficulty utilizing verbal language, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (e.g., pictures, sign language, iPad, etc.) may be implemented. Therapy may also target talking about events, telling stories, answering questions, asking questions, commenting, expressing opinions, and participating in conversations.

  1. Speech therapy will target social language.

Social language is also known as pragmatic language and includes using language for a variety of purposes (i.e., greetings, informing, demanding, etc.), changing language according to the needs of the listener or situation, and following rules for conversation and storytelling. In order to warrant a diagnosis of autism, the child has already been determined to have a deficit in social communication and interaction. Treatment goals may include maintaining eye contact, initiating and terminating conversations, maintaining topics of conversation, identifying emotions, and utilizing appropriate body language.

The above goals are targeted in a variety of ways, again dependent on your child. Sometimes direct education is provided prior to practicing skills in activities, role-play scenarios, or structured real-life situations. Other times, skills are targeted during play and motivating activities for the child. No matter the skill level of your child with autism, speech therapy is an integral piece to their progress and successful functioning.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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Everything Tummy Time

Parents of infants all know that they should be working on tummy time every day from an early age. However, most parents also experience difficulty consistently working on tummy time, since babies are often initially resistant to this position.Blog-Tummy Time-Main-Landscape

Below is a list of reasons why tummy time is so important, even if your child does not initially enjoy the position:

  1. Strength: When a baby is placed on her stomach, she actively works against gravity to lift her head, arms, legs and trunk up from the ground. Activating the muscle groups that control these motions and control the motor skills that your child will learn in tummy time allows for important strengthening of these muscle groups that your baby won’t be able to achieve lying on her back.
  1. Sensory development: Your child will experience different sensory input through the hands, stomach, and face when she is lying on her stomach, which is an integral part of her sensory development. When your baby is on her stomach her head is a different position than she experiences when on her back or sitting up, which helps further develop her vestibular system.
  1. Motor skill acquisition: There are a lot of motor skills that your child will learn by spending time on her stomach. Rolling, pivoting, belly crawling, and creeping (crawling on hands and knees) are just a few of many important motor skills that your child will only learn by spending time on her stomach. Along with being able to explore her environment by learning these new skills, your baby will also create important pathways in the brain to develop her motor planning and coordination that impact development of later motor skills, such as standing and walking.
  1. Head shape: Infants who spend a lot of time on their backs are at risk for developing areas of flattening along the back of the skull. It is recommended that babies sleep on their backs to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, and since babies spend a lot of time sleeping, they are also already spending a lot of time lying flat on the back. Spending time on the tummy when awake therefore allows for more time with pressure removed from the back of the head, and also helps to develop the neck muscles to be able to independently re-position the head more frequently while lying on the back.

It is important to remember that your child should only spend time on his or her stomach when awake and supervised. Many infants are initially resistant to tummy time because it is a new and challenging position at first. However, by starting with just a few minutes per day at a young age and gradually increasing your child’s amount of tummy time, your child’s tolerance for the position will also improve.

For more tips on how to improve your child’s tummy time, watch our video!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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Traveling With a Child Who Has Autism

The word “travel” can bring a sense of excitement and joy, because you are going on a vacation or to visit relatives or to explore something new. However, the word “travel” can also bring feelings of anxiety or stress. Blog-Traveling-with-Autism-Main-Landscape

Traveling with a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can seem overwhelming, especially when it comes to flying.

Here are some tips that can help a family prepare for flying with a child on the autism spectrum:

  1. Call the airport prior to your travel date and see if you can schedule a “trial run” to acclimate your child to the surroundings. During one of my therapy sessions I took a child to O’Hare with his parents to prepare for the many transitions involved in navigating an airport. We were able to start from the beginning of pulling up to the parking lot, riding the train and walking up to the security desk. We took pictures of each step so the child had a schedule and felt comfortable the day of the flight. Many large airports have guides to assist families with special needs children through the airport experience. Call to find out how to set up a guide for your family on your travel day.
  2. Provide your child with a schedule of “what’s going to happen, once you are on the airplane.” Make your child aware of what boarding the airplane will look like, what your seat number will be, what waiting for the plane to take off is like, the pre-flight security guidelines, take off and what to do during the plane ride.
  3. Have your child help plan activities during the plane ride. Bring favorite toys and games to help keep your child occupied.
  4. Have your child watch videos and listen to sounds of the airplanes. This is especially important for those kiddos who are sensory avoiding. Prepare your child for all the sensations he or she may experience on the airplane including the noise, ears popping, the vibration of the plane, what the seats will look like, what standing and going to the bathroom may feel like, etc.
  5. Finally, prepare your child for what happens when the plane lands and collecting your luggage.

Talk to your therapists and ask them to participate in the planning process. Talking about the process a few sessions before the travel date can instill confidence and help eliminate fear. Call the airports that you are flying in and out of for any resources and help available for your family.

Lastly, enjoy the vacation!

Check out these valuable resources for popular vacation spots and how they accommodate families:

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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What Exactly is a Social Group for Children with Autism?

We interviewed Latha V. Soorya, PhD from the Rush University Medical Center to learn about the study of social skills groups for children with autism.

Many children with autism are working toward learning, building and strengthening their social skills. The Autism Assessment, Research, Treatment and Services Center (AARTS Center) at Rush University Medical Center has dedicated their mission to on-going research in hopes to find new interventions to help those with autism. Latha V. Soorya, PhD explains and answers some questions regarding their newest study on social skills and the use of Oxytocin. early autism

Oxytocin is a hormone that plays an important role in social bonding and connections. Social skills groups for children with autism are widely used and well-liked. The Autism Assessment, Research, Treatment, and Services Center at Rush is studying both of these treatments to better understand how to improve social connections in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We are looking for 8-11 year old children with ASD to participate in a unique study called ION: Integrated Oxytocin and NETT (Nonverbal synchrony, Emotion recognition, and Theory of mind Training).

What is the benefit for parents? Families will receive support from therapists and other parents during parent groups that run at the same time as the social skills groups. Qualifying families will receive evaluations and treatment from licensed psychologists, child-psychiatrists, and therapists at no-cost as part of their participation in the social skills research study. The AARTS Center has run the social thinking group in the past, and a parent shared their positive feedback with us, saying, “We liked connecting with other parents during parent group and still use the materials from group to help our son focus on other people’s thoughts and feelings.”

How can parents & clinicians use the results? Before the study is published, families will receive results from their child’s evaluations as well as information about their progress. After publication, the AARTS center will share results with participating families, community partners, and the academic/medical community. Our hope is that the ION study will target social skills development in a new way, and that parents and clinicians will see lasting changes in the way that children with ASD apply these skills across settings.

Has similar research been done in the field? This is a unique study that combines promising research from two fields. Intranasal oxytocin may increase attention to social cues (e.g. where someone is looking) and social skills groups are well-liked and may help improve some aspects of social behavior. However, research also shows that changes from social skills groups, as well as intranasal oxytocin, do not last very long. This study is the first to examine what happens when the two treatments are combined.

What are you most excited about exploring in this study? We are most excited about this study’s potential to develop a more powerful, longer-lasting treatment for critical social thinking skills—skills we know are critical to navigating many life experiences and building social relationships.

Latha V. Soorya, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst and assistant professor of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center. Soorya serves as the research director at the AARTS Center at Rush and brings expertise in diagnosis and intervention development to the research program.

For more information on the study, please contact Anthony Burns at 312-942-6331 or email Anthony_burns@rush.edu.

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Occupational Therapy’s Role in Improving Self-Care Performance in Children

The role of the occupational therapist, when working with clients of any age, is to support participation and daily functioning. For a child, one of the primary occupations is self-care. Self-care Blog-Self-Care-Skills-Main-Landscapeskills, which include feeding, toileting, dressing, bathing and grooming, are classified as Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s), because they are a critical part of a child’s overall health and participation each and every day. In order to participate in self-care, a child must have component skills within a variety of performance areas, and delays in any of these areas can make seemingly simple tasks feel nearly impossible.

During an initial evaluation, an occupational therapist will help you determine which performance deficits or barriers within the child’s environment are causing your child to struggle with self-care. The OT will first obtain information by asking you questions about your home setup, your family’s routines, what kind of assistance your child currently needs to perform age-appropriate self-care skills, and what your goals are in terms of self-care independence.

These questions will help the therapist obtain a snapshot of your child’s current self-care performance and provide more information about the home environment in which your child is performing. The therapist will also complete a comprehensive evaluation of your child’s underlying skills through clinical observation and standardized testing to determine potential causes of delayed self-care skills.

Below are a variety of performance areas an occupational therapist will assess that could contribute to self-care performance:

  • Motor performance: A child’s physical ability to perform the motor tasks required for a self-care skill is dependent on his or her strength and endurance, range of motion, body awareness, grasp, manual dexterity, and bilateral coordination. In addition, a child may have decreased motor planning, or difficulty generating an idea for and executing a specific movement pattern.
    • Example: A child may be unable to tie his shoes because he cannot maintain a pincer grasp on the shoelaces.
  • Executive Functioning and Attention: A child may have difficulty sustaining attention to a self-care task, sequencing the steps of a task in an efficient order, or remembering when and how to do the task at all.
    • Example: A child may not be able to remember or mix up the order of steps to tying shoes.
  • Sensory Modulation: A child may have decreased sensory modulation, or ability to filter out irrelevant sensory stimuli. Children with poor sensory modulation may be hypersensitive to input, which can often make children very uncomfortable in their own skin, easily distractible, or easily upset and overwhelmed. Other children may be hyposensitive and not notice certain important sensory input. You can read more about how sensory processing impacts self-care and hygiene in one of our other blogs, “Horrible Haircuts and Terrible Toothpaste” http://nspt4kids.com/occupational-therapy/horrible-haircuts-and-terrible-toothpaste-helping-your-child-with-sensory-processing-disorder-tolerate-hygiene/
    • Example: A hypersensitive child may be bothered by the feeling of their socks and refuse to wear tie shoes; a hyposensitive child may not notice that his shoes feel or look funny when on the wrong feet.

Once the evaluation is complete, the occupational therapist will be able to determine if the child would benefit from ongoing occupational therapy. Future treatment would focus not only practicing specific self-care skills, but also engaging in activities that facilitate the overall development of underlying motor, sensory integration, and executive functioning abilities. In addition, the therapist will work with you to adapt your child’s environment through the use of home modifications, visual supports, and adaptive equipment to support performance. Through all of these modalities, the occupational therapist will be able to increase your child’s participation in self-care activities, thereby increasing his or her independence and overall development.

Check out one of our previous blogs on self-care written by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst: Self-Care Skills for Children with Autism

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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The Difference Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Trying to figure out different ways to approach behavior can be overwhelming and frustrating. One thing to always remember is to try and focus on reinforcing the behavior you want to see moreBlog-Reinforcement-Main-Landscape
than punishing the behavior you are wanting to decrease. Using positive and negative reinforcement can both help achieve the same goal of increasing the behavior you would like to see more of.

The difference between positive and negative reinforcement is simple. The use of positive reinforcement is adding something (typically something that is liked) to the environment after a behavior occurs that will increase the future instance of that behavior. The use of negative reinforcement is taking away something (typically something that is not liked) from the environment after a behavior occurs that will increase future instances of that behavior.

 Examples of positive reinforcement include:

  • Giving a praise after a specific appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.
  • Earning a special treat after a specific appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.
  • Getting a 5 minute 1:1 time with parent after a specific appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.

Examples of negative reinforcement include:

  • Removing a chore from the chore list from the schedule after a specific appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.
  • Taking away a specific school related task after appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.

The key to making sure either type of reinforcement is working is to measure and track the behavior and see if that behavior is increasing over time!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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Separation Anxiety and Sleepovers

Distress around separating from a primary caregiver can be very common among children and a normal part of development. Children from 1-year-old to about 4-years-old are in the process ofBlog Separation Anxiety Main-Portrait gaining confidence to be independent. Because of this natural part of development, symptoms such as worry, tantrums and clinginess when separating can be common.

If as your child gets older the fear of leaving a parent or caregiver does not decrease that could be a sign that your child is experiencing separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can be defined as intense nervousness around leaving a primary caregiver. Obvious signs of separation anxiety vary from children verbally expressing resistance to go somewhere or displaying unhappiness through crying, fighting or physically holding on to a parent/caregiver. The not-so-obvious ways children can display anxiety around separation can look like silence in a child who is usually talkative, shutting down or physical symptoms like being sick.

There are a number of factors that can attribute to nervousness and hesitation around separating from parents or caregivers. Lack of familiarity in a new environment, break in routine, fear that something will happen when they are away from their family or an over-bearing and clingy parent. If a child feels that their parent does not want them to leave then they will be more likely to fear leaving as well.

As children enter middle school and high school, sleepovers become a more common occurrence among friends. This can be a fun activity for some children or a source of anxiety for others. A sleepover to a nervous child can mean sleeping in an unfamiliar environment, not being able to say goodnight to a familiar person and losing structure/routine often found around bedtime.

Recommendations for parents to help ease their children’s separation anxiety and embrace the pastime of a sleepover are:

  1. Acknowledge and identify the fears that your child’s experiencing. Figure out what are they most nervous about and what are their expectations for the sleepover?
  2. Support your child. Let them know you are proud of them for becoming more independent
  3. Plan a fun activity to do together the day following a sleepover. Planning an activity together reassures your child that though you are encouraging them to do something on their own you are still there to spend time with them
  4. Figure out if there is a parent or caregiver that your child separates more easily from, then try to have that person drop off your child

Children with a healthy attachment to their parent or caregiver are most likely to feel confident when leaving. As a parent, make sure you are promoting your child’s independence while also making sure to be available for your child when they need you.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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Tips and Tricks to Boost Your Toddler’s Speech and Language

When your child enters into this world, he is immediately exposed to his new environment. Speech and language development begins right away, as your child begins to explore the environment around him. The early years of your child’s life is a crucial period for speech and language development. Blog-Toddler Speech and Language Main-Portrait

As you interact with your child, there are various ways that you can help to boost his speech and language:

  • While you are playing with your child, talk about the actions that he is doing and what you are doing. For example, if your child is throwing a ball, say “throw the ball” as he throws it. This will help him match spoken words to actions.
  • Label objects for your child. As you are engaging with your child, tell him what it is that he is holding, looking at, etc. For example, if your child is holding a ball, say “you have a ball” This will help to increase his ability to identify and name various objects.
  • Expand on your child’s utterances. As your child is acquiring language skills, he will start to speak using short utterances before he can use full sentences. When your child produces one word or short multiword utterances, take his utterance and use it in a full contextual sentence. For example, if your child points to a ball and says “ball,” you can respond with “yes, I see the red ball!”
  • Use natural sounding speech with appropriate intonation when talking to your child. As your child is being exposed to language, not only is he listening to the words, but he is also listening to your tone of voice and looking at your face. Therefore, to help him understand what you are saying, it is important to match your tone and facial expression to your spoken words. For example, if your child is throwing toys inappropriately, tell him “no throwing” with a more stern tone of voice. If you say “no throwing” with a “happy” tone of voice and a big smile, your child may have a difficult time understanding the concept of “no” since the tone of voice and facial expression did not match the meaning of “no.”
  • Sing familiar songs with your child. Engaging in song is a fun way to encourage language development. At first, you will be doing most of the singing while your child closely watches and listens. While you sing, you can use gestures to match words in the song. As your child gets multiple exposures to you singing the song, encourage him to engage in the song by gesturing along with you. For example, when singing “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” start by singing the song while you touch each body part matching the words in the song. Then to engage your child more, you can sing the song while you help him move his hands to touch the body parts from the song. Another tip you can do with songs is pausing at certain words for your child to say. For instance, you can pause before “toes” each time it occurs in the song to allow your child to say it. Not only can this help to increase language production, but it can also help your child identify and name objects, items, or in this example, body parts.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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10 Common Household Items to Develop Fine Motor Skills

The building blocks for fine motor success begins on day one. Skill development is commonly observed when the child becomes explorative in their environment and increasingly independent. Independence in age appropriate tasks is often a great measure of where they are developmentally. Specifically, the common influencing skills for fine motor development are strength, coordination, visual perception and motor planning. To assist in maturation of these skill areas you can engage your child in simple activities with things you may already have around the house! Blog-Home Fine Motor Skills-Main-Landscape

10 great tools you may find around the house to develop fine motor skills:

  • Broken crayons– Don’t get rid of those broke crayons! Coloring with these can assist with precision, hand strength and grasp maturity.
  • Q-tips– They can be utilized for painting, dotting and erasing from a chalk or white board. Fine motor precision and grasp maturity are challenged in activities with Q-tips.
  • Clothes pins– Transferring small items while playing different games such as matching, minute to win it, and relay races. Clothes pins also assist with motor planning, strength, and coordination.
  • Tweezers– This is another great tool for transferring small items while playing different games that addresses motor planning, strength, and coordination skills.
  • Child safe scissors– Begin with snipping construction paper and progress into more complex activities such as cutting shapes. To start, make a fun fringed edge for a picture they drew or advanced beginners can make a snowflake with parental assistance. Cutting activities can be difficult, but it significantly addresses coordination, strength, visual motor, and motor planning skills.
  • Legos– These small pieces may hurt when stepped on, but they are great for coordination, precision, visual attention, and strength.
  • Small blocks– Blocks can be used in many ways. A few suggestions would be to stack, string, and build various structures. Blocks are wonderful tools for coordination, visual perception, and grasp maturity.
  • Play Doh– Great way to mature manipulation, coordination, strength, and creativity skills.
  • Shaving cream– A fun way to practice their drawing skills in a non-traditional pencil and paper way. This can assist with precision and motor maturity as well.
  • Spray bottle– Clean up from the shaving cream and painting activities with a spray bottle filled with water. This can really test as well as develop the child’s grasp strength and endurance.

**All activities should be closely supervised and supported by an adult.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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How to Use Visual Supports at Home for Language Development

For children with receptive and expressive language disorders, visual supports can be powerful tools when communicating. Visual supports are beneficial to aid in not only the comprehension of language, but also to improve expression of language. These visuals can provide a child with information they are missing when comprehending language or speaking. Visual supports are so universal and easily to utilize that they can be implemented seamlessly in the home environment.

How to use visual supports to improve language comprehension:

For children that experience deficits in language comprehension, visual aids are a great way to improve their ability to comprehend instructioVisual Supportsns, rules of an activity, and expectations. Here are some examples of ways to create visual aids for receptive language tasks.

  • Visual schedules can be pictorial, written or both. It is important to tailor the schedule to the child’s abilities. For children with receptive language deficits, hearing their schedule for the day can be confusing and maybe, even a little scary. By presenting a visual schedule, paired with a verbal description, a child will receive the information via two avenues of communication, which will likely improve comprehension of what to expect.
  • A Listening Chart, as shown below, visually depicts the components to being a good listener. When expectations or rules are presented only verbally, information is often forgotten. By using a visual to depict expectations, the child will be more successful and can easily remind him or herself of what actions need to be completed.
  • Presenting choices visually can be a powerful tool for children who have receptive language deficits. For example, if there are two choices for snack (e.g., pretzels or grapes), you can present two pictures of these food items when asking the child what he or she would like to eat.

How to use visual supports to improve language production:

The use of visual aids for language production is slightly more diverse than those utilized for language comprehension. Visual aids for language expression are often used to help a child initiate communication, participate appropriately in a conversation, and to expand utterances. Here are some examples of visual aids used to improve expressive language skills.Smash Mats

  • Smash mats are a great tool to use to expand a child utterance length (e.g., from two word to three words). As shown here, a smash mat can be as simple as three dots on a page. When modeling a sentence, you can touch a dot as you say each word (e.g., Girl is swinging or I want goldfish). You can make smash mats even more enticing by adding a playdoh ball to each dot. Smash mats are also great, because as your child continues to progress in their expressive language skills, you can continue to increase the length of their utterance by adding additional dots to your mat.
  • A Topic Tree is one of many visual aids that can be used during conversations. The topic tree is specifically for topic maintenance (i.e., staying on the same topic of conversation with your
    communication partner). For example, if you are talking about Christmas with your child, each time that you make a comment, ask a question or appropriately respond on the topic of Christmas, you put a leaf on the tree. This is an easy DIY visual aid you can make at home!
  • A Yes/No Board is a great visual aid for an emerging communicator. It is a simple visual depiction of the concepts of “yes” and “no.” Yes/No boards can be visually Y-N Boards2displayed in a variety of ways as shown below. When asking a child a Y/N question, by presenting the child with this visual, you are not only cueing the child that you are asking a question, but also providing the child with the appropriate response choices.Y-N Board

All of these visual aids will not only increase a child’s engagement in a daily activity, but also aid in making transitions smoother. Visual aids can be implemented at any age and in any environment.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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