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Common Misconceptions about Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Many children who have an incredibly difficult time using spoken language will often learn to use other systems to augment their AACcommunication abilities. These other systems may include “high-tech” or speech-generating devices. They may also use “low-tech”, such as Picture Exchange Communication Systems, or PECS, in which a child gives his/her communicative partner a picture card to convey their wants and needs. Parents may have concerns about these augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems. As a result, they often wonder how they will be used to help their child’s specific set of strengths and abilities.

There are several common misconceptions about these AAC systems:

  1. “If my child uses AAC, he/she won’t learn to speak”:
    1. Research has shown that just the opposite of this statement is true. The use of PECS or other “high-tech” devices can actually help improve a child’s spoken language output. Use of these systems provides increased exposure to communication and can increase vocalizations and improve overall speech abilities. While the strongest research shows that early intervention is best, older children may still show signs of improvement.
  2. “These programs are not specific for my child”: Read more

What are Metalinguistic Skills and What Do They Look Like in My Child?

Metalinguistic skills involve the awareness and control of linguistic components of language. Simply put, it implies the ability to thinktoddler clapping and discuss language. These skills require an awareness of others as listeners and an ability to recognize significant details that indicate changes in speech. For example, you do not usually speak to a teacher in the same way you would speak to a friend. In addition, you do not typically speak in a restaurant the same way in which you speak in a museum. Noticing what kind of speech is appropriate in various environments with various speakers is also reflective of metalinguistic skills.

These metalinguistic skills start to develop as early as one year as your child learns to monitor their own utterances and begin to repair their breakdowns in communication when they are misheard. Before the age of two, children typically learn how to adjust their speaking to different listeners: louder vs. softer, simpler vs. complex, demanding vs. requesting and peer vs. adult. Before the age of four, children should know how to recognize signals indicating that their listener understood the message spoken (i.e., such as a nod for assent and a frown signifying confusion). Children also learn to correct their own speech as well as their conversation partners’ speech. At this age, children spend a significant amount of time exploring new sounds, new words and new speech styles. As they reach their academic years, metalinguistic development continues to improve as children gain an understanding of the specific meaningful units that are associated with language (i.e., sounds, syllables, words, sentences). As a child’s mastery of language components grows, they learn to play with humor by telling jokes, riddles and puns (e.g., “What’s black and white and red (read) all over? A newspaper!”). This indicates a desire to control the use of language that was not present in the early language of children. This manipulation of language is significantly correlated to the development of pragmatic skills or the use of language.

Development of these metalinguistic skills are essential to a child’s ability to be successful in creating enlightening conversations that will serve as foundations for further learning in their lives.

10 Ways to Increase Your Toddler’s Language Using Communication Temptations

These communication temptations were adapted from Warren & Yoder (1998) to facilitate a child’s need to communicate in a variety mom and child with a ballof contexts. For example, the goals of the following exercises are to convey emotion, initiate conversation, make requests, make comments and ask questions.

Making Requests & Asking Questions:

  1. Withholding food/toys: Eat a desirable food and wait to give to your child until he makes a request (e.g. “more”) and/or give him/her the desirable food in small quantities (e.g. sip of juice, bite of a cracker) so that he/she is motivated to ask for more. The same strategy works during play. For example, give the child one block at a time when building a tower, blow one bubble at a time and close the jar, blow up a balloon and deflate it, etc. and wait to give “more” until the child requests.
  2. Initiate a familiar game, play it until the child expresses joy, then pause. Allow the child time to make a request for more. If the child does not respond, look expectantly at the child and ask, “What do you want?” For example, if you are rolling a ball back and forth,
    prompt the child to produce “ball” or “more ball”.
  3. Put a desirable object in view, but out of reach (e.g. on a nearby shelf, table or holding a toy out of reach). Prompt your child to “use his/her words” to request a toy.
  4. Pay less attention than usual to the child (e.g. back away or turn your back during an ongoing game). Wait for the child to elicit your attention.
  5. Place a desired toy in a clear container with an airtight lid (or a container the child cannot open). Give the container and wait. Prompt the child to ask for the desired toy.

Making Comments and Conveying Emotion:

  1. Give the child the run of the room for a few minutes- allow him/her time to direct your attention to something the child finds interesting.
  2. Roll a ball back and forth for several turns, then substitute for a different object (e.g. toy car). The goal is for the child to make a comment about the switch in toys. Consider how an adult responds to something unexpected!
  3. Bring the child a new toy or initiate a silly or unusual event (e.g. wear a clown nose). Wait for the child to react (including gestures, facial expressions, etc.).
  4. Place a toy that makes noise in an opaque bag. Shake the bag and hold it up to the child. Wait for the child to comment (e.g. “Whoa!”) or make a request (e.g. “open,” or “open bag”).
  5. Put the child’s hand in a cold, wet, or sticky substance (e.g. water, pudding, paste, play-doh). Wait for the child to comment on the sensory qualities (e.g. hot, cold, sticky, wet, etc).

Warren, S., & Yoder, D. (1998). Facilitating the transition from pre-intentional communication to intentional communication. In Paul, (2007) Language Disorders form Infancy through Adolescence (p.248)

How to Help with Homework

Homework time is one of the most difficult parts of a parent and child’s day, especially if your child has difficulty with the tasks Homework Helprequested of them. We are often asked how to give the help needed without “doing homework” for him/her. We understand, , that as a parent, you want your child to succeed in school; however, you don’t want to fight a battle every night watching your child struggle.

5 tips to make homework time a little easier:

  1. Remove all distractions: turn off electronics, clear the desk/table of extraneous items and provide enough light. It might also be helpful to provide a snack and ask them to use to restroom shortly before starting homework to minimize disruptions.
  2. Create a schedule: determine how much homework your child needs to complete that night. Allow your child to choose which activity he/she wishes to complete first, next and last. Choices are a great option to allow your child to retain some control during required activities. If a break is necessary mid-way through an activity, schedule that activity as well with a time allotment (e.g., “Okay, after your spelling words, you can have five minutes with your action figures before we start the math problems”). If your child would prefer a visual schedule, pictures can be utilized for the schedule instead of a written one.
  3. Make it fun: the best part about kids is that, in their world, everything is funny. Try practicing spelling words in funny voices. Use goofy items to count math problems. Practice handwriting with homemade mad-libs. Make up jokes and creative plays to practice new lessons. Emotions are contagious – if your child sees you having fun, they will too.
  4. Providing help: Children should never fail more than they succeed. In fact, they should succeed almost every time. If not, do what you can to make the task easier. Pick one aspect/goal for your child to focus on and you do the rest until they have mastered the task. For example, your child is required to write 10 sentences using new vocabulary words and both writing and sentence construction is very difficult for your child. Have him/her form ten sentences using a vocabulary word and have him/her say them aloud while YOU write them down. Once you have written the sentences, your child can copy your sentences by practicing their nice handwriting without the stress of making up a sentence. This will ultimately make homework time less stressful and boost a child’s sense of success and accomplishment, which are crucial to mental well-being.
  5. Use resources: Schools and libraries often have resources to provide suggestions for completing homework.

Remember, homework is an important tool that allows your child to keep up with their peers in the classroom; it should not be so time-consuming and difficult that it ultimately impacts you or your child’s home life and anxiety levels. If you have any questions, concerns or desire suggestions, feel free to contact us.

What is a Late-Talking Toddler?

Many parents may wonder, is my child normal? When it comes to speech and language development, there are certain milestones Toddlers Playing A Gamebetween birth to 1 year and 1 to 2 years that we would hope all children achieve. Some children may progress through these milestones faster or slower than others, but there is usually a typical pattern of development.

When a child’s speech and language developmental pattern is not following that of typical peers, he or she may be referred to as a “late-talking toddler.”

Warning signs that your child may be a late-talking toddler include:

By 2 years old, if a child is not yet:

  • using 50 words to communicate
  • understanding about 300 words
  • combining 2-word phrases (e.g., “more milk”)

Such children may also appear to be frustrated when unable to communicate, including having tantrums and/or hitting oneself or others.

Some parents may be familiar with the “wait and see” approach. The idea behind this is that parents will wait to see if their child becomes a late-talking toddler; however, doing this allows the gap between potentially delayed children and typical peers to grow. It is better to seek intervention when they first notice a delay.

Studies have shown that early intervention can be most beneficial for these children. When started early, speech-language pathologists can help these late-talking toddlers to “catch-up” to their peers. Research has revealed that, if untreated, these children may develop difficulties when they become of age to attend school, both academically and socially.

If any of these warning signs describe your child, a licensed speech-language pathologist can help! An SLP can conduct an evaluation to determine if there is a delay.

This evaluation would include:

  • observation: watching your child play and interact
  • elicitation: prompting your child to respond via pointing, gesturing or speech production
  • parent-reporting: learning what skills your child may be demonstrating at home, but not during their time together with a speech-language pathologist

There is so much that can be done to help these children; please contact us if you have questions!

Pragmatic Language: Building Social Skills for Your Child

What is pragmatic language? boy with truck

Pragmatic language refers to the communicative intent, rules and social aspects of language. It is the way in which language is used to communicate in a variety of different contexts, rather than the way language is structured. A major component of pragmatic language is being able to read the cues of the communication partner and following conversational rules.

How will I know if my child has a problem with pragmatic language?

Often times, children who demonstrate challenges regarding pragmatic language will have difficulties sharing, using appropriate eye contact, initiating and maintaining conversations and joining in during structured activities with peers. They may also present weaknesses when participating in “make believe” activities, have a limited variety of language that they use, have poor storytelling skills and prefer to play alone rather than with other children. Some children have trouble understanding emotions and feelings which may negatively impact their interactions with others. This may also lead to challenges with perspective taking (i.e. imagining how someone else feels).

A few ideas to facilitate pragmatic language skills at home:

  • Participate in pretend play activities with your child
  • Play simple games to encourage turn taking
  • Participate in group activities with peers
  • Create stories together
  • Practice making music with different instruments
  • Role play scenarios in which there are problems and solutions (i.e. finding a toy in a story, ordering food in a restaurant)
  • Allow your child to lead during motivating activities
  • Work on greetings with familiar people (i.e. mailman, family friend, grandparents)

Individualized treatment sessions help to encourage appropriate social awareness skills. Children benefit significantly from structured social group activities to help practice appropriate pragmatic language skills as well! For more information on ways to help encourage pragmatic language and social skills, please contact a licensed speech-language pathologist.

Providing Communicative Temptations in the Home for Late Talkers

Is your toddler not talking as much as he or she should be? Don’t panic! Below are some strategies for creating opportunities for patty cakevocalizations. Remember, ALWAYS reward your child with the toy immediately after they attempt to say the target!

5 Strategies To Get Your Late Talker To Communicate:

  1. Leave a desired food item that is just out of reach of the child, but within their eyesight. Food is one of the BEST motivators for communication. If you’re just starting out with therapy, try to make mealtimes as the time you look for opportunities to encourage communication with your child.
  2. Engage in a favorite social game (i.e. tickle time, peek-a-boo or patty-cake) with your child for one or two turns then stop and look expectantly at the child. If they need a prompt to ask you to continue, go ahead and give it! Try to stop a few times and see if your child is able to request to continue the game spontaneously.
  3. Bubbles are your new best friend! Open a jar, blow some and then close the jar. Hand the jar to the child and wait.
  4. Place a toy in a clear plastic container with a lid and give it to your child. Allow them to be curious for a minute, then ask “Do you need help?” If they respond with yes, model “Help me”. Repeat until they can request help on their own! This also works well with closed doors that toddlers are not able to open without an adult!
  5. Use a slinky or toy microphone for fun vocal play. Take a turn and model either a silly, extended sound or an appropriate language model, then offer the child a turn. You can play with volume, pitch or rate of speech!

Happy Talking!

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Speech-Language Screening vs. Evaluation

When there are concerns regarding your child’s speech and language skills, we have a few options available that will help to assess your  speech screenchild’s needs: a screening or a full evaluation. A screening is a brief meeting with your child that will determine your child’s strengths and weaknesses through informal measures. An evaluation is a formal, more comprehensive approach that provides more information. Below are more contrasts of these two assessments:

Speech-Language Screening:

• Completed at a school or in one of our clinics
• 15 minutes when completed a school; 15-minute screen with 10-15 minutes parent follow-up when completed in clinic
• No formal testing completed- screening protocols may be used depending upon concerns, but no standard scores comparing your child to same-age peers will be obtained
• Speech therapist informally obtains child’s articulation, language and social skills through conversation or play-based activities
• No formal written report
• School screenings- a written summary of the screening’s findings with recommendations that may include a full evaluation, referral to another discipline or monitoring of skills with a follow-up in 3 months. In clinic screenings- a wrap-up at the end of the screening with similar recommendations to the school screening

Speech-Language Evaluation:

• Approval from insurance and information of benefits required
• Physician referral or prescription required
• One 1-hour diagnostic session- if additional time is needed, this can take place during the first scheduled therapy session
• Parents complete history intake form prior to evaluation
• Parent interview will be completed at the beginning of the evaluation to learn more information and clarify any information on parent intake form
• Formal testing completed to obtain standard scores that are compared to same-age peers
• Full report composed, including background information, results of testing, impressions, additional recommendations and therapy goals
• A separate follow-up meeting will be scheduled with parents to discuss the evaluation, report and recommendations

 To find out more on how your child may benefit from a screen or evaluation, contact us here

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Bilingualism: What to Expect And Tips on How to Implement it

People who communicate fluently in two languages are bilingual. Learning two languages will not cause a child to have bilingualismspeech-language difficulties. Bilingual language learners follow the same pattern of language acquisition as children that are learning one language.  For example, toddlers that are in the process of learning one language should produce their first words around 12 months of age, and 2-word combinations (e.g. “no mommy,” “more juice”) at approximately 24 months of age. If a child truly has a language delay, he/she will exhibit difficulty meeting milestones in both languages.

What to expect if your child is learning two languages:

  1. Your child may confuse word order for a time in both languages.
  2. Your child may use both languages in one sentence.
  3. Your child may develop a dominance in one language. In other words, the child may be more proficient in one language compared to the other.

Tips for a child learning two languages:

  1. Start early on: a child learns new languages more easily when they are at a younger age.
  2. Read books, listen to music and watch videos as a family in both languages that are being learned.
  3. Practice makes perfect: a child must practice both languages in everyday interactions in order to learn to speak and understand the language proficiently. Your child will benefit from regular practice during your everyday routines, such as getting ready for school, in the car, meal time and bath time.
  4. If your child is struggling with using two languages (e.g. one at school, one in the home), it is acceptable to communicate using the language you are most comfortable with.

7 Ways to Increase Phonological Awareness

Identifying different sounds that make words and associating these sounds within written words are an essential foundational child and mother speakingcomponent for early literacy skills.  There are forty-four phonemes (sounds) in the English language; this includes letter combinations such as /th/. In addition to identifying these sounds, one must be able to manipulate the sounds. This is often referred to as phonemic awareness. There are five levels of phonological awareness, ranging from rhyme to being able to switch or substitute the components in a single word. Phonological awareness affects early reading ability as well as strengthens  emerging reading skills.

How To Teach Phonological Awareness:

To teach phonological awareness, begin by demonstrating the relationship between parts to wholes. Start at sentence level; segment short sentences into individual words in order to show how the sentence is made up of words. This can be done by using chips to represent the different words in the sentence. Once this relationship is understood at the sentence level, you can then move on to word level. Begin by segmenting multi-syllabic words into two syllables, eventually moving to segmenting words into individual sounds. This will increase  phonemic awareness.  This can be achieved by asking the students to produce that sound, both in isolation as well as in a variety of words and syllables. It is best to begin with easy words and gradually progress to more challenging words.

7 Phonological Awareness Example Exercises:

  1. Rhyming (e.g., tell me all the words that rhyme with mop)
  2. Identifying initial sounds in words (e.g., does mop begin with the /m/?)
  3. Word to word matching (e.g., do pen and pipe begin with the same letter?)
  4. Phoneme deletion (e.g., what word would be left if the /k/ sound were taken away from cat?)
  5. Phoneme counting (e.g., how many sounds do you hear in the word “cake”?)
  6. Blending (e.g., what word would we have if we blended these sounds together: /m/ /o/ /p/.)
  7. Phoneme segmentation (e.g., what sounds do you hear in the word cat?)

Children should be demonstrating these skills by the end of their first year in grade school. By practicing these skills, you will be providing your child with greater success, therefore, increased confidence. Try one of these exercises today and watch your child blossom!