Key Strategies for Helping Your Child with Speech and Language Challenges

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Today’s post was written by Melissa Baker, owner and speech-language pathologist of Chagrin Valley Speech Therapy Services:

As a parent of a child with a communication disorder, you may be feeling that there is more you can be doing to help them improve their speech and language skills at home. You know that you spend the most time with your child and would like guidance as to how to help them make more progress and reach their maximum potential. As the school year is just beginning, you may be looking to your child’s school speech-language pathologist to provide guidance. After working in both public and private schools as a speech-language pathologist, I know the struggle of having a large caseload and not having the time to provide my students and families with as many ideas and strategies for working on their speech and language targets outside of their school day as I would have liked. However, when parents specifically requested help, I was more than happy to send home specific suggestions and homework that targeted their child’s goals. I would encourage you to contact your child’s speech-language pathologist at the start of the school year and ask for specific recommendations regarding how to help them at home. Most speech-language pathologists appreciate parents that will work with their child outside of the school setting as they know this will help them progress much faster. I’m also hopeful that this article will arm you with tools and strategies that you can start using now.

We know that speech-language pathologists have limited time with your child and generalizing their skills into the natural environment is so important. As their parent, you’re the person who spends the most time with them and this makes you an ideal teacher. I’d like to start with strategies for children with language-based challenges and will follow it with strategies for children with speech sound/articulation challenges.

Limit Screen Time

For children with language impairments, there are many ways that you can expand and encourage language development during everyday activities. One of the biggest ways you can help your child is to encourage less screen time. According to Healthline.com, researchers from the National Institutes of Health just completed a study on 11,000 9-and 10-year-olds in the United States and found that children who used screens for more than two hours a day got lower scores on thinking and language tests. Excessive amounts of screen time can also lead to other health concerns like obesity, disrupted sleep, and depression. For younger and elementary-aged children, it’s recommended that if they are using tablets or phones, that you are sitting with them and interacting with it as well. Some apps such as My PlayHome and Toca Boca apps are great for modeling vocabulary and language concepts. As your child is playing these apps, you can talk about what is happening, ask open-ended questions, label vocabulary, give and follow directions, etc.

Read to Your Child

My second recommendation to build language skills it to read to your child. Reading daily to your child helps to build their vocabulary, comprehension, concentration, and enhances creativity and imagination. A tip would be to find wordless books and talk about the pictures, guess what might happen next, and build a new story each time you read it. Lastly, narrate what you are doing as much as possible. Remember to use sentences that are 1-2 words longer than what your child is currently producing. For example, if your child is saying “doggy run”, you can model, “Yes, the dog is running”. For more ideas for using this strategy during a variety of daily activities, please see this handout from Super Duper Publications: https://www.superduperinc.com/handouts/pdf/227_LangExpExt.pdf

Target Speech Sounds

For children with speech sound/articulation challenges, there are many ways that parents can help at home. If you know the sounds your child is having difficulty producing, find books in the library that target these sounds. When reading these books to your child, sit facing them and have them watch your mouth as you produce the sound. Try to overenunciate the sound so that they are hearing it and seeing it. For a list of books that target each speech sound, please visit the following website: https://sopecreeklibrary.typepad.com/lupu/books-to-practice-speech-sounds.html You can also practice the target sounds/words from the book in the bathroom mirror. Your child will enjoy the time with you, and you can be silly by making funny faces too!

Practice Speech Everywhere

Practice their target sound while in the car, waiting at the doctor’s office, out for a walk in the neighborhood, or while grocery shopping. Find words with the target sound as you are driving, or label items on the grocery store shelves. Look around the house and see if you can find items that have the targeted sound. Even practicing just 5-10 minutes each day can make a huge impact on developing the motor plan needed to make the sound more automatic. If you make practicing part of your daily routine it becomes a habit. For example, brush your teeth, practice your words, read a book, and go to bed. You can find words, phrases, sentences, and reading passages for each sound at the following website: https://www.home-speech-home.com/speech-therapy-word-lists.html. For children who need pictures, you can go to Google images and find pictures with the targeted sound. There is a website for sharing teacher created materials called www.teacherspayteachers.com. This website has many free and low-cost articulation and language materials that you can use at home as well.

Speech/Language Assessment

If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, it’s always best to consult an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist for a thorough assessment. You can find a list of providers in your state by going to https://www.asha.org/profind/. I hope the ideas and strategies supplied in this article empower you to help your child’s communication skills soar. Please contact me at chagrinvalleyspeech@gmail.com with any questions. Have a great start to the school year!

About the Author

Melissa Baker is the owner and speech-language pathologist at Chagrin Valley Speech Therapy Services, LLC (Link). She has been practicing pediatric speech pathology for over twenty years. At the beginning of her career, she worked in the public schools helping children with complex communication disorders. For nearly fourteen years, she was the Speech Therapy Department Supervisor at Monarch Center for Autism (link) in Shaker Heights, Ohio. In October 2016, Melissa opened my private pediatric speech therapy practice in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She serves children ages 3-22 with speech, language, and augmentative communication needs. She specializes in working with children with autism, but also has a passion for helping children with articulation and language disorders. Melissa provides speech and language assessments and treatment, social skills groups, camps, parent trainings, and Independent Educational Evaluations (IEE) (link). She is currently accepting private pay clients and can be reached at 440-972-3670 or chagrinvalleyspeech@gmail.com. You can learn more about her services by visiting www.chagrinvalleyspeech.com.