By Susan Garrett, MS/CCC/SLP
For most of us, we talk our way through the day but if you are a child with a special need, you probably will need some help. Talking is something most of us do all the time and never think twice about it. You talk to your husband, your wife, co-workers and your children. You talk to the clerks at the store and to people on the phone. Most of these people talk back to you and conversation is just a routine part of the day. That is not the reality for children with a variety of developmental disorders including but not limited to Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. For many of these children, reciprocal talk with others is not always apparent and as a result people forget to talk to these children. As a parent, caregiver or teacher it is most important to narrate the day for these children. Be their friend but also be their language or talk model and communication partner.
A conversation doesn’t have to involve talking! Children learn the basics of conversation well before they learn to talk. When children take turns while interacting, they are building their conversation skills. Therefore, when a child looks, reaches, gestures, makes a sound or uses facial expression, treat this as a conversational turn and respond to keep the conversation going. That conversation can continue with eye gaze, sounds, and even words. Remember however, the message is not just the words but all the facial expressions and gestures from you and your child. If your child is not responding to your talk, try putting your talk to song! Research indicates that many of our children will respond to talk that is sung. Again, the most important thing is to continue to engage the child and have fun.
Morning time is a hectic and busy time for most families but it can also be a special time with your child. Dressing time and wash time are wonderful language opportunities. Talk about what the child is putting on and the parts of the body involved. The bathroom is not a place to get in and out of as quick as possible. Time in the bathroom is wonderful talk time. Toileting can be difficult but talk and make it fun. And if you don’t like to talk or your child doesn’t respond to your talk…SING!!! Sing a song about the potty and then washing one’s face and hands. The foods for breakfast can also be a target for talk. It is easy to talk about the foods we are eating. “Eggs, yummy, I like yellow eggs.” “Cereal, it’s crunchy, it tastes so good with milk!” Sounds of eating are always wonderful—mmmm…yucky…be creative. Just keep the words coming and keep your child engaged.
A trip to the super market can be a wonderful and engaging activity as long as your shopping list is not too long. Choose a time, when you only need milk or juice not a two week grocery list. As you walk through the store, talk about what you see, the colors of the fruit and vegetables, the shapes of the boxes. The idea is to engage the child with the store and make it fun. There is lots of action in the store too. You can push the cart fast and push it slow. You can pick things UP and put things IN. The limited language child needs all these cues and this is a great time to introduce concepts.
Outside at the playground is a wonderful time to engage your child. Talk about going up the ladder and down the slide. Talk about spinning around on the merry-go-round. The outside with the trees, leaves, flowers and grass are rich topics to talk to your child about and participating in the fun is even better.
Don’t forget to talk when in the car. Videos have their time and place but the car can be a wonderful time to engage your child especially if it is just the 2 of you. Again, it is a great time to sing and a wonderful time to explore the world around us.
My favorite time for talk with young children is bed time. Everyone can slow down and “chill.” Snuggle up close and read a favorite book. Many children want the same book day after day. Don’t be surprised when the child is reading the book to you! The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended limited if any use of media before the age of 2 and thoughtful use of media thereafter. They are strongly recommending “free” unstructured play to allow the children “to learn, problem solve, think innovatively and develop reasoning skills. Finally, the AAP also strongly suggests sitting down and reading with your children to foster their language and cognitive development. It is truly refreshing that your child’s pediatrician is now recommending what SLP’s have been encouraging for years! Enjoy the talk time with your child whether he/she is 2, 12, 22 or beyond.
Susan Garrett, MS/CCC/SLP is a speech and language pathologist at a public, inclusive, early childhood school, the Coralwood School in Dekalb County, Georgia. Susan received a B.A. from Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY and a MS in Speech Pathology from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her entire career has been in the public school system in NY and Georgia and it truly has been a journey. Speech therapy in the schools in the 1970’s focused on correction of l, r, and s with some language intervention with a handful of children in a self-contained junior high school special education class. In 2011, the focus for all our children is communication, language and literacy. The primary goal for all children is successful communication at home, in school, in the community and basically in life. Speech/language therapy at Coralwood uses an inclusive model when appropriate. Children receiving Speech/Language therapy are seen in the classroom, in the therapy room, on the playground, in the cafeteria, anywhere that can support the child’s communication. Each child’s program is individual and based on their specific needs and is developed with both parent and teacher input.
Susan is married with 2 adult children, so she has also had some first hand experience with speech and language development.