DR. DR., Give Me The News: What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

A neruo what?! Why does my child need this? Does that mean my child will have a diagnosis? What are they testing for? How long will it take? Will my child need medication? A neuropsychological evaluation can raise many questions and concerns for families. The information below can help provide some clarity about what a neuropsychological evaluation is and if your child would benefit from one.

What is a neuropsychological evaluation?

A neuropsychological evaluation is a test completed by a licensed clinical psychologist and may include additional providers, such as an occupational therapist or social worker, from a multi-disciplinary team approach. The team will interview the child’s parents, in addition to any other adults that may be able to provide feedback about the child (e.g. therapist, teacher). The evaluation is a series of tests, both written and verbal, which are completed over the course of several sessions and all appointments can vary in length of time. These tests help to better understand the brain development, strengths, and weaknesses of that individual.

What does/can it test?

The evaluation is recommended for children over the age of five. The initial and primary concerns will determine the exact tests administered throughout the evaluation. Generally, tests assess academic functioning, attention and executive functioning skills, and motor functioning. These skills are essential for children to establish and develop in order to fully function in a classroom setting independently. The evaluation also monitors the child’s sensory profile in addition to their social-emotional development.

What about the diagnosis?

It is possible that your child might receive a diagnosis after the evaluation (e.g. ADHD, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder). Any diagnosing information will come from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5ThEdition (DSM-5). This information can often be difficult for families to accept and understand what it actually means. Receiving a diagnosis does not always mean that your child will have that diagnosis forever; however, many neurological disorders are often influenced by brain structure. A diagnosis can provide answers, information, and recommendations for your child and family. The information can better support your child’s care team to provide an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) within the classroom setting and additional therapeutic services which may only be available through insurance. If your child is recommended medication at the evaluation, talk with your current treatment team of providers and your child’s primary care doctor, to see if and when beginning medication is the right step for your child.

Who can it help?

These evaluations can help provide the child, family, and support teams with a detailed description or a “blue print” of how the child’s brain works. These reports include specific recommendations for each child at home, in the classroom, and within the community as needed. Sharing your child’s neuropsychological report with their school, doctor, and therapists will ensure your child’s care team is working collaboratively to achieve the targeted goals.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s diagnosis, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Kelly Scafidi, MSW, LCSW, DT
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Developmental Therapist

Photo Credit: Berzin via pixabay.com

Baby Boot Camp: The Importance of Tummy Time

Tummy time promotes development, strength, and a new visual perspective for your baby. Growing babies require many hours of sleep, which means your baby spends a large amount of time on his or her back to maintain a safe position while sleeping. Tummy time is pivotal during waking hours to strengthen the head, neck, and shoulder muscles and promote head control. Tummy time also gives your baby a fresh new perspective on the world as they can interact with toys and reach for objects in the environment. Tummy time is fundamental to your baby’s development and builds skills that promote later milestones of rolling over, crawling, and playing.

Getting started with Tummy Time

Tummy time can be started at any age, it is even recommended for newborns! Tummy time should always be a supervised activity. Gradually introduce your baby to tummy time by placing them on your stomach or chest in a reclined position such as laying on the couch. This allows your baby to continue bonding and interacting with you and may help them tolerate this new position. Start with short intervals on a safe and firm surface, such as the floor, for two to three minutes per day. You can progress up to 20 to 30 minutes of tummy time per day depending on your baby’s tolerance. Aim for tummy time at a time of day when he or she is alert, such as after nap time. Remember to always pay attention to your baby’s needs and look for signs of tiredness, such as crying or laying their head down on the floor.

How can I promote a successful tummy time experience?

  • Provide extra support with a bolster
    • Try rolling up a thin towel or blanket to make a bolster
    • Place the bolster under your baby’s chest with his or her arms positioned over the roll and hands in front
    • Always keep your baby’s chin in front of the roll to ensure their airway remains open
  • Promote weight bearing
    • Make sure your baby distributes his or her weight to both sides of the body in order to equally strengthen
  • Promote reaching for play
    • Get down on the floor with your baby to promote engagement and motivation
    • Hold a toy in front of your baby to encourage head control and reaching
    • Place toys in a circle around your baby to promote reaching in all directions
  • Try out other positions
    • Side-lying: Lay your baby on his or her side and support their back with your hand or a rolled towel. Place your baby’s arms out in front to promote reaching and play in this position.
    • Airplane: Lay down and hold your baby in your arms while he or she is on their belly. This a fun and motivating new perspective for babies with head control.
  • Make tummy time a routine
    • Incorporate tummy time during everyday tasks such as diaper changes, songs, toweling off, or reading a book.
    • Try burping your baby with him or her laying across your lap on their tummy
  • Make it a multi-sensory experience
    • Use a visually stimulating blanket or towel
    • Try placing your baby on a variety of textured blankets or mats
    • Use a mirror to motivate your baby to lift his or her head to see their reflection and encourage self-recognition
    • Alternate between various safe surfaces in your home such as carpet, tile, or wood

What are red flags to look out for? 

  • Pay attention if your baby shows a head preference. For optimal development, your baby should look to both sides equally. Does he or she have a strong preference towards one side?
  • Does your baby have difficulty weight bearing on one side of the body? For development, it is important that your baby strengthen both sides of the body and weight bear equally through both hands and arms.
  • Does your baby have a flat patch on the side or back of the head? Is your baby’s head asymmetrical? Flat patches may develop due to a strong head preference or increased time spent on their back.

If your child is demonstrating some of the observations above, consider contacting one of our occupational therapists or the Illinois Early Intervention system for more information.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Robyn Geist, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference: Pumerantz, Christa & Zachry, Anne (2018). Tips for living life to its fullest: Establishing tummy time routines to enhance your baby’s development. American Occupational Therapy Association.

Photo Credit: Moswyn via iStock.com

Is My Child Stuttering? How to Identify Typical Disfluencies Versus Red Flags for Stuttering

As a pediatric speech and language pathologist, I often find myself listening as a child tells me, “my mom – my mom – my mom – my mom – likes green!” You may find yourself in a similar situation, waiting for your child’s response, as they repeat sounds, parts of words, whole words, or even phrases. Now, how much of that is typical? The information below will help you determine whether your child’s fluency is characteristic of their age and stage of development, or if there are red flags for stuttering present.

What is Disfluency

A disfluency is anything that interrupts the forward flow of speech. Within every person’s speech, children and adults alike, there are disfluencies present. As adults, we become acutely aware of these disfluencies during times of increased pressure, such as during an oral presentation or an interview. Even something as simple as taking a big breath, sneezing, or coughing can impact our fluency. Some types of disfluencies are typical, while some may be indicative of something more significant, such as a fluency disorder (i.e. stuttering).

So, what is typical disfluency?  

Typical disfluencies include repetitions of whole words (my – my dog is small) or phrases (can I – can I – can I go outside?). They also include interjections (um, like) and revisions (I went to the – I saw a chicken at the farm). With typical disfluency, the speaker does not demonstrate physical characteristics of difficulty, such as increased tension in their face or body.

Developmental Disfluency

Children may have periods of increased disfluency from two to five years of age, as these are years of significant expressive language development. Between these years, children often transition from using single words and two-word phrases to engaging in adult-like conversations. This is sometimes referred to as “preschool stuttering” and consists largely of the typical disfluencies outlined above. If your child is using mostly typical disfluencies in their speech, does not have negative feelings about their fluency, and does not appear to be physically struggling to complete their sentences, then it is likely typical and not cause for concern at this time.

Stuttering

If a fluency disorder or “stuttering” is present, it can lead to breakdowns in communication, which can impact your child’s participation across settings.

What are the red flags for stuttering?

  1. A family history of stuttering is present
  2. Your child is a male
  3. Your child is repeating sounds (b-b-b-ball) or syllables (break-break-fast) in addition or instead of words and phrases
  4. Your child is prolonging sounds (sssssoup)
  5. Your child has periods of time when they are trying to speak, but no words are coming out
  6. Your child appears to be tense or struggling while talking
  7. There are observable secondary behaviors present (i.e. blinking eyes, changing pitch or volume, grimacing)
  8. Your child has negative feelings regarding their speech
  9. Your child is avoiding speaking in general or speaking in certain situations
  10. Your child has been stuttering for over six months
  11. Your child has other speech and language related concerns
  12. Your child began presenting with significant disfluency after three and a half years of age

What can I do?

If your child is demonstrating some of the behaviors above, consider contacting a speech and language therapist who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to encourage fluency, or recommend therapeutic intervention as necessary. In the meantime, visit The Stuttering Foundation’s website for tips for talking with your child.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s fluency, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Ana Thrall Burgoon, M.S., CCC – SLP 
Speech-Language Pathologist

Reference:

Coleman, Craig. “How Can You Tell if Childhood Stuttering is the Real Deal?” LeaderLive, ASHA, 26 Sept. 2013.

Photo Credit:Limor Zellermayer via Unsplash

Parent Question: How does developmental therapy support speech and communication skills?

“The initial evaluation team recommended developmental therapy for my child but my concerns are with her speech. How can developmental therapy help support her speech? I thought that it focused on preschool readiness skills?” — Concerned Parent

Developmental therapy (DT) focuses on the whole child and often addresses different areas of development, including speech and communication. DT can often be used to complement and support speech therapy by helping your child learn pre-communication skills. These skills include sharing joint attention, attention span, imitation of gestures and play ideas, and general play skills and are essential in learning how to speak! This blog will explain these skills and how you as a parent can help your child with their pre-communication skills.

Pre-communication skills
Joint attention: Joint attention is when two people share attention with an object or activity. This can be demonstrated by sharing eye contact, using gestures, and/or other non-verbal and verbal communication. While children can learn some skills from toys and objects independently, they absolutely need to be able to share joint attention with another person to learn language and how to communicate with others.

Attention span: In order to learn any new skill, one must have the attention span to attend to an activity. On average, a child is expected to attend to a single activity for – at minimum – one to one-and-a-half minutes per year of age. And as they age, a child should be able to attend to several activities in a row.

Imitation of gestures: Imitation of gestures always comes before imitation of words. It is important for your child to learn that they can imitate what other people are doing! Once your child is consistently imitating familiar gestures (such as waving or clapping), novel or play gestures (feeding the baby a bottle, for example), and “invisible” gestures (this is a gesture that you can do but not see yourself do, such as sticking out your tongue or tugging your ear), we know that your child is on track to using sounds and words to communicate.

Play skills: A child’s “work” is play! It is important for your child to engage in functional play with toys to learn the concept the toys are targeting. Engaging in functional play provides your child opportunities to use language to communicate. Play is also a great measure of a child’s cognition!

How can parents support pre-communication skills?
Joint attention: Engage in a preferred activity that your child has mastered – we want to make sure they can focus on learning the skill of joint attention and not forcing too many cognitive demands at once. For example, if your child does not yet match, you would not use a puzzle for this activity. Activities with lower cognitive demands – such as popping bubbles – is much more appropriate for a joint attention activity (but if your child has mastered matching, feel free to use a puzzle!) After blowing bubbles a few times for your child, pause the activity. Give him or her the opportunity to come to you and show you that they want “more” by using eye contact or gesturing to you what they want. If they only look at or touch the bubbles, bring the bubbles near your face to encourage eye contact. Once they look to you, provide praise and blow more bubbles! Continue this routine as long as your child will tolerate.

Attention span: Toddlers are notorious for having a decreased attention span! Everything is so new and interesting to them, no wonder they want to bop around the room and get into everything! Make sure you create a learning and play space that is conducive to attending to activities. Having a large number of toys available at all times or always having the television can create many distractions for your child.

When starting to work on increasing your child’s attention span, your goal should be to complete one activity – that’s it! An activity with a clear beginning and end, such as a puzzle or book, are great activities to start with. Engaging in symbolic play with a baby doll, for example, would be considered an open-ended activity that can be finished after one minute or ten. And again, you want to choose something that they have mastered so they are not expected to complete an activity that is new or particularly challenging.

Imitation: To work on a child’s imitation skills, you can start by imitating them! If they bang a toy on their highchair, you do the same. Encourage your child to do the gesture again before imitating it again. Once you go back and forth a few times, change the gesture – rub an object on the highchair instead for example. If your child does not imitate this gesture, do it again. If they continue to not imitate this gesture, provide hand over hand assistance to show them exactly how to imitate this gesture.

Play skills: Sometimes, children need to be taught how to play functionally with objects! Just like any other skill, play needs to supported and taught and it is up to the child’s first teacher – their parents – to show them just that. Parents should be modeling appropriate play with toys and encouraging the child to do the same (this is also where those imitation skills come in handy!) Help your child master functional play by setting aside a few minutes every day to provide your child your undivided attention and PLAY!

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s pre-communication skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT
Director of Developmental Therapy Services

Reference:

Teach Me to Talk. (July 30, 2018). Sorting Out the 11 Prelinguistic Skills… Retrieved April 25, 2019 from http://teachmetotalk.com/2018/07/30/sorting-out-the-11-prelinguistic-skills/

Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Feeding our Senses: What is a Sensory Diet?

Does your child love to run, swing, and jump? Engage in messy play with finger paint and shaving cream or seek out hugs and cuddles? Or perhaps they prefer to watch other children navigate the rock wall at the playground or quickly wipe their hands clean when dirty? Our sensory systems are responsible for how we take in sensory stimuli from our environment, process and interpret the information internally, and produce appropriate responses. We rely on proper functioning of eight senses (yes, eight!) to maintain a regulated state, in which we are better able to understand, interact with, and grow within our environments.

What are the eight sensory systems?

  1. Sight: helps us process what we see
  2. Hearing: helps us detect and process sounds, beats, and frequencies
  3. Smell: helps us detect and process scents and odors
  4. Taste: helps us process and distinguish between different tastes
  5. Touch: helps us process and understand how things feel on our skin, such as soft or hard, hot or cold
  6. Vestibular: provides us with a sense of balance, movement, and an awareness of orientation in space
  7. Proprioception: provides information about position and movements of our muscles and joints, including pushing, pulling, and deep pressure sensations
  8. Interoception: provides an internal sense of how our organs feel, such as hungry or thirsty, our sense of temperature, our feelings of pain, and when we need to use the bathroom

What happens if our sensory systems do not process stimuli correctly or efficiently?

When our brains are unable to make sense of the information our bodies receive, we often respond to the environment in inappropriate or unexpected ways. While the reactions formed in this disorganized state, often referred to as deregulation, present differently for every child and depend on both the type and number of sensory systems affected, responses often aim to find more of (seek) or stay away from (avoid) input. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Sight: excessively looking at moving, spinning, or shiny objects; appearing bothered by bright lights
  • Hearing: appearing to ignore people when spoken to; becoming distracted in noisy settings; covering ears in response to loud noises
  • Smell: showing heightened sensitivity or aversion to scents and odors; may impact feeding routines
  • Taste/oral: preferring a limited variety of foods; difficulty trying new foods; excessive drooling
  • Touch: difficulty tolerating having nails trimmed or wearing certain clothing textures; refusing to touch or play with various textures, such as grass, sand, finger paint, or Play-Doh; wiping hands clean immediately after getting dirty
  • Vestibular: appearing to excessively enjoy or look for movement opportunities (running, jumping, rocking, etc.); seeming clumsy; appearing fearful of ordinary movement, such as when both feet are off the ground (e.g. swinging)
  • Proprioception: biting or chewing on non-food items; excessive bumping into, pushing, or hitting peers or objects in the environment
  • Interoception: not feeling full after eating; missing the urge to use the bathroom at the appropriate time

These sensory responses may lead to overarching difficulties with a child’s ability to attend to academic activities in the classroom, maintain balance and coordination, plan and sequence novel tasks, build social relationships, perform self-care activities, such as dressing and feeding tasks, and participate in family routines and schedules.

Sensory diet: what is it and how can it help?

A sensory diet is a carefully designed series of sensory-based activities in which a child is encouraged to participate to increase regulation and attention throughout the day. Much like we eat healthy foods to give our bodies the nutrients they need, sensory diets are made to meet the specific sensory needs of each child. While sensory diets typically incorporate touch, movement, and proprioceptive input, strategies targeting any sensory system can be included to promote optimal regulation. Sensory diets are often organized into schedules based on a child’s daily routines, activities, and family plans to maximize participation and success and can be easily modified as the child’s needs change over time. See below for an example of a sensory diet:

If implemented correctly, sensory diets provide consistent access to specific amounts of sensory input needed throughout the day and result in more appropriate responses to environmental stimuli over time. When successful, children are better able to participate in meaningful activities and daily routines, develop important foundational skills, and more effectively understand and engage in the world around them.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about whether your child may benefit from a sensory diet, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Caitlin Chociej, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

References:

Bodison, S., Watling, R., Kuhaneck, H.M., & Henry, D. (2008). Frequently Asked Questions About Ayres Sensory Integration. American Occupational Therapy Association. Retrieved April 14, 2019 from http://www.aota.org/Consumers/WhatisOT/FactSheets.aspx.

Smith Roley, S., Mailloux, Z., Miller-Kuhaneck, H. & Glennon, T. (2007). Understanding Ayres’ Sensory Integration. OT Practice 12(7).

STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder. (2018). Your 8 Senses. Retrieved April 14, 2019, from https://www.spdstar.org/basic/your-8-senses.

Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Pexels

Ouch! My Child is Biting!

It is never a fun moment when your child’s teacher calls, informing you that your child bit a classmate. Or what about when your child bites you or their siblings? Biting is a stressful experience for everyone involved. Let’s discuss why it may happen and what can be done to prevent it.

Is biting normal?

While not every child will bite, it is a very common behavior in toddlers. Biting usually stops by three or three-and-a-half. However, just because it is a normal stage of development does not mean it is an acceptable behavior. In order to try to prevent age-appropriate biting, we first need to try to understand what may trigger it.

Why is my child biting?

Toddlers are experiencing so many new feelings, both physically and emotionally, during this time in their development. These changes could lead to feeling the need to bite. Understanding why your child may be biting may help you support them from biting.

  • Teething – This can be a painful process, especially getting those two-year-old molars, and sometimes clenching their teeth on something (or someone) helps relieve the tension they are feeling in their mouths.
  • Sensory needs – Our bodies seek out what it needs in many different ways. Some children’s mouths need more stimulation to feel “awake” or regulated. Their bodies may also need more large muscle activities, such as running, climbing, and jumping to release that tension and energy they are releasing with their jaws.
  • Big emotions – Have you ever been so excited or angry that your clench your jaw or fists? Luckily you have the inhibition skills to avoid biting those around you in those moments. Toddlers are learning about a lot of new feelings and how they make their body feel. Sharing, tiredness, fear, and overstimulation are really tough to navigate when you’re just learning and can be overwhelming. Toddlers are also learning to be more independent from their caregivers and recognizing that things they want may not be what the people around them want for them. That causes frustration that may lead to biting too.
  • Few words – Toddlers are also learning language skills. Often times their communication skills are not developing as fast as the large emotions mentioned earlier. Biting can be an effective way to get a point across when they do not have the words to do so. You may see more biting in children who have a language delay.

What can I do?

  • Do some detective work – Are there any patterns to your child’s behavior? Do they tend to bite before lunch/nap time? Is it when other children encroach on their personal space? Have there been recent changes to their regular routine or family dynamics? By noting when biting happens most often, it may prompt you to give extra support during those times, such as offering a snack, making naptime a little earlier in the day, or having two of the same item to assist with sharing.
  • Offer an alternative – If your child is biting due to teething or sensory input, redirect them to a chewy tube or teething ring. Sometimes a wet washcloth kept in the refrigerator or freezer offers a soothing sensation to chew on for sensitive gums.
  • Model appropriate language – As mentioned before, sometimes biting gets a message across faster than words can come out. Help teach your child the power of words by modeling language they can use. For example, “I need space!” “Move, please” “My turn!” Encourage them to ask for help from an adult if their words are not enough with their peers.
  • Read books – There are many children’s book about biting, such as Teeth are not for Bitingby Elizabeth Verdick. Reading together can provide the opportunity to talk through situations without the intense emotions of the moment.
  • Reinforce expectations – Remind your child that, no, biting is not allowed. Be firm, but try to not to express anger. You want your child to know that you do not approve of the behavior, but that you still love them. Remember to replace the unwanted behavior with the preferred behavior. Example: “Ouch! It is not okay to bite. Biting hurts. You can bite this teether instead, but you may not bite your friends.”
  • Wash, rinse, repeat – Children learn through repetition. They may not remember to stop biting after the first time you redirect them. Or the fifth. Like learning any new skill, it takes time, practice, and patience. Remember that children’s inhibition skills are still developing until age four, even if they know what they are doing is wrong. And to be honest, some of us adults are still mastering avoiding the things we know are not good for us!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s biting, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Becky Clark, MS, DT
Developmental Therapist

Reference:Zero to Three. (2016, February 22). Toddlers and biting: finding the right response. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/232-toddlers-and-biting-finding-the-right-response.

Lieberman, A. F. (1995). The emotional life of the toddler. New York: Free Press.

Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Is Articulation Therapy Appropriate for My Toddler?

My toddler’s speech isn’t 100% clear, and his preschool teachers say that they have a hard time understanding him. Should I be concerned?
Let’s set the scene: Your child walks up to you and says “mohmik peas,” and at first you don’t have a clue what they are trying to tell you! But by using the clues in your environment and by observing their gestures, you eventually figure out that they requested “more milk please.” You were able to meet your child’s needs (getting them more milk) even though they did not produce all of the correct sounds in each word. So are their speech sound (i.e. articulation) skills something to be concerned about?

As your child produces new words and phrases you might be noticing that their speech is not 100% clear. Your child’s speech clarity, also referred to as intelligibility, is your child’s current production of sounds which impacts how others can understand them. Intelligibility for a two year old should be approximately 50% to an unfamiliar person. By three-years of age your child should be approximately 75% intelligible, meaning that you should understand at least seven out of every ten sentences that they produce. It is important to remember that as your child is learning how to talk they may not sound exactly like an adult would, and that’s typical! In general, your child should be using a variety of consonants and vowels at two- to three-years of age but there is variability speech sound development.

Speech sound development: What should I expect?
Not all speech sounds are alike! Some speech sounds are considered early developing sounds, while others might develop when your child is older due to the complexity of oral movements required to make that sound. Early developing sounds include: “p, b, m, n, w, t, d, h.” Later developing sounds include: “sh, s, z, l, r, th.” Later developing sounds may be substituted with a different sound at two- to three-years of age due to their motoric complexity.

“So you’re saying that not all speech sounds need to be mastered by three-years of age?” That’s right! At three-years of age it is possible that your child may be substituting different sounds in real words, such as “wed” for “red,” and this is age-appropriate! At the age of three, a “w” for “r” substitution would be considered a developmental error, or an error that does not require direct therapeutic intervention. The majority of developmental errors will correct themselves as your child’s language and articulation skills develop.

What are phonological processes?
Phonological processes are patterns children use to simplify their speech as they are learning how to speak. For instance, your child may be saying “back” for “black.” Each phonological process is considered age-appropriate until it persists past a set age of elimination (the age in which the majority of children no longer present with that specific error pattern). The majority of children will correct their own speech and no longer use phonological process substitutions as their language and speech sounds develop. (Please see resources listed below to view an age-appropriate phonological processes chart.)

Is your child ready for articulation therapy?
Articulation therapy uses a hierarchical approach to master target speech sounds. For instance, you may first practice the sound “f” in isolation, or by itself, and then progress to practicing “f” with a vowel such as “fee” or “foe.” Articulation therapy requires your child to have the ability to follow directions given by the therapist, tolerate a variety of cues to help support appropriate production of their target speech sound, pay attention to the therapist, and imitate what the therapist is saying. At two years of age, your child’s attention span is shorter than a three- or four-year-old’s attention span, and they may become frustrated by some of the direct cueing provided during traditional articulation therapy. One critical component of articulation therapy is avoiding negative practice, or practicing your child’s target speech sound the incorrect way. Your child’s therapist wants to avoid negative practice because they want to support and encourage the accurate production of the speech sound and not have your child continue to practice incorrectly. A child who is not ready for articulation therapy is a child who is unable to follow directions provided by a therapist, unable to pay attention to a therapist’s face, or is unable to imitate what a therapist is saying.

Should my two-year old be receiving articulation therapy?
If you feel like you understand your child approximately 50% of the time, but notice that there are some sounds that are not the same as an adult’s production they may be using age-appropriate substitutions and/or phonological processes. For instance, if your child is deleting the end of words (final consonant deletion) at two years of age this is considered an age-appropriate phonological process that is typically eliminated around three years of age. In addition, at two years of age children are still learning how to use language and are increasing their phrase length and vocabulary, which are both age-appropriate skills to promote and target with a two-year old. If at two years of age you feel like your child is not using a variety of vowels or consonants, or you feel like producing speech sounds is effortful, your child may be a candidate for a speech and language evaluation.

So what can you do to help support your two-year-old’s speech intelligibility? Your mouth is a great cue for your child! Several early developing speech sounds can be seen on the lips and this visual cue makes it easier for your child to imitate you. For instance, “p” and “b” both require your lips to come together before making sound. Children learn a lot by what they see, so hold objects and toys near your face to encourage them to look at how your mouth is making sounds. You can also talk slowly and prolong different sounds to help your child imitate new sounds they may not be using such as “mmmma-mmmma” for ‘mama.’

Should my three-year old be receiving articulation therapy?
If your child is three years old or older and you feel like their intelligibility is less than 75%, have difficulty producing early developing speech sounds, have a limited variety of vowels, or are using phonological processes that are no longer considered typical for their age, your child may be a candidate for speech and language therapy. If you have concerns regarding your child’s articulation skills, talk to your speech-language pathologist or schedule an appointment for an evaluation.

Some things you can try at home include:

  • Encourage your child to look at your mouth! Your mouth is a great cue for your child to look at as you model a new sound.
  • Model the word with the correct sound for your child to hear the difference. For instance, if your child says “bid” for “big,” you can model the correct word “big” after your child’s attempt.
  • Tap or clap out syllables to promote the inclusion of all syllables in a word. Tapping or clapping can help your child know the exact number of syllables in the word, which can facilitate inclusion of all syllables within a target word. A word is much easier to understand when all of the syllables are produced clearly and do not run into the next word in a sentence!
  • Give your child two verbal choices to choose from if you’re having a difficult time understanding your child. By providing your child with two verbal choices for them to imitate you know what they are trying to say, even if their sounds don’t come out just right!. Also, it may be easier for your child to imitate one of the two choices you give rather than produce the word on their own.
  • If you notice that their speech sounds are ok in single words, but are incorrect when they try to produce a full sentence, try to decrease the number of words in your child’s sentence and have the imitate it back to you. For instance, your child attempts to produce a four-word phrase such as “puppy drink more water,” however, there are multiple words that are challenging to understand. You can model a shorter, three-word phrase such as “drink more water” to aid with increased intelligibility.

Resources:
Visit Mommy Speech Therapy to download the phonological processes chart!

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s speech and language development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Samantha Labus, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Reference:

Fabiano-Smith, L., & Goldstein, B. A. (2010). Early-, Middle-, and Late-Developing Sounds in Monolingual and Bilingual Children: An Exploratory Investigation. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology,19(1), 66-77. doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2009/08-0036)

Sander, E. K. (1972). When are Speech Sounds Learned? Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders,37(1), 55-63. doi:10.1044/jshd.3701.55

Photo Credit:Ryan Fields via unsplash.com

Increasing Participation in Daily Routines

Establishing routines in your child’s life are crucial in that they help to create expectations and predictability. However, certain routines can often be difficult to follow when considering a parent’s work schedule and child’s behavior at particular times of the day. Children often feel as though they experience a loss of control when being asked to constantly “do this and that.” Parents-don’t panic! Try implementing these small tricks at home and school, which have been shown to increase your child’s participation and motivation to engage in routines!

How can routines help my child?

Routines are created to help your child understand what he/she should be expected to do throughout the day. Routines are important in a variety of settings, including the home and school. It is the parents’ and teachers’ duties to enforce these routines on a daily basis, which can include specific activities as well as consistent responses that reinforce participation. For example, if a child is expected to sit for circle time and he/she is having difficulties, it is crucial that the teacher responds in a consistent way in order for the child to understand that circle time is the next step and the child is expected to participate.

What if my child has difficulties following routines?

If your child is having difficulties following specific routines at home or school, creating a visual schedule of the specific steps in that routine can help to increase your child’s motivation and control of the situation. For example, if your child demonstrates resistance towards the morning routine, follow these simple steps to create a visual schedule:

  1. Take pictures of your child engaging in each step of the routine (e.g. waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc.)
  2. Place the pictures vertically on paper, numbering each step to help the child understand what needs to be done first/last.
  3. Allow the child to mark each step once completed. Ask your child how he/she wants to mark the steps (e.g. putting a sticker next to the completed step). Laminating the schedule is a fun way in which your child can “X” off the steps and then erase for the next day.
  4. Use this schedule every day for at least two weeks, which will allow for sufficient time to understand whether it is making an impact or not. It is important that all caregivers use the chart with your child in order to build consistency. 

How do these visual schedules actually help?

Visual schedules serve many purposes for children and caregivers. First, the pictures on the schedules allow children to see themselves in action, which adds an extra fun factor. Secondly, the schedule allows children to have increased control, in that they are able to mark off each completed step. Lastly, the schedule serves as reminders to the caregivers as to what the child has done and what he/she needs to further complete. It is also helpful for caregivers to add in an incentive if the child is able to complete all steps included in a routine (e.g. giving your child extra play time before leaving for school).

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s routines, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LCSW, DT
Assistant Director of Social Work Services
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Photo Credit: Openclipart-Vectors via Pixabay

Reducing Screen Time in the Home

Tablets, smartphones, computers, televisions, and more…our world today often seems to be dominated by screens. Yet, one of the most common warnings heard by parents everywhere is:

“Don’t let your child have too much screen time!”

This warning may instantly lead many parents to wonder, “How much is too much?” And once that is determined, “What can I do to set limits on screen time in my home?” Let’s take a look at these common thoughts and questions!

Why is too much screen time a bad thing?

Recent research has produced a variety of results on the potential negative outcomes for children who spend too much time each day watching or using screens. Dr. Cara Booker and colleagues discovered that children who use screens heavily tend to be less happy and suffer from more social/emotional problems than their peers. The content of what is behind many screens can often encourage feelings of discouragement and low self-esteem.  Children who spend a large amount of time “tuned-in” to a screen also tend to miss out on learning and practicing important social skills, such as maintaining conversation and managing social conflict. Additional studies report that children who spend more time watching and using screens also spend less time sleeping at night. Screens can cause physical stimulation within your child’s brain, causing excitement that makes it more difficult to calm down and get ready fro sleep. Too much screen time is also linked to a higher risk for obesity, one reason being that screen time while eating can distract a child’s body from understanding when it is full, which may lead to over-eating. Overall, children who are exposed to increased screen time tend to present with increased cognitive, language, and social/emotional delays.

How much is too much?

With significant potential harms noted, it is important to ask, how much screen time is too much? To answer this question, The American Academy of Pediatrics created age-based guidelines on screen time for children. The exact numbers, as well as additional useful tips on appropriate media usage for children, can be found on their website:The American Academy of Pediatrics Age-Based Guidelines.

Helpful Tip: The American Academy of Pediatrics also offers online tools for families to create a unique “Family Media Plan” or to use a “Media Time Calculator.” Find both tools here.

Remember, these guidelines are just that – a GUIDE – and every family will run into days where screen time exceeds the recommended amount. That is okay!You may find that during a particularly stressful day at home, or over a long weekend spent mostly in the car, your child’s screen time total adds up to much more than the number stated in these guidelines. As long as these “excess” days are limited, and not the norm, they will not have the same negative effects on your child.

Steps to Reducing Screen Time

Once you begin to notice that excessive screen time is the norm in your home, it is time to consider taking action! Here are seven steps to get you started:

  1. Eat all meals without a screen
  • Allow meals to be a time to interact with one another. Share a favorite story from the day, or something you hope to see happen that day!
  1. Set up “technology-free” zones
  • Choose one area of your home. This is a great opportunity to get your child’s input. If they contribute to creating the technology-free zone, they will be more likely to actually utilize the technology-free zone! *NOTE: Be sure all beds are zoned to be “TECH-FREE”
  1. Set a timer when using screens
  • Sand timers, kitchen timers, and digital alarm clocks all work well! Before screen time begins, have your child set the timer with you (to the pre-determined time allowed) and review what happens when the timer goes off.
  1. Schedule specific times each day to “un-plug”
  • As a family, decide on a period of time during the day when you will collectively “un-plug.” This means parents too! Together you will put all phones, tablets and computers away. Turn off the TV and tune into your environment instead. *NOTE: Timers can be used to track your un-plugged time too!
  1. Use parental controls
  • Most devices offer an option for parental controls. Using this setting will allow you to set time limits and make sure that your child is only exposed to parent-approved content.
  1. Model limited screen use
  • Your children learn from watching you! Practice limiting your own screen time so that your child will see it can be done (and hopefully see the benefits as well).
  1. Replace screen-time with a different engaging activity
  • Have a plan ready for what your child can do with the time he/she used to spend with a screen. Below are just a few of many options available for activities that can replace screen-time, and better promote your child’s health and development!

Examples of Alternative Activities

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development or the effects of screen time in your home, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or at (773) 332-9439.

Stephanie Wroblewski, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

References:

Grant, Sheena. “Do Children Have Too Much Screen Time and Does It Matter How Much Time They Spend on IPads, Smartphones and Laptops?” East Anglian Daily Times, 17 Oct. 2015, www.eadt.co.uk/ea-life/do-children-have-too-much-screen-time-and-does-it-matter-how-much-time-they-spend-on-ipads-smartphones-and-laptops

The American Academy of Pediatrics Website, (Itasca, IL, USA). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved from: https://www.aap.org

The American Academy of Pediatrics Website, (Itasca, IL, USA). Family Media Plan. Retrieved from: https://www.healthychildren.org

Photo credit: Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

More Than Words: Building Social Communication Skills

Does your child have difficulty playing with other children? Do they prefer to play alone or demonstrate challenges in making friends? This blog will discuss what pragmatic (social) communication is, review the signs of a pragmatic language delay or disorder, and provide strategies for encouraging pragmatic language development in your child.

What is pragmatic language and why is it important?

Pragmatic language or social communication refers to the appropriate use of language in social situations. It is not only what we say, but also how we say it. This includes being able to understand and use nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. Pragmatic language is comprised of various important skills for successful communication, including eye contact, turn-taking, initiating and maintaining conversation, and understanding and using humor, among others. Children may have difficulty with one or more of these skills. It is important to support the development of your child’s pragmatic language skills so that they can learn to express themselves, understand others, and build relationships with family and peers.

Signs of a pragmatic language delay or disorder:

  • Preferring to play alone for an extended period of time
  • Limited eye contact while talking and/or playing
  • Difficulty taking turns
  • Limited initiation of conversation or play
  • Difficulty maintaining a topic of conversation
  • Difficulty participating in pretend play activities
  • Difficulty understanding or expressing emotions
  • Difficulty understanding another’s point of view
  • Difficulty interpreting tone of voice or body language
  • Difficulty making inferences
  • Difficulty using appropriate greetings
  • Difficulty adapting language to different listeners (i.e. talking to a friend the same way as to an adult)
  • Difficulty adapting language based on environment (i.e. talking the same way on the playground as in the classroom)
  • Not providing background information when appropriate

Strategies for building pragmatic language skills:

  • Pretend play:Engage in pretend play activities with your child, such as playing house, pretending to bake cookies, or pretending to be a veterinarian. Pretend play facilitates growth in cooperative back and forth play, ability to act out social situations, and ability to understand another’s perspective.
  • Turn-taking games:Turn-taking is a fundamental skill of communication as it teaches the basic back-and-forth exchange of a conversation. Through turn-taking games children learn to wait when it is someone else’s turn and they learn how to identify when it is their turn. Turn-taking games could be as simple as rolling a ball back and forth or taking turns blowing bubbles. You could also play simple turn-taking board games with your child to support development of this skill.
  • Story time:When reading a book with your child, try to make it interactive. Based on their age and language skills you could ask them to describe the pictures and what they see. For older children you can ask questions such as, “How do you think he feels?” or “What do you think she will do?” Prompting your child to answer these types of questions will help your child to make inferences, learn to understand another person’s perspective, and have a better understanding of emotions.
  • Be a good role model: You are your child’s best teacher. Model appropriate social communication skills such as making appropriate eye contact, using appropriate greetings, asking on-topic follow up questions, etc. Help your child to use these social communication skills when talking to family, teachers, and peers.
  • Facilitating peer interactions:Children need practice in order to learn to share, take turns, and play cooperatively with others. Setting up play-dates that you can be present for is a great way to facilitate peer interactions and relationships. You can encourage your child to communicate with their peer by prompting them to initiate conversation and play ideas. In addition you can encourage them to maintain play and communication with their peer by prompting them to ask on topic questions and make on topic comments.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s pragmatic language skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Image by HaiRobe on Pixabay