Employee Spotlight: Kelsey Martin, CCC-SLP

What do you love most about working for PlayWorks Therapy?

My favorite part about working for PlayWorks Therapy is being surrounded by such an amazing support system. I truly view all of my coworkers at PlayWorks not only as colleagues, but friends as well! I have grown so much as a therapist due to the collaborative environment that this company creates, and I especially love how easy it is to bounce ideas off of one another to provide our clients with the best therapy possible.

What is your favorite children’s book?

My favorite children’s book would have to be “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” I adored this book as a child and appreciate it now as a therapist because the illustrations and plot allow for tons of language opportunities!

What do you enjoy most about living in Chicago?

My favorite part about living in Chicago is having so many family and friends nearby. I grew up in a suburb outside of the city and earned both of my degrees in the Midwest, so many of the people that I love most happen to be here too! I also love the fact that there is always something to do in Chicago, whether it be a sporting event, concert, outdoor activity by the lake, or a street festival to check out!

What is your favorite childhood memory?

It’s hard to pick just one, but I hold my memories of Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house are very close to my heart. My entire extended family is OBSESSED with the holidays and spreading Christmas cheer, so I vividly remember how excited I always was to spend time with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and sisters singing Christmas songs, wearing matching pajamas, and of course, eating lots of cookies. It’s been pretty amazing to see how our traditions have continued over the years as new family members have been welcomed, too!

Mountain or beach vacation?

I think I’d have to say both… I would probably pick the beach in the summer and mountains in the winter, as I love soaking up the sun and being by the water, but also am a huge fan of skiing!

Share a proud “therapy moment” with one of your clients.

One of my absolute favorite parts about working with children is that every accomplishment, no matter how big or small, is celebrated and cherished. One moment that I remember specifically was when one of my clients on the autism spectrum looked me directly in the eye and said, “bye-bye Kelsey!” Not only had he never said my name before, but I was so unbelievably proud to see this little guy initiate such an awesome social interaction!

What is your hometown?

Prospect Heights, Illinois.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I love to spend time with my friends and family, run along the lake or attend a yoga class, cross restaurants off my extensive bucket list of places to try, and support all of my favorite Chicago sports teams! I also love to sing and play guitar, as well as sing karaoke with friends on the weekend!

Fun fact about yourself?

Speaking of singing, I once sang the National Anthem to open a Bret Michaels concert in 2013! I got to hang out with Bret for a little after the show and take some pictures, too!

Favorite therapy toy?

My favorite therapy toy, without a doubt, is my sock monkey ball popper. Not only do kids of all ages find it extremely entertaining, but it’s an amazing facilitator for language, such as asking for help and more, working on directions (up vs. down), working on body parts, and more!

Kelsey Martin, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Picture Exchange Communication System: Is PECS appropriate for my child?

When people think of communication, they often think of verbal communication. However, communication is not limited to one modality. In fact, communication can occur through a variety of modalities: verbal exchanges, written exchanges, facial expressions, gestures, sign language, etc. Picture exchange is another modality through which people can communicate. To capitalize upon this modality, Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, was created as a leading therapeutic technique for children who cannot yet verbally communicate.

As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I often come across the question from parents, “Is PECS appropriate for my child?” Let’s dive into what PECS is, how it works, and for whom it may be appropriate.

What is PECS?

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) that allows people to communicate using pictures. Although PECS contains a formal protocol that systematically moves through six phases of communicative exchanges, the method of picture exchange can be modified to meet the needs and skill level of the child.

How does PECS work?

  • Children using PECS are first taught a cause-effect relationship between pictures and communication. In other words, they learn that when you give a picture, you receive something in exchange.
  • Children are then taught to use pictures to communicate with different people across a variety of environments.
  • After the basic communicative exchange is established, the child learns to discriminate between multiple pictures in order to request specific objects or activities.
  • Pictures can then be combined to communicate phrases and sentences of increasing complexity, such as “I want ___.”

Who benefits from PECS?

PECS is often recommended for children who do not yet have a means of verbal communication. For PECS to be effective, however, the child must be motivated to communicate, as PECS relies upon the child initiating communication exchanges by giving pictures to another person. PECS also requires that child must have the cognitive skills to understand the cause-effect relationship between giving a picture and getting something in return. Therefore, a child who does not yet understand the cause-effect nature of a basic communicative exchange would be an inappropriate candidate for PECS until this skill emerges.

Myths Debunked

  • PECS is only for people who won’t learn to talk: The use of PECS does not imply that the child will never learn to use verbal language. In fact, the use of PECS can facilitate verbal communication by providing children with an outlet to reduce frustration and establish early communication skills.
  • PECS is only for people with Autism: PECS is frequently recommended for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder due to deficits in expressive language and social communication. However, recommendations of PECS should be child-specific and may or may not be appropriate for any child who does not have a means of verbal communication.
  • PECS only targets requesting: As a child moves through the PECS hierarchy, they can learn to use pictures for different functions, including requesting, answering questions, and ultimately, commenting independently. PECS involves high priority vocabulary to teach children that they can expand their expressive vocabulary to meet their wants and needs.

Questions or concerns?

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

Jill Teitelbaum, MS, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

References:

Bondy, A. (2001). PECS: Potential benefits and risks. The Behavior Analyst Today2(2), 127.

Vicker, B. (2002). What is the Picture Exchange communication System or PECS?.

Photo Credit: sitemaker.umich.edu

The Importance of Promoting Early Literacy Skills

Literacy skills develop from language skills and language skills begin to develop as soon as your child is born. Your baby begins communicating through eye contact, smiling, crying, facial expressions, and gestures and relies on your response with words and attention to lay the foundation for language and literacy development. Your child’s brain develops the most during those early years, and frequent exposure to language and reading will help build your child’s vocabulary, comprehension, story-telling, reading, and writing skills.

Why is Early Literacy Development Important?
Research shows that babies and toddlers who participate in literacy activities with their caregivers are more likely to develop a sustained interest in reading and writing. Developing an interest in reading and writing early on will have a positive impact on your child’s academic readiness.

Literacy, which is the ability to read and write, is comprised of a variety of skills including letter recognition, phonemic awareness, use and understanding of vocabulary, and story comprehension. These skills begin to develop within the first year of life. For example, when your child is six to twelve months old they may begin to grasp books or pat pictures they are interested in. At twelve to twenty-four months your child may begin to turn board book pages, give a book to you to read to them, and point to and name objects in pictures. Between the ages of two and three your child may start to scribble, request the same story over and over, and begin to complete sentences or rhymes in stories that are familiar. As a parent or caregiver, you can provide your child with positive early literacy experiences, which will lay the foundation for language, reading, and writing skills to develop.

Tips For Promoting Early Literacy Skills:
1. Have fun while reading! If your child is engaged and enjoying themselves, they are learning. You can use silly voices and actions while reading your child a story. This will promote positive feelings towards reading for your child.
2. Talk about the pictures. Rather than reading the words on each page, try talking about the pictures. Point to the objects and actions in the pictures as you describe them so that your child will begin to make connections between the words you are saying and what they see. Eventually you can ask them to describe the pictures themselves.
3. Let your child interact with books. Let your child hold the book and turn the pages even if you need to help them do this. Remember that it is okay to skip pages and to talk about pictures rather than read all of the words.
4. Make books and stories a part of your daily routine. Have books in your car, sing songs and nursery rhymes during mealtimes or play, and make time to look at books before naps and bedtime. Provide your child with frequent opportunities to engage with books and story time.

Early Literacy Skills Are Developed Through Early Experiences:
Remember that early language and literacy skills are learned through every day experiences with you and your child. Through playing, talking, singing, and reading together, your child is developing early language and literacy skills. While your baby or toddler may not be ready to read or write yet, exposing your child to frequent opportunities to interact with books and tell stories will help to develop your child’s vocabulary, comprehension, story-telling, reading, and writing skills. Remember, it is never too early instill a love for learning and reading in your child!

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

Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Child, Fun, Family, Love via Pixabay.com

Eating Habits- Picky or Problematic?

Is my child simply a picky eater? Or should I be more concerned?

Many children go through a phase of picky eating, some longer than others, that is not usually cause for concern. Some days it seems impossible to get them to eat anything other than goldfish or cake pops, and vegetables aren’t even up for discussion! However, some children demonstrate behaviors that may indicate a feeding problem or disorder. These difficulties may present as sensory challenges, such as only eating brown, crunchy foods, or as oral-motor challenges, such as excessive drooling or food falling out of their mouth while eating.

The following is a list of red flags that may tell you if your child would benefit from the support of a feeding specialist:

Children develop feeding challenges as a result of negative associations with eating. These associations may be caused by various medical or sensory complications, such as sensory processing disorder, food allergies, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or motor-planning disorders.

If you have concerns about your child’s feeding skills, consult with your pediatrician and an occupational therapist or a speech-language pathologist to help you determine if your child may need additional feeding support.

Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP
Director of Speech-Language Services

Using Play-Doh to Target Early Language Skills

One of my favorite toys that I like to use in therapy sessions is Play-Doh. The possibilities are endless and kids tend to have so much fun! The following are several goals that can be targeted while playing with Play-Doh with your children:

1) Imitation of Play Actions: Typically, kids learn to imitate our actions before they learn to imitate our sounds and words.  You can use Play-Doh to target this early imitation skill! Demonstrate different actions with the Play-Doh and praise any attempt your child makes to do what you do. Examples include squishing, rolling, making a ball, dropping, patting, etc. You can also bring in other props such as a rolling pin and cookie cutter to make different shapes. You could also incorporate other toys such as cars and have the cars roll over the Play-Doh, run into the Play-Doh, etc. You could even pretend that the Play-Doh is a car or a train and make it move across the table. Again, the point here is for your child to attempt to imitate what you do with the Play-Doh so praise them for all attempts!

2) Requesting via signs or words: My favorite requests to use in sessions include “more” and “help”. Encourage your child to request at their current level.  If they are able to verbally request encourage them to use their words. If they are currently able to sign that is great too! Even if they are just reaching for more Play-Doh you can model the word and honor their request. To target “help” give your child a closed container of Play-Doh and encourage them to ask for help before you open the container for them. To target “more”, give them a small piece at a time and encourage them to request “more”.

3) Teaching Action Words: Model action words while playing with the Play-Doh. My favorites include open (while opening the container), take out, roll, smash, drop, squish, cut, push, put in, close (while closing the lid), etc. Any word that you can think of to model with the Play-Doh would be great to use here!

4) Following one step directions: Tell your child what to do with the Play-Doh and see if they can follow without a model. If they do not understand the direction, model for them and then ask them to do it again without the model. You can get silly with this and ask them to put the Play-Doh on their head or nose. You could also give your kids directions to make your own recipe!

The possibilities are endless so have fun with it!

Resources: Laura Mize, Teach Me To Talk

Katie Dabkowski, MS, CF-SLP

Early Pronouns: When They Should Be Acquired and How to Teach Them

Your child’s pronoun usage can be very difficult to understand and even more difficult to teach! Many parents – and therapists alike–  struggle teaching this concept to their little ones. First, you need to have a basic understanding of when each pronoun should be acquired. This way, you’ll know what is appropriate to teach and what isn’t! The research varies slightly with regard to pronoun acquisition; however, all research agrees that I and it are the first to emerge, followed by you.

Approximate Age of Acquisition:

12-26 months – I, it

27-30 months – me, my, mine, you

31-34 months – your, she, he, yours, we

35-40 months – they, us, her, his, them, her

41-46 months – its, our, him, myself, yourself, ours, their, theirs

47+ months – herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves

Sources: Adapted from Haas & Owens (1985); Huxley (1970); Morehead & Ingram (1973); Waterman & Schatz (1982); and Wells (1985).

Now for the tricky part – teaching pronouns! Many children with language delays, auditory processing issues and echolalia struggle with correct pronoun use. Yet, parents often don’t understand how to practice the skill at home and facilitate generalization. Pronouns by nature are ABSTRACT, and therefore, difficult to “see” or conceptualize, thus difficult to teach to children.

Here are a few tips and activities for targeting pronouns with your toddler at home:

  • Use GesturesAlways pair pronouns with gestures! This provides a great non-verbal cue for the child to understand who you are referring to and what each pronoun represents. Point to yourself for “I” and tap your child’s chest for “you.” When you are modeling what, you want your child to say, take his/her hand and use it to pat their own chest for “I” or “my.”
    • Raise your intonation to emphasize the pronoun as you gesture to help the child make the connection
  • Modeling – Providing frequent models is important! Often times, parents and therapists simplify language and use proper nouns instead of pronouns. For example, “Mommy is eating” or “Ms. Lisa is going bye-bye.” This strategy is great for babies who are not talking or who are just learning to talk because it improves understanding and attaches meaning to the words. However, once your child is talking, it is important for them to hear you modeling the correct pronouns! For example, “I am eating” and “I am going bye-bye.”
    • Don’t worry if you forget! Simply follow-up with an emphasized model: “Mommy is eating. I am hungry.”
  • One at a time – Focus on just one pronoun at time. This can be challenging because it is natural to want to use them together. “I have blue and you have green.” Although, it may seem helpful, it can actually be quite confusing for your little one!
    • It takes time and maybe a slow process. That is okay!
  • Prompt with how the child should say it – Rather than saying, “Do you need me to help you?” prompt your child with a model of what he/she should be saying. So, for example, you would simply model, “Help me.”
    • This can be challenging because our tendency is to prompt with phrases such as, “you say” or “tell me,” which may only lead to more confusion and repetition of the wrong pronoun!
  • Look for opportunities in everyday play and routines – pronouns are best taught during normal play and interactions. Model, gesture/point and emphasize the pronoun by raising pitch, intonation and volume. Provide lots of opportunities for repetition and practice!
    • “Mine” – If your child produces the /m/ sound, mine is a great place to start! Model the word as you hold a toy (or part of a toy). Be sure to keep it light and fun and always give the object right back! It’s important for your toddler to know that you are not there to take their toy. You are simply being playful and having fun (while teaching a pronoun).
      • Tip: Do not do this with your child’s favorite toy. They will not like you saying, “mine” and will likely become very upset. If you see that your child is getting frustrated or upset, stop working on it and try again later!
    • “Me” – Look at family pictures (printed or on your cell phone) and ask, “Whose that?” Model, “me” while pointing to a picture of yourself and tapping your own chest. Model “me” again and use hand-over-hand assistance to help your child touch his/her own chest.
      • Selfies – Children love phones and they especially love taking pictures on phones. Take a few “selfies” with your child for extra engagement, motivation and fun, then use the pictures to model me!
    • “I”
      • Choosing items – Lay a few objects out in front of the child and say, “I want banana” or “I want car” as you take the object. Exaggerate “I” as you take the item.
      • Snack time – Ask, “Who wants ____?” Help your child touch their own chest while modeling “I do! I do!”
      • Actions – Use actions to practice the pronoun “I.” Children love gross-motor and movement activities and this is the perfect opportunity! Pair “I” with simple actions (i.e. I run, I jump, I hop, I sleep, I laugh, I cry, etc.) as you act out the action. For example, “I laugh” and then crack-up laughing or “I cry” and pretend to cry. Have fun and get into it! The more you are enjoying it, the more your child will too.
    • “You”
      • Playful commands and help scenarios. Create “you do it” situations where you need to ask your child for their help.
        • Roll a toy car under the table and say, “Oh no! Oh no! You get it.”
        • Wrap a toy in Play-Doh or putty a say, “Oh no! Stuck! You do! You!”
        • Think of the key phrases, “You do,” “You go,” “You get,” “You eat,” etc.
      • My” vs. “Your”
        • Practice with clothing, body parts or food. “My pants” and “Your pants” while gesturing.

Resources: Laura Mize, Teach Me to Talk

Kelly Fridholm, M.C.D., CCC-SLP