Teletherapy 101: What to Expect and Common Questions

PlayWorks Therapy Inc. is committed to ensuring your child receives quality services during this time of uncertainty and have transitioned to all online teletherapy sessions. We are looking forward to this virtual experience with you!

What is Teletherapy?

Teletherapy, also referred to as telehealth, is a type of therapy provided by your child’s therapist online through video chat, much like FaceTime, Skype, or Gchat. Although teletherapy is a new offering at PlayWorks Therapy, it is a model of therapy that has been used and researched in the field for several years. PlayWorks Therapy is remaining current with best practice and continuing to provide evidence-based therapy through this mode of therapy.

What can I expect from a Teletherapy appointment?

Depending on the type of therapy your child receives, the structure of the therapy session may differ slightly than the in-person appointments. The session itself may consist of the therapist reviewing goals and techniques with caregivers as well as assisting in choosing appropriate toys, games, and materials to target those goals. The therapist would then provide recommendations for how to use each material, including specific prompts to use throughout the activities. We realize that your child may not be as engaged or motivated to sit in front of a video so we require a parent or caregiver to be present or nearby for the majority of the session.

Will this really be a productive mode of therapy for my child?

Many providers have been using teletherapy as their primary mode of therapy over several years with success. Because the structure may look different than usual the in-person appointments, our expectation of what makes a “productive” or “successful” session may also change. Your child’s goals may shift slightly in this period but just know that every and any interaction your child has with their therapist informs their continued work. With a strong partnership, both the therapist and caregivers can use techniques with the child to reach targeted goals.

Won’t it be awkward that my child and the therapist are in different rooms?

At first, some children do find it slightly awkward or uncomfortable to work with therapists virtually. Below are strategies we recommend trying to increase your child’s comfort level with this new type of appointment:

  • Find a space that works for you and your child. This does not need to be the quietest or cleanest room in your home; however, be mindful of the visual distractions (e.g. toys, games) in the room as this may affect your child’s attention. We recommend that you choose a favorite place or comfortable space you usually spend time in as this may help your child with the transition.
  • Help your child settle in by allowing them to have a favorite toy or other comforting object with them.
  • With supervision, allow your child understand the technology by gently touching the screen and exploring the different functions, provided by the therapist.
  • Check in with others in your home to see if they want to be present or out of view for the session and ultimately let your child know who will be with them.

I’m not great with technology. Will this be challenging to set up?

In most cases, your teletherapy appointment will take place on a website or app platform. Your therapist will communicate with you about your child’s specific platform, and whether or not to download an app, based on what type of therapy they receive. Your therapist will then send you a confirmation email with the link and any other information you will need to access the appointment. It will be as simple as opening your email and selecting the link! You will then be directly connected to your therapist’s video chat.

I am in the appointment, but now I am experiencing a problem with the connection.

Below are technology tips to help you get the most of your therapy sessions:

  • Be sure to switch on audio and video settings at the start of the session.
  • Confirm a plan with your therapist in case the connection is abruptly ended.
  • Check the use of additional devices. Streaming or heavy use on another device at the same time as your session may slow your connection and video quality.
  • Having multiple tabs open on your device may also impact video quality.
  • If possible, try not to sit in front of a bright window or light.
  • Let your therapist know if you cannot see or hear them clearly – we want you to get the most of your session!

Questions or concerns?

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

Amanda Deligiannis, MSW, LSW
Licensed Social Worker

Photo Credit: GSCSNJ via photopin.com

Make a Silly Face! Oral Motor Imitation: What Is It and Why Should You Target It?

Do you remember the first time your child made that cute little “raspberry” sound? What about the first time he or she blew a kiss of stuck out his or her tongue?  Did you know that these seemingly small (yet adorable) moments are actually important building blocks towards your child’s speech, language, and feeding development?

What are oral motor movements?

Just as we develop gross motor movements (e.g., walking) and fine motor movements (e.g., grasping), we also develop oral motor movements that impact our ability to speak and eat. While any movement made by your lips, tongue, or oral structures are considered an oral motor movement, the following are some specific movements that are beneficial for development as well as highly visual, thus increasing your child’s ability to imitate.

  • Opening mouth: The basis of speech, opening the jaw is imperative for both articulation (speech sounds) and feeding.
  • Lip pucker: “Kissy face.” Lip pucker strengthens lips, which helps with producing bilabial sounds (i.e., /p, b/) as well as controlling food and saliva.
  • Tongue protrusion: Sticking the tongue out helps with a variety of speech sounds (specifically lingual sounds).
  • Tongue lateralization: Moving the tongue from side-to-side helps with a variety of speech sounds, as well as chewing and swallowing food.

How does imitation of these movements impact development?

Imitation of movements, including oral motor movements, is a skill that toddlers master before words emerge. Some children are able to produce specific oral motor movements independently, but have difficulty imitating them on command. While oral motor imitation varies among children, once a child is able to consistently produce the movement independently, we would expect them to imitate it fairly consistently. Continuing to provide repetitive models of the movement you’re eliciting will go a long way in encouraging your child to imitate. If your child consistently has difficulty imitating movements that he or she can produce spontaneously and demonstrates difficulty with speech and language skills, an evaluation could be warranted to determine if he or she is demonstrating some difficulties with motor planning.

How can I target oral motor imitation?

It can actually be quite simple to practice oral motor imitation! The only two things you really need are you and your child; however, there are some tips and tricks to eliciting imitation. If your child is very young, simply engaging with your child by making silly faces is perfect! You can also add oral motor movements to books (e.g., pucker face when reading about a duck, etc.). If your child is an older baby, toddler, or school-aged, the mirror can be a wonderful teaching tool. While I typically prefer low-tech modes of practice, taking silly “selfies” or using apps with photo filters can also be a motivating tool!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s ability to imitate oral motor movements, reduced oral motor movement, or concerns regarding speech, language, or feeding development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Sarah Lydon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Chayene Rafaela on Unsplash

Employee Spotlight: Ana Burgoon

What do you love most about working for PlayWorks Therapy?

PlayWorks places such an emphasis on caring for the whole child, not just teaching a particular skill, which I have found to be critical in the field of speech and language therapy. Also, you can’t beat working with a team of competent, supportive, and compassionate individuals, such as the team here at PlayWorks.

What is your favorite children’s book?

Miss Spider’s Tea Party, by David Kirk.

What do you enjoy most about living in Chicago?
My favorite thing about Chicago is living close to Lake Michigan. I also love the big buildings, being able to walk so many places, and never running out of things to do.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

I have many favorite memories related to spending time with my grandma and grandpa. One that came to mind involved attempting ballet to the sounds of a wind-up music box in my grandma’s living room. I now have the music box on my dresser and think of those memories affectionately and often. My grandpa did a series of stretches every morning and when he came to visit, I would always do them by his side.

Would you rather a mountain or beach vacation?

I do sincerely enjoy hiking, but I have to go with beach overall. I recently enjoyed a trip to California, where I was lucky enough to do both!

A proud “therapy moment”:

On my third session with a child with autism, they spontaneously gave me the biggest hug! I believe it was because they felt supported and understood that I was going to help them communicate.

What is your hometown?

Grand Rapids, Michigan!

What do you like to do in your free time?
I love exploring Chicago with my husband, heading up to Michigan to spend time with my family, taking pictures, and anything related to being outside (when it is warm enough).

What is your favorite therapy toy?
I always enjoy doing crafts with the kids – glitter pens, stickers, markers. The possibilities are endless. You can scaffold the activities to target a variety of skill levels and treatment objectives.

A fun fact about me:

I am a certified small boat sailor!

 

Ana Thrall Burgoon, M.S., CCC – SLP 

Speech-Language Pathologist

A Set Routine + Family Meals = First Steps to Mealtime Success

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mealtime can be stressful, often with your child challenging your attempts to have them try new foods. Some days, your child may not go to the table or sit in their chair long enough to even offer new foods! However, establishing a set routine and regular meals may be the first steps to mealtime success.

What can a mealtime routine look like?

Why is mealtime so challenging for my child? And why is a routine and family meals so important?

Eating is one of the most challenging sensory activities for children. When we eat, all eight senses are working and integrating eight new pieces of information. The properties of the food change as we eat, for instance, as part of our five senses, the taste and smell changes as we chew. Additionally, our sense for self-movement and body position is working to use different amounts of jaw pressure. Our sense for balance and spatial orientation is working to re-adjust our balance as we chew. Lastly, our sense of the internal state of the body is being put to the test by requiring that we track the changes to our stretch receptors (on the stomach) to the changes to our appetite. Processing each of those sensory changes can be and is difficult for many children. Furthermore, eating is a multisensory experience; therefore, we need to help children’s sensory systems to be regulated before, during, and after meals to increase their feeding skills and sensory tolerance for new foods.

What can I do?

If your child is demonstrating some behaviors before or during mealtime and/or is a picky eater/problem feeder, consider contacting one of our speech-language pathologist or occupational therapists, who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to make mealtime less stressful and more fun!

Questions or concerns?

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

Jaclyn Donahue MS, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Reference: Toomey, Kay A.. 2008/2010. Family Meals.

Kay A. Toomey, Ph.D. & Lindsay Beckerman, OTR/L., 2016. Explanation of The Role of Sensory Therapy In Advancing Feeding Goas.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Murray and amsw photography via pexels.com

Language Milestones for Children with Down Syndrome (Birth to Five)

Birth to five years of age is a critical period for language development for all children. Each child progresses at his or her own rate, and each presents with his or her own strengths or weaknesses. The same applies to children with Down syndrome. However, children with Down syndrome tend to develop language skills at a slower rate than their typically developing peers. This blog will aim to answer questions regarding language development in children with Down syndrome by comparing language milestones to those of their typically developing peers.

While the milestones above are based on general trends, it is important to note that language development will vary for both typically developing children and children with Down syndrome. Speech therapy is recommended for children with Down syndrome, starting younger than one year of age to target feeding and oral-motor skills and after 15- to 18-months of age to target speech and language skills. Common early speech and language targets for children with Down syndrome include verbal turn taking, vocabulary acquisition, use of simple signs and gestures, following simple routines-based directions, use of age-appropriate speech sounds, and more.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions about language development in children with Down syndrome, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

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

Reference: Layton, T. (2004). Developmental Scale for Children with Down Syndrome.

Photo Credit: yulia84 via pixabay.com

Let’s Play! The Stepping Stones to Verbal Communicators

If you are a parent of a toddler receiving speech and language therapy, you may have noticed your child’s therapist playing games such as peak-a-boo, and wondered to yourself, “What do these games have to do with learning to talk?” While learning to talk is of course the ultimate goal in speech and language therapy, there are actually many skills a child needs to develop before they are ready to start talking. Some of these skills include joint attention, turn-taking, and responding to people and their environment, among others. One of the best ways to support acquisition of these pre-linguistic skills is to engage in social games with your child.

What are social games and why are the important?

Social games are people-based in that they are interactive games between you and your child rather than the use of toys. Examples include peek-a-boo, songs with corresponding actions, hide and seek, tickles, etc. Engaging in social games with your child will help to develop their interaction, communication, and social skills. Through social games, children learn to pay attention to others, anticipate what will happen next, and imitate actions. Additionally, through these games children learn important skills such as how to take turns and connect with others. These pre-linguistic skills are the foundation of verbal language. For example, a child who has difficulty using joint attention, which is shared attention with another person, will not have as many opportunities to learn about their environment from the people around them. Additionally, a child who is not using turn-taking will have difficulty understanding the back and forth nature of conversation. Through acquisition of these pre-linguistic skills a child becomes ready for communication and verbal language use.

How to play and what to look for?

You will want to engage in social games repeatedly so that your child learns the routine. For example, if you play peak-a-boo with your child play it over and over again and look for your child learning the game. You may notice that they have learned the game once they start to smile or laugh in anticipation of you saying, “boo!” Over time, you might see your child’s initiation skills emerging when they cover their eyes with their hands or cover themselves up with a blanket to request playing a peek-a-boo game with you. Eventually, you can try to pause after “peak-a…” and see if your child can fill in the word, “boo!” Once your child has learned the routine they will be able to anticipate what is going to happen next.

When thinking about your child’s language development it is important to remember that there are many steps that come before talking and children must master pre-linguistic skills before they can be successful with verbal language. So, when think you are just “playing” remember that you are actually teaching your child foundational skills to become an active learner and communicator!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about the importance of social games and your child’s language development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Claire Hacker MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: from Pixabay

Min, Mod, and Max Cues: What does it all mean?

 

When a child begins therapeutic services, long-term and short-term goals or objectives are developed as a way to guide therapy and gauge progress. If your child is already partaking in speech, occupational, physical, or developmental therapy, you’ve probably seen the words “minimal,” “moderate,” or “maximal cues” written in his or her goals. Amongst sometimes “wordy” goals, it can be difficult to interpret meaning of the specific objective, let alone understand what exactly a “cue” means.

What is a cue?
When helping a child reach his or her therapeutic goals, a “cue” is simply something that is going to aid in that child’s success. When I am providing speech therapy to a child, my goal is ALWAYS for that child to be successful; however, the number and type of cues that child needs to be reach his or her goal may vary. Think of a cue as a hint; as a child becomes familiar with the goal, he or she is going to need less “hints” to be successful and, thus, will become more independent. As a child progresses in therapy, the quantity of cues required for a child to effectively complete an objective will decrease. This is one way that therapists gauge a child’s progress.

What types of cues are there?
Generally speaking, many therapists use tactile, visual, or verbal cues in therapy tasks. Each category of cues has several variations:

Tactile cues: Tactile cues are used when a therapist uses physical touch to guide a child towards successful completion of a therapy objective. In speech therapy, this may be demonstrated by gently touching under a child’s chin in an attempt to help produce the /k/ or /g/ sound, or gently tapping a child’s hand to help him or her produce the correct number of syllables in a word. In occupational or physical therapy, the therapist may tap a child’s arm/leg to remind a child to use that specific body part.

Visual cues: Visual cues are used when a therapist provides a visual reminder that helps the child complete his or her task. In speech therapy, this may be as simple as drawing a snake to remind a child to use his “snake” sound to produce /s/; the therapist may tap the picture if the child omits this sound. Gestural cues are a specific type of visual cue; when targeting this same sound, the therapist may run her finger down her arm to demonstrate the long, fluid motion of /s/. Have you ever used a sticky note to remind you to complete a specific task? That’s an everyday example of a visual cue!

Verbal cues: Verbal cues are used when a therapist provides a verbal reminder that helps the child complete his or her task. Using the same /s/ example as outlined above, the therapist may say, “don’t forget your snake sound!” One specific example of a verbal cue is called a phonemic cue. If a child is working on asking for “more,” the therapist may cue the child by vocalizing “mmm.” A carrier phrase is another form of a verbal cue. Instead of using the phonemic cue, “mmm,” the therapist may say, “I want ____” to encourage the child to finish the phrase. A verbal model may be provided if verbal cues are simply not enough at that time; in this example, the therapist may model the word, “more” before handing the child the desired item.

What does “min,” “mod,” “max” mean?
Now that you have a better understanding of the types of cues used in therapy, what does “min,” “mod,” and “max” mean?

“Min,” “mod,” and “max,” stand for minimal, moderate, and maximal. When developing goals, therapists determine how much cuing a child realistically needs to reach his or her goals. Ideally, the level of cuing necessary decreases as a child participates in therapy. While the criteria of minimal, moderate, and maximal is fairly subjective, many therapists determine that minimal cues are used approximately 25 percent of the time, moderate cues are used approximately 50 percent of the time, and maximal cues are used approximately 75 to 100 percent of the time. Therapists may also report using “faded” cues, which means a child may have required moderate cues as the session started, but required minimal cues as the sessions progressed.

Can I “cue” my child at home?
Of course you can! In fact, you’re probably already cuing your child and you may not even realize it. When your child is about to do something undesirable, do you ever catch yourself counting, “one, two, three…?” You just gave your child a verbal cue, which helped him or her to reflect on his or her behavior and (ideally) change it accordingly. If your child is currently receiving therapeutic services, ask his or her therapist for ideas to best cue him or her to reach his or her goals.

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s therapeutic goals, please don’t hesitate to ask his or her clinician for more information. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Sarah Lydon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Heriberto Herreravia via freeimages.com

Speech and Language Opportunities on the Road

Looking for some ways to work on your child’s speech and language while in the car?

Stuck in gridlocked traffic is not fun, but you can make it a little more interesting by working on your child’s speech and language skills while in the car! Below are some easy ways to work on your child’s speech and language development that do not require a phone, iPad, or any physical toy. Reduce the noise in the car and tune into your child during your next drive!

12 months to 24 months

-Sing songs! Some great songs to sing include Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Row, Row, Row your Boat, Old McDonald, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, BINGO, Baby Bumblebee,If You’re Happy and You Know It, andBaby Shark.” As your child gets older you can leave out words at the end of phrases (“…Twinkle twinkle little _____”) to see if your child can fill them in!

-Model environmental sounds like “wee, woah, uh-oh, vroom, beep-beep” while driving. Make your sounds exaggerated and silly to capture your child’s attention!

-Name things you see during your car ride! Label objects you see as you pass them by.

-Phrase “Ready, set, ____ (go)!” when you start/stop at a red light

-Make silly sounds as you drive to see if your child can imitate you

24 months to 36 months

-Continue to name things you see during your car ride! If your child labels something they see as you are driving you can expand on what they say. For instance, if your child said “truck” you can model “red truck.”

-Model simple location phrases such as “in, on, under.” For instance, “doggie inwater” or “car onroad”

-Target basic concepts:

-Model the words “open/close” and “in/out” as you open and close doors and get into or out of the car

-Model a variety of action words as you drive such as “go, stop, drive, park, turn”

-Look for and identify objects that are “big” vs. “small”

-Work on quantity concepts as you drive, such as onecloud vs. manyclouds in the

-Talk about the colors of cars around you

-Talk about the types of cars you see (e.g., semi-trucks, cars, construction vehicles)

3 years to 4 years+

-Play “I spy” to work on labeling and naming things that you see and drive past

-Model more complex adjectives and more advanced location concepts as you drive.

-Ask your child a variety of wh-questions while driving such as “Where are we going?, What are we doing?, When did we leave?, What are we doing when we reach our destination?, What is mom/dad doing?, What are we making for dinner? Why are we going grocery shopping, etc.” If your child responds with a single word see if you can give them two choices or model a longer phrase. If they use vague and non-descript language such as “this, that, right here, etc.” provide them with two choices to see if you can promote your child’s use of more descriptive language.

-Play the Grocery Storegame: Have an adult start. “…I went to the grocery store and I bought _____ (apples). See if your child can repeat the item just said and add one to it. For instance, “I went to the grocery store and I bought apples and stickers.” You can provide hints if you don’t think your child can recall what was said last. When it’s too hard start again from the beginning!

-If your child is working on speech sounds you can practice their sounds in the car! Pick several words with the target sound and say it every time you stop at a red light or every time you see a certain object or item such as a tree.

-Tell your child that you’re thinking of an object that starts with a certain sound such as “b.” See if your child can think of things as you drive that start with that letter.

-Promote appropriate grammar and sentence structure. If you notice that your child made a grammatical error model their sentence with correct grammar and sentence structure.

-Talk about letters or numbers you see on license plates

-Talk about categories (e.g., types of transportation that you pass, types of weather, types animals you see, etc.)

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

Photo Credit:Sandy Millar via unsplash.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/

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