Thursday, June 23, 2016

Therapy Tip- Engaging a Young Language Learner

It's Therapy Thursday-the day I share a tip based upon my experience as a speech-language pathologist and a mother of a child with special needs.

Today's tip is:

1 Easy Trick for Engaging a Young Language Learner

This is one of the first techniques I learned in graduate school, and it has been the most useful techniques for my early intervention kids.

Speech-language pathologists often want the child they are working with to look at them. When we are teaching a child to produce a sound correctly, they need to look at our mouth to see how we are making the sound.

But looking at my face and eyes is important for a variety of other reasons. First, the child acknowledges me (i.e. a social compenent). Second, they are more likely hear me if they are looking at me.

There are some toddlers that I work with that have poor eye contact, like those with suspected autism. I agree with many in the professional who believe eye contact should not be a primary target of therapy. That being said, many of these children are extremely object focused and rarely look at me or my face. As I am trying to teach this child language, I would like them to look at my face in an attempt to break their object focus and really hear what I am saying.

So, here's the deal. I hate saying, "Look at me." I feel like it puts an unnatural demand on a child whose uncomfortable looking at my face/eyes. So, this is an easy trick to help a child look at me.

Here's the secret: Hold an object the child wants by your mouth. Simple, right? It is, but it works.

See the picture. I have a small part of a cootie bug by my mouth so the child can look at me to hear the word I am modeling. The goals with this are dependent on the child's level of functioning. When a child has no words or limited words, this is where I start. I want them to look at me while I model the word they will hopefully one day say. If I am working on speech sound production, then I want them to watch my mouth to see how I am making the sound or sound in word.

There are many ways to use this method. The best activities are with those that have multiple parts or things that have the ability to repeat. Here's some examples:

-Blowing bubbles: Before someone blows the bubbles, I hold the bubble jar by my mouth and model a word (bubble, more, please).

-Puzzles: As a therapist, I often hoard all of the puzzle pieces by me. I give the child one piece at a time modeling a word while holding the object by my mouth. I either wait for them to look at me (for limited word users) or say the word back.

-Potato Head: Again, hold all the pieces. Give them to the child one at a time, modeling the word while holding the piece by your mouth. As soon as they look at you or say a word, immediately reinforce the behavior by giving them the piece.

-Other activities that allow you multiple repetitions due to the ability to hold back part of what the child wants: colors, paint dobbers, markers, stickers, blocks, stacking cups, etc.

I know this sounds easy. And it is! This is one time trick that combined with other good tricks that will help your child over time.

This is really a great technique for having the child look at you to help build a social skill, listen to a speaker, break an object focus, and learn the names for objects.

Therapy Thursday is for educational purposes only and not intended for therapeutic advice.

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