Bridging the Gap: The Importance of Caregiver Involvement in Speech-Language Therapy
Written by: Olivia McManus, Speech-Language Pathology Student
We all know that we must brush our teeth every day in order to keep our teeth healthy, we can’t just rely on annual visits to the dentist. The same goes for speech and language therapy. To be successful, speech and language goals shouldn't remain only in the therapy room until the next appointment. Instead, they should be worked on every day. Just like brushing your teeth.
Caregivers, such as parents, are key to helping their children achieve their speech and language goals during the periods in between therapy appointments. This is because communication is learned through everyday activities and conversations with the people closest to the child, usually their caregivers. Caregivers interact often with their child, so they can practise regularly (The Hanen Centre, 2016). Research also shows that a child's learning experience at home should be maximized, and learning strategies should focus on the caregiver-child relationship and frequency of home education activities (Chanfreau et al., 2011).
Caregivers know their child best and are invaluable sources of knowledge that therapists rely on in getting to know the child's likes, dislikes, and what will motivate them through therapy. Sharing this knowledge with the therapist will help make the therapy sessions more consistent with the child’s experiences at home and bridge the gap between sessions (Stoeckel, 2020).
Here are 5 ways caregivers can be a part of their child's speech and language therapy:
1. Ask the Therapist
Simply asking your child's Speech-Language Pathologist about what you can do to help is a great first step! The S-LP can come up with something that will work for your family that will help in achieving your child's therapy goals.
2. Do the Homework
Okay, maybe don't call it 'homework', but it is important to do the 'tasks' that your S-LP has given for you and your child at home. Therapists will often provide practice worksheets or sound cards, so that the child can continue their practice throughout the week. This is a great way to ensure that, by the time the next session rolls around, your child has not forgotten everything that they were working towards, and they can further progress towards their goals. If you are having challenges having your child engage in speech 'homework' make sure to talk to your child's S-LP and they can help create a more play-based approach for home practice.
3. Generalize, Generalize, Generalize
Sometimes, a child may be meeting their goals in therapy, but as soon as they leave their session, they may revert to old habits. Even adults sometimes have difficulty transferring narrow procedures to new situations (Kamhi, 2014). To help avoid this dilemma, the parameters must become broader so that children realize they can be used in novel settings outside of the therapy room. When the intervention is extended to new situations, the transfer of this knowledge to new environments can occur (Paul & Norbury, 2011).
To achieve this generalization of specific therapy to broader settings, therapy goals can be worked into everyday activities, such as dinner or bath time, or practised in new contexts, like at the grocery store, at school with their teacher, at the library, or at a friend's house. In doing so, the target is more likely to be achieved in multiple settings, rather than only during the therapy session.
4. Make it Fun!
This one goes hand-in-hand with generalization. Achieving your child's speech and language goals doesn't mean you both have to sit down at a desk every day to practise. Instead, try to achieve the targets during activities that your child enjoys. This way, it won't be seen as such a daunting or boring task, but rather something that can be done for fun too. For example, hide speech sound cards around the house for a scavenger hunt and have your child practise the targets each time they find a card. Making the activities fun does not need to be time-consuming!
5. The 10 Minute Rule
Don't spend all day, every day directly practising with your child. While at least 10 minutes of practice every day is a good idea, this should only be done when the child is calm and focused. Although 10 minutes may seem like a long time, you can help pass the time quickly with the use of a timer or a sticker chart (e.g., the child receives a sticker for each day when the 10 minutes is complete). Another great way to help time go by faster is to offer a reward for finishing the 10 minutes of practice. The reward doesn't have to be something momentous like getting a chocolate bar, it could instead be allowing your child to pick 2 books for bedtime instead of just 1.
Outside of the designated 10 minutes of direct practice per day, corrective feedback can also be used. For example, if your child's target is the "s" sound, and while they're playing outside they say, "I'm thwinging," you can provide the correct model to them with emphasis on the sound but without directly correcting them: "Yeah, you're SSSwinging!" This way, they hear the correct model, but their speech errors are not directly brought to their attention. Providing them with the correct model throughout the day will help them achieve their goals. Avoid directly pointing out errors outside of the 10 minute speech time. This will reduce their frustration and allows for natural conversation throughout the day.
So, remember, speech-language therapy is not just at each appointment, but also every day at home:
1) Ask the S-LP how you can help at home;
2) Do the “homework” that the S-LP recommends;
3) Generalize the therapy to everyday settings;
4) Make it fun; and
5) Spend 10 minutes of direct practice per day.
Together, we can help your child achieve their speech and language goals!
Chanfreau, J., Barnes, B., Tomaszewski, W., Philo, D., Hall, J. and Tipping, S. (2011) Growing Up in Scotland – Change in Early Childhood and the Impact of Significant Events. Edinburgh: Scottish Government and National Centre for Social Research.
The Hanen Centre. (2016). Parents as "speech therapists". Parents as Speech Therapists. http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Parents-as--Speech-Therapists--What-a- New-Study-S.aspx.
Kamhi, A. G. (2014). Improving clinical practices for children with language and learning disorders. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 45(2), 92–103. https://doi.org/10.1044/2014_LSHSS-13-0063
Paul, R., & Norbury, C. (2011). Language disorders from infancy through adolescence (4th ed.). New York, NY: Elsevier.
Stoeckel, R. (2020, November 27). The importance of parent involvement in the speech therapy process. Apraxia Kids. https://www.apraxia-kids.org/apraxia_kids_library/the- importance-of-parent-involvement-in-the-speech-therapy-process/.