Speech-Language Activity Suggestions for Multisensory Stimulation of At-Risk Children

In recent years the percentage of “at-risk” children has been steadily increasing across pediatric speech-language pathology caseloads.  These include adopted and foster care children, medically fragile children (e.g., failure to thrive), abused and neglected children, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds or any children who for any reason lack the adequate support system to encourage them to function optimally socially, emotionally, intellectually, or physically.

At times speech-language pathologists encounter barriers when working with this population, which include low motivation, inconsistent knowledge retention, as well as halting or labored progress in therapy.

As a speech-language pathologist whose caseload consists entirely of at-risk children, I have spent countless of hours on attempting to enhance service delivery for my clients. One method that I have found to be highly effective for greater knowledge retention as well as for increasing the kids’ motivation is incorporating multisensory stimulation in speech and language activities.

To date, a number of studies have described the advantages of multisensory stimulation for various at risk populations. For example, in 2003 a study published in Journal of Research in Nursing and Health described the advantages of multisensory stimulation for 2 week old Korean orphans who received auditory, tactile, and visual stimulation twice a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks. This resulted in significantly fewer illnesses as well as significant gains in weight, length and head circumference, after the 4-week intervention period and at 6 months of age. Another 2009 study by White Traut and colleagues published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, found that multi sensory stimulation consisting of auditory, tactile, visual, and vestibular intervention contributed to a reduction of infant stress reactivity (steady decline in cortisol levels).   Moreover, multisensory stimulation is not just beneficial for young children. Other studies found benefits of multisensory stimulation for dementia (Milev et al, 2008) and coma patients (Doman & Wilkinson, 1993), indicating the usefulness of multisensory stimulation for a variety of at risk populations of different age groups.

After reviewing some studies and successfully implementing a number of strategies I wanted to share with you some of my favorite multisensory activities for different age-groups.

Before initiating any activities please remember to obtain parental permissions as well as a clearance from the occupational therapist (if the child is receiving related services), particularly if the child presents with significant sensory issues.  It is also very important to ensure that there are no food allergies, or nutritional restrictions, especially when it comes to working with new and unfamiliar clients on your caseload.

Multisensory stimulation for young children does not have to involve stimulation of all the senses at once. However, there are a number of activities which come quite close, especially when one combines “touch ‘n’ feel” books, musical puzzles as well as paper and edible crafts.

Here’s one of my favorite speech language therapy session activities for children 2-4 years of age. I use a board book called Percival Touch ‘n’ Feel Book to teach insect and animal related vocabulary words as well as talk about adjectives describing textures (furry, smooth, bumpy, sticky, etc).  As I help the children navigate the book, they get to touch the pages and talk about various plant and animals parts such as furry caterpillar dots, shiny flower petals, bumpy frog skin, or sticky spider web.   We also work on appropriately producing multisyllabic words and on combining the words into short sentences, depending of course, on the child’s age, skills, and abilities.   With this activity I often use animal and insect musical puzzles so the children can hear and then imitate select animal and insect noises.

Also, since all of Percival’s friends are garden insects and animals, it’s fairly easy to turn the book characters into paper crafts. Color paper templates are available from free websites such as www.dltk-kids.com, and range in complexity based on the child’s age (e.g., 2+, 3+ etc).  While looking innocuously like simple paper cutouts, in reality these crafts are a linguistic treasure trove and can be used for teaching simple and complex directions (e.g., after you glue the frog’s arm, glue on his foot) as well as prepositional concepts (e.g., glue the eyes on top of the head; glue the mouth below the nose, etc).

So far we have combined the tactile with the auditory and the visual but we are still missing the stimulation of a few other senses such as the olfactory and the gustatory.  For these we need a bit more creativity, and that’s where edible crafts come in (inspired by Janell Cannon’s ‘Crickwing’).  The child and I begin by constructing and gluing together a large paper flower and dabbing it’s petals with various food extracts (almond, vanilla, raspberry, lemon, root beer, banana, cherry, coconut, etc).  Then, using the paper flower as a model, we make an edible flower using various foods.  Pretzel sticks serve as stems, snap peas become leaves while mango, tomato, apple, peach and orange slices can serve as petals.  After our food craft is finished the child (and all other therapy participants) are encouraged to take it apart and eat it.  The edible flower is not just useful to stimulate the visual, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory senses but it also encourages picky eaters to trial new foods with a variety of textures and tastes, as well as serves to develop symbolic play and early abstract thinking skills.

It is also important to emphasize that multisensory activities are not just for younger children; they can be useful for school-age children as well (including middle school and high school aged kids). In the past, I have incorporated multisensory activities into thematic language and vocabulary units for older children (see resources below) while working on the topics such as the senses (e.g., edible tasting plate), nutrition (e.g., edible food pyramid), the human body (e.g., computer games such as whack a bone by anatomy arcade), or even biology (building plant and animal cell structures out of jello and candy). From my personal clinical experience I have noticed that when I utilized the multisensory approach to learning vs. auditory and visual approaches alone (such as paper based or computer based tasks only), the children evidenced greater task participation, were able to understand the material much faster and were still able to recall learned information appropriately several therapy sessions later.

I find multisensory stimulation to be a fun and interactive way to increase the child’s learning potential, decrease stress levels, as well as increase retention of relevant concepts.  Try it and let me know how it works for you!


Doman, G & Wilkinson, R (1993) The effects of intense multi-sensory stimulation on coma arousal and recovery. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. 3 (2): 203-212.

Ti, K, Shin YH, & White-Traut, RC (2003), Multisensory intervention improves physical growth and illness rates in Korean orphaned newborn infants. Research in Nursing Health.  26 (6): 424-33.

Milev et al (2008) Multisensory Stimulation for Elderly With Dementia: A 24-Week Single-Blind Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias. 23 (4): 372-376.

Tarullo, A & Gunnar, M (2006). Child Maltreatment and Developing HPA Axis. Hormones and Behavior 50, 632-639.

White Traut (1999) Developmental Intervention for Preterm Infants Diagnosed with Periventricular Leukomalacia. Research in Nursing Health.  22: 131-143.

White Traut et al (2009) Salivary Cortisol and Behavioral State Responses of Healthy Newborn Infants to Tactile-Only and Multisensory Interventions. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 38(1): 22–34

(This post originally appeared on www.smartspeechtherapy.com/blog/)



Tatyana Elleseff MA CCC-SLP, is a bilingual speech language pathologist with a full-time hospital affiliation (UMDNJ) and a private practice (Smart Speech Therapy LLC) in Central, NJ. She received her MA from NYU and her Bilingual Extension Certification from Columbia University. She specializes in working with bilingual, multicultural, internationally and domestically adopted at risk children with complex medical, developmental, neurogenic, psychogenic, and acquired communication disorders.

Tips for Making the Most of the ASHA Convention


This year is the 75th Annual American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention.

There will be 12,000+ people there. 300+ exhibits. 1000+ poster presentations.  700+ oral seminars. 32 short courses. Don’t forget about the First Timers’ Orientation, the Awards Ceremony, and NSSLHA Day Events! Oh and breathing and eating and sleeping!

…I’m feeling a smidge overwhelmed.

Just a smidge.

So, I thought to myself, “Self, how on earth are you going to handle all this business?” And the answer was clear.

Ask other people.

Man, I love other people. Other people have so much knowledge and they can be so darn helpful. Other people are the best.

So here is what other SLPs said when I spastically asked them, “What is your favorite part of ASHA Conventions? What do you look forward to most? What tips do you have for ASHA first timers? How do I get to be like you when I grow up? Do I have anything in my teeth? What day of the week is it? Do you know my name? Because I forgot. What was I asking you again?”

Guys, grad school is rough.


What is your favorite part of ASHA Conventions?

  • “Probably my favorite part was going out for pizza with our professors.”
  • “I love the  Honors ceremony—for the Honors and their recipients, in particular the Annie Glenn award, being able to hear Annie or John Glenn, and the amazing recipients–James Earl Jones, Ben Vereen, Julie Andrews, Joey McIntyre to name a few!  How wonderful it has been seeing them and hearing them present to us.”
  • “Seeing old friends and colleagues–we ended up scattered all over the country.”
  • “Technical sessions and poster sessions are some of my favorites–nice to have the opportunity to hear new findings, and visit with the presenters as well.”
  • “My favorite part is definitely the Awards Ceremony.  When they show the videos of the people who are getting the Honors, I almost always cry.  Of course, given my stage of life, it’s becoming more common for them to be friends and colleagues so that makes it really special! For example, this year Marc Fey and Gloria Kellum are getting the Honors, and both of them have been important mentors to me throughout my career.”
  • “I love hearing the Fellows announced because they represent the present and future of the association.”
  • “It’s great to see the Editors’ Awards and hear about the impressive research that’s going on in our field.”

What tips do you have for first timers?

  •  “Get to the meetings early!  Sometimes the rooms fill quickly, and there will be fire code limits of how many people can be in the room.”
  • “Look at handouts before you go—it really helps you prepare for the sessions.”
  • “Wear comfortable shoes!”
  • “I wish so badly that I had really studied the lectures being offered and chosen ahead of time exactly what I wanted to go to!  I was pretty overwhelmed the first time, and that led to going to some lectures I didn’t exactly enjoy.  I also avoided some of the longer ones, just because they were long, when they might have been super interesting.”
  • “Don’t just go to what your friends go to!  It’s nice to have people to go to lectures with, but sometimes you have to branch out on your own if you want to see something interesting.”
  • “It’s okay if it gets stressful and you don’t want to sit in lectures all day for three days straight.  Take a break, take a long lunch, go shopping.  You’re in San Diego for goodness sake!”
  • “Stalk the SLP Celebrities!”

Do I have anything in my teeth? What day of the week is it? Do you know my name?

  • “Surprisingly you brushed your teeth this morning – congratulations. Today is Friday. Your name is Samantha. Have fun in San Diego.”


NP: Going to California – Led Zeppelin


(Samantha is one of the official ASHA Convention bloggers! Stay tuned for more insights from her and the other bloggers before, during and after convention.)


Samantha Weatherford, B.A., is a second-year, speech-language pathology graduate student at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO.  She writes about speech-path and grad school on her blog, so to Speak. Does she think it is a coincidence that the first ever ASHA Convention was in St. Louis, MO, her beautiful hometown, and she chose to be an SLP? NOPE. FATE.