As speech-language pathologists, we use specific activities with our early-intervention clients to address each goal. Even if we bring a variety of items into the session, we still control the activity. However, if you’ve spent time with a toddler, you know this kind of structure isn’t really their thing.
Child-directed treatment allows the child to play as he normally would, and SLPs join in with goal-oriented tasks. You let the child’s interests dictate the activities during your session.
Below, I share reasons why I find this a good way to approach treatment.
Children often feel more involved when they choose an activity. Just like adults, toddlers remember more when they enjoy something. Start by observing the child to learn not only what she plays with, but how she plays. Gather information from caregivers and try short interactions to see how she responds to you.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does she enjoy sitting, constructing/deconstructing toys, make-believe?
- Does she prefer running, jumping, tossing items?
- Does she like a mixture of low and high energy play?
- Does she spend a long time with an activity or bounce among them?
This information helps you insert yourself into the client’s play more easily, so you can shift between goals throughout the session by mimicking natural interactions. For example, if the child plays with a toy kitchen set, you can prompt him to:
- Label items: “What are you making?”
- Match items: “Can I have a cup like yours?”
- Follow directions: “Please hand me a spoon.”
Children often learn a skill faster by changing one aspect of an already familiar activity. By joining the child in normal play, you add layers onto what she does naturally, rather than creating a new, separate experience she only completes in your setting. When children learn new skills as part of their daily activities, those skills become more relevant and clients get practice beyond treatment sessions.
Do I encounter challenges in child-directed intervention? You bet! I must adapt session plans quickly and frequently to match clients’ changing interests. I stay focused by using long-term goals to direct treatment. I still shape the activity to some degree without deterring the child.
Here’s an example:
The long-term goal is following two-step directions independently. I use activities initiated by my client to teach goal-related skills:
- Trains: “Put the man in the train, then push the train up the hill.”
- Snack: “Get a banana, then give it to me.”
Child-directed intervention doesn’t give you a pass on planning, and in some ways it involves more work. I constantly think about where the activity might lead us, and how or when to insert cues in a natural way. Over time, you will probably find similar play and learning styles among various children on your caseload.
Do you use child-directed treatment techniques? If so, share your favorite activity examples in the comment section below.
Julie Erdmann, MS, CCC-SLP, treats clients as a contractor for TinyEYE. She has more than 10 years of experience working in early intervention in her clients’ natural environments. Erdmann is building a mobile app on language strategies for parents. She also treats children on the autism spectrum and provides caregiver coaching. firstname.lastname@example.org