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Help Parents Navigate Online Resources About Communication Development

by Juliann Woods
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It is an exciting time for speech-language pathologists and families of young communicators. Important new information exists on early identification and intervention for young children with or at risk for communication delays and disorders. And much of the information is easy to find online.

While not yet universally available, mobile technology is a useful tool for sharing information with families on communication development and supporting their participation in their children’s communication development.

Parents want to learn more about their children’s development but often express uncertainty about where and when to access information.

The range of options for parent information online grows rapidly, as do the number of apps providing guidance on social communication development. With this explosion of information comes another professional obligation for SLPs: helping family members navigate online resources for social communication development and intervention. So, what is an SLP to do?

The following tips can help guide your support to family members.

Learn about the family’s information literacy

Spend a few minutes discovering parents’ interests and concerns, as well as what resources they use for information. Families are motivated to learn about their children, but they’re also busy. Caregivers usually welcome guidance on what to expect from online resources, where to start, how to identify relevant content, and how to navigate sites.

Find out what they know and do. Parents likely use search engines as their primary tool for identifying resources. But even frequent users can get lost in the thousands of hits from a broad topic search, such as communication development.

You can help families by providing a few trustworthy online resources to get started such as ASHA’s Identify the Signs, CDC Screening and Diagnosis, or BabyNavigator websites. Share resources found on each site and offer suggestions for navigation. Also discuss the importance of understanding evidence-based practices for their child’s development.

Recognize the parent as an adult learner

Research suggests adults want relevancy and immediacy in their information seeking. In other words, they expect to find information they can use right now based on interests or concerns.

Caregivers seeking information about their child’s development because of concerns need different information than parents looking to provide a language-rich environment. Parents report knowing less about communication development than motor development, and we can emphasize the importance of social communication milestones.

Adults like to take the most efficient path to learning and SLPs can guide parents along that path of online learning. Rather than general directions such as, “Check out this website for great information,” direct them to sites with information you know will address their interests. If parents express an interest in social/communication milestones, they might feel concerns they can’t admit yet. Prepare follow-up suggestions for sites to help them screen for a delay or disorder.

Walking through a resource together and discussing parents’ perspectives can help them use information or tools correctly. Sharing direct links to downloadable resources gives caregivers tangible results in the shortest time possible.

For example, check out the developmental milestone charts from ages 7 to 24 months available on BabyNavigator, 16 Early Signs of Autism by 16 months, or Screen My Child. Video examples show parents what social communication looks and sounds like.

An interactive conversation with caregivers—either in person or using a video chat app—further serves to reinforce the social component of adult learning and allows you to answer questions immediately and build a supportive relationship with the parent.

Learning should be life-long

A final tip for using online resources to share information is to meet the family where they are now and to help them grow and learn as they support their child’s learning. Online tools that provide “what happens next” help families gain confidence in their parenting ability and encourage repeated use. While the tools will undoubtedly change with new innovations, their use for parent education will grow. Social communication is an important life-long skill!

How do you guide parents when they ask for help navigating online resources about their baby’s development? Share your tips in the comment section below.

Juliann Woods, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a professor in the School of Communication Science and Disorders at Florida State University, and director of the Communication and Early Childhood Research and Practice Center. She is also the associate dean of research for the College of Communication and Information and an associate director in the FSU Autism Institute. Woods has 40 years of experience in early intervention. Juliann.Woods@cci.fsu.edu

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