As school ends for summer and families plan summer vacations, speech-language pathologists plan activities for caregivers and families to work on with their child, sibling, niece, or cousin. Coaching families can boost a child’s progress over summer break or help them maintain key communication skills.
Coaching by caregivers and siblings can happen anywhere, with any age child, no matter the type of communication disorder. Teaching family members—whether it’s parents, step-parents, grandparents, siblings, or cousins—your strategies or “tricks” empowers them and can result in better long-term outcomes for your clients.
How do we get families engaged in early intervention? It starts with us communicating their enormous influence on their children’s development.
So, how do we work with families to help their child with communication impairments succeed beyond the treatment room?
Try an episodic care model.
This model offers a definitive start and stop date of focused and skilled intervention. Continuous ongoing treatment can cause children and families to burn out, especially if a child sees an SLP at school and privately and when other kids are off for summer break. With multiple bursts of family-centered and goal-focused intervention with session breaks, focus and progress can improve.
Make the family’s goals a priority.
I consult with the family on their priorities for treatment right after our first consult, because at this time they often feel the most enthusiasm and attentiveness for how they can support their child’s goals. Regularly reviewing goals, routines, and time frames creates a positive team approach. I also work this review into parent coaching just before a break in sessions. I try to keep goals simple and easy so that parents understand why and how to achieve them. Instead of: “Josh will improve expressive language skills to an age-appropriate level,” for example, try: “Josh will produce 25 spontaneous words to communicate with parents and peers.” Specific goals also allow parents to make word lists and see progress.
Find out the best routine for practice.
Diaper changes and mealtimes do provide daily times to work on speech and language goals. But family routines offer many other easy and frequent opportunities. We know children with language delays need almost 100 exposures—to whatever language or speech skill they’re trying to acquire—compared to a typically developing child who might need only 10 to 15. To build exposure counts, I give my families activities for the car. Emphasize core words—for example, “Get UP in the car seat” to “OPEN the door.” For articulation practice, keep articulation cards in the car and practice while sitting in drop-off lines or spend five minutes practicing before getting out of the car. The car is also a great place to get siblings involved. Bath time, getting dressed, and playing outside also create daily chances to work on goals.
Focus on the child’s strengths.
Using strengths-based intervention shows respect for the child and family, but research also says it improves SLP-caregiver relationships and outcomes. If a child is hyperlexical but nonverbal, for example, educate the family on why this reading strength can assist in verbalizing by giving their child written word prompts. Reviewing their child’s strengths helps families work together with the SLP to build on those strengths as starting points.
Take advantage of your phone camera.
Using video and pictures can dramatically improve working with parents on coaching strategies. Pictures make great tools for illustrating how they can response to their child’s actions. Also ask parents to record their activities at home. Giving feedback as you review recordings also helps them implement activities and strategies. I’ve seen this visual review greatly improve outcomes and carryover at home.
Parent-implemented interventions can lead to significant results when we provide tools to best fit the family’s lifestyle. Parents can become the motivators who prevent long-term treatment drag and successfully help their child continue to make progress while away from their SLP.
Susannah Silvia, MA, CCC-SLP, is the clinical director of an interdisciplinary outpatient facility, Beyond Therapy for Kids, in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and specializes in early language disorders, severe articulation disorders, and feeding issues. She is also an adjunct professor at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Follow her on Instagram @thesouthernbabble or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.