For some time now I’ve been talking about incorporating sibling participation into speech-language intervention.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s hard enough to focus on goals, take data, and find functional, motivating activities to help generalize skills into daily routines. Why add one more thing into the mix?
Here’s why … sibling participation can create a win-win situation for both the sibling and the child needing services. Siblings often feel left out and confused about their brother’s or sister’s special needs. I experience this first-hand as a sibling of a sister who stutters, a mother of a child with communication and health issues, and as a speech-language pathologist working with families.
At times, my daughter felt her needs weren’t as important as our son’s because we spent so much time going to his appointments and working with him at home. I worked with a child who was nonverbal whose sibling stopped talking because he, too, wanted to go to “speech class” and play fun games. Allowing the sibling to be “part of the team” and participate in sessions can help alleviate feelings of helplessness, frustration, and even jealousy about getting left out.
Make it fun
Sibling participation can also motivate—and make sessions or home activities more fun for—the child receiving services. When including siblings in sessions, I use a talking stick, a microphone, or even a stuffed animal for children to hold. These props let them know when they can talk and that others in the group—not holding the object—are listeners. This strategy works especially well for children with fluency issues who often feel pressured to talk quickly before someone else, like a brother or sister, starts talking.
I also use it effectively when targeting articulation, phonology, and language activities. Turn-taking becomes part of the session. Also, the sibling can model a variety of target sounds or language components.
Children sometimes respond better to their sibling, rather than a parent, when practicing at home. Siblings often jump in to interpret what their brother or sister is saying when there are intelligibility issues. Teaching them how to help at home allows them to take on a helpful role while letting the child working with an SLP speak for themselves.
Find easy ideas
Of course, including siblings is difficult to do in the school setting—unless perhaps the sibling attends the same school and can come to an occasional group session—but I find it takes little effort to involve siblings at clinics or home services. I don’t incorporate siblings into each session. However, I want to encourage my fellow SLPs to make siblings part of the team.
Give it a try! It’s easier than it seems and often leads to progress and carryover at home.
For more ideas, check out the University of Michigan school of Medicine’s support for siblings of children with special needs. The Sibling Support Project also offers resources for parents and service providers. And you can find communication tips and discussion starters to help children understand and discuss their feelings in my book, “Everybody Needs A Turn.” Published by ASHA, the book is a children’s story geared to aid those who have siblings with communication disorders.
Denise Underkoffler, MA, CCC-SLP, is an independent contractor specializing in early intervention. She has provided services in preschool and school-age programs. firstname.lastname@example.org