Our new way of social distancing can be especially challenging for children with speech and language disorders. Communication issues can be exacerbated with physical remoteness. Community and school settings give children a wide range of dialogue opportunities. Without them, there can be limited interaction to practice their social interaction and communication skills.
Fortunately, physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing. Teletherapy can help children and families through these challenging times by bringing speech and language therapy into your home via your computer or tablet.
American Speech – Language Hearing Association (ASHA), shares 10 techniques for families to help their children with speech and language disorders stay connected and interact socially, while adhering to the CDC guidelines for safe physical distancing.
- Social screen time. Most likely, screen time will increase when sheltering at home. Some research shows solitary screen time can lead to speech and language delays. But you can encourage families to watch shows together and discuss them with children of any age. Some questions to pass along to parents include: Who was your favorite character? What do you think will happen next? Why did the show end that way? Or you can even suggest apps that encourage language development.
- Conversation opportunities. Physical distancing might increase or decrease opportunities for social interaction. Families might be spending more time together at home, but parents might also focus more often on financial, medical, extended family, or work responsibilities. Try suggesting activities fostering rich conversations, such as cooking (following a sequence of steps), doing puzzles (finding pieces similar in color, shape, or size), playing language-rich board games (talking about rules, turn-taking, and strategies), walking outside (discussing what they see), and exploring the home (describing different rooms).
- Reading aloud. Relative isolation at home can mean more time for reading. But it doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. Reading can be social and used to build language. Families can read to each other from new online library books or forgotten treasures hidden for years on the bookshelf. You can share information about the critical connection between spoken and written language, provide book suggestions, and suggest leading age-appropriate questions to develop narrative skills. For example: What happened at the beginning, middle, and end of the story? What was the main plot? What motivated each character?
- Staying connected. SLPs can’t emphasize enough the importance of communicating with friends and extended family during this time. Fortunately, many families can access technology to stay connected virtually. Children with language disorders might find phone and video chat communication tricky. You can practice conversations in advance with suggested topics and responses: “What’s the weather like there? It’s sunny here. I like being home from school, but I miss my friends.” Encourage siblings to help the child with the communication disorder.
- Understanding changes. We all struggle with major change in daily routines, but children with language comprehension and production issues especially so. In addition, they might pick up on tension from their parents or overhear alarming news. On top of that, they might find it difficult to express feelings, ask questions, or talk about this confusing time. During telepractice sessions, you can use and model clear, age-appropriate language to define new vocabulary words—coronavirus, COVID-19, social distancing, quarantine, sheltering at home—and explain changes in routine. Encourage families to establish new routines as much as possible and involve their child in the decision-making. For example: When would you like to call your grandma and pop-pop? Which friend should we talk to today? What food would you like?
Check back with First Words Therapy next week for the rest of the techniques for families to help their children with speech and language disorders as we go through these challenging times. Until then, contact us for more information about our Teletherapy.