SLP Corner: Empower Your Families
by Carrie Clark, MA CCC-SLP
I have always noticed that the children on my caseload with the most involved and devoted families make the fastest progress. These are the parents who are always asking for homework and talking about the little milestones they saw at home over the weekend. They work with their children at home to improve their speech and language skills and will readily attempt any activities I give them. I love these families! Unfortunately, they seem to be few and far between. I often find myself thinking “Man, if all of my families worked this hard on speech at home, my job would be a lot easier!” I know that for some of our families, this is just never going to happen. They have too many other things going on in their lives and their child’s speech and language development takes a back seat. But I believe that many of our families just need a little extra push in the right direction and they will start working on speech and language at home as well. It may seem like extra work to get these families involved, but once you do, you will see much better gains in therapy and hopefully your caseload will be easier to manage as children move through therapy faster. That is what I have found when I get my parents involved. Here are some strategies you can use to help get your families more involved in their children’s speech and language development:
Listen To Your Families:
In order to get your families involved, you need to get them interested. One way to do this is to figure out what their priorities are in terms of speech and language skills. For example, you may be thinking that the if the child had some more grammatical markers, it would make all the difference in the world, but maybe that child’s family is more concerned about the fact that he can’t follow multi-step directions so getting ready in the morning is a nightmare. They probably wouldn’t be very motivated to work on the pronoun homework you sent home but would readily jump on some strategies for helping their morning routine go more smoothly. The next time you are talking to your families (even if that’s not until parent –teacher conferences or the next IEP), start asking some open-ended questions about their concerns. Here are some questions you can ask parents that may give you some ideas about what they would be most willing to work on:
- What about your child’s speech and language are you most concerned with?
- What are the most difficult times of days with your child?
- Are there certain speech and language skills that would really help if your child could do?
- What types of things does your child get the most frustrated with at home?
- What kinds of resources would you like to have to help you work on your child’s speech and language at home?
Provide your Families with Quick and Easy Activities:
Many families are willing to work on their child’s speech and language at home but they just don’t know where to start. Giving them elaborate or difficult homework assignments may overwhelm them and limit their follow-through. Start off by giving families short and simple activities that don’t take much time or energy to accomplish. Once you feel like the family is doing well with these activities, you can always bump up the difficulty level later, but it’s important to let them have some success with home activities first. Likewise, you should probably start with tasks that are fairly easy for the child. You don’t want to frustrate the parents or child right off the bat. Start them off easy so they have some successes. I know one of my biggest issues with doing this is having the time to create these activities. Keep an eye out for resources you can collect and pass out to parents. There are many websites and books with great ideas.
Get Siblings Involved:
Siblings of children with speech and language delays are often an un-tapped resource. Many times, siblings of children with special needs begin to feel like their special sibling gets all the attention and they may become resentful of the other child. Empowering them to get involved in helping their sibling can make them feel important and help them get some well-deserved positive reinforcement. Siblings can also make very good speech therapists. Siblings spend a lot of time together and if some of that play time can become “speech time”, the child will make great progress! With a little bit of training, a sibling can do great things for her brother or sister. Here are some ideas on getting siblings involved:
- Talk to parents, teachers, and administrators about including the child’s sibling in therapy sessions. If the sibling is at the same school, you may be able to pull him/her down to the speech room with your child a few times and show the sibling how to help the child at home or in their free time. You wouldn’t need to do this all the time, but it would be helpful whenever you move on to the next phase in therapy.
- Have a sibling workshop after school hours. If you have a lot of kids with siblings, consider holding a workshop that will teach them how to help their sibling at home. This could be a one-time event or a group that meets regularly. Again, it’s a little bit more work for you, but if it decreases the therapy time for your students, it’s totally worth it!
Use Communication Notebooks:
One easy way to improve home participation in speech therapy is to increase communication with families. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have time to do communication as it is!” Here’s an idea that won’t take too much extra time. For each of your child, buy one of those folders that has three brads in it for adding papers. Take a little time to create a sheet with check boxes for what you worked on that day and a section for notes. Put a bunch of those in each folder and give one to each child. Have the child bring their folder to speech each day and put it in his backpack when he leaves. That way, the notebook goes home and to speech. Periodically, write the date on one of the pages and check the boxes you did that day. If you have time to jot a quick note, go for it. You can also put homework or speech work in here for the parents. If you print off a worksheet to do in speech, just tuck it in the folder when you’re done. Or, use cut-outs from magazines to make pages in the notebook that you can use during therapy and at home. For example, have your child cut out as many /k/ words as they can and glue them to the pages. This is a great auditory discrimination activity! Or, have your child cut out a girl and a boy and glue on each page. Then, cut out objects and glue them next to the girl and boy while talking about how it’s his bike and her doll. You can make the page during one therapy session and use it during the following sessions for practice. Your families will love seeing how you’re working on skills and they will be more likely to work on it as well.
Featured Contributor: Carrie Clark, MS CCC-SLP
Carrie Clark is a speech-language pathologist living in Columbia, Missouri. She currently works full-time for the Columbia Public Schools as a speech therapist in their early childhood special education department. She also runs a private practice out of her home she sees children before and after school for extra speech and language therapy.
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