A few weeks ago I answered some frequently asked questions about a toddler who is slow to start talking. You can read that post here. I talked about what to expect, when to be concerned and what to expect from a speech and language therapy assessment. However, I thought today I would talk about what might happen after you’ve seen a speech and language therapist.
Will direct speech therapy help my child?
Obviously the only person who can answer this question is a speech and language therapist who has assessed your child. For some toddlers, direct therapy will be really helpful. However, for many children who are just 2, 1:1 therapy may well not be recommended, even if you see an independent SLT. And if it is, it’s more than likely that at least part of each session will be about the therapist and the parent talking about ways to help throughout the week.
Why doesn’t the speech therapist just do therapy?
2 year olds do not often tend to engage terribly well with strangers (or even people they have got to know but they have just been dragged to see or who have just walked into their home). However well we try to book appointments around nap times etc. we all know that young children are unpredictable and if you really want them to be responsive for half an hour, they more than likely won’t be – that’s life with small children! They are far more likely to give their best to a parent or regular carer who knows them well and can try things at odd moments when the child is in the right mood. That’s why very often sessions with children of this age are usually at least partially about giving advice. Also, even if the SLT sees your child for an hour each week, that’s still only one hour. There are another 167 hours in the week when the SLT will not be there, and we all want your child to be making progress then too, not just in SLT sessions.
Isn’t the therapist basically just telling me to talk to my child? I already do that.
Yes and no. Your child will learn to talk through play and conversation, so naturally we will focus on talking to your child. No-one is suggesting that you play with your child less than other parents or that you talk to your child less than other parents. However, there are some particular strategies which can really help when interacting with a child with a speech delay, and some which are less helpful. And you probably aren’t using all of the most helpful strategies, because some of them seem a little counter-intuitive to start with.
Let me give you an example. One thing that a speech and language therapist will often recommend is to try not to ask too many questions. I think this is something that is natural to all adults when interacting with small children. I do it myself, both with my child and other people’s. The first thing you do is to ask them a question. (“what are you doing?… “where are you going?…. what’s your teddy’s name?”) It’s not because you’re trying to test them or catch them out or anything negative, it’s just that that’s how adult conversation generally works. If you want to hear what another adult thinks, you ask them a question. So we do this with children too. We all want to hear what our children have to say, and this is even more true if you have a child who is late to talk. We want to hear them speak so we ask questions.
The thing is that even though we have no desire to put the child under pressure, it can feel like it for the child. If you find it hard to think of words, or if you don’t understand questions, or even don’t really know yet what conversation is all about, questions can be stressful or confusing.
What often works better is to just comment on what your toddler is doing, using 1-2 word phrases. EG “car… brrm brrm… fast…. Oh no… crash”. This helps for several reasons:-
- You’re following your child’s lead and talking about what they’re interested in.
- You are likely to be using the same words over and over again. This means your child is hearing them over and over again so is more likely to remember them and give them a go.
- You will be pausing lots between each word while you watch and play. Silence is good when talking to language-delayed toddlers. It gives them time to think and to vocalise if they want/ are able to, but doesn’t make them feel under pressure to respond.
We will do more posts about other strategies another day – this is just one example for now.
Does this mean I can’t ever ask my child a question? That’s going to make life difficult!
No, it doesn’t mean that. Of course you will need to ask questions at times. Equally, I am sure you spend lots of time commenting as well as questioning now. It’s about getting the balance right. The last thing anyone wants is for you to feel worried about the way you talk to your child and not be natural with them. I’ve just picked this one strategy as an example, as it’s one I still have to make a conscious effort to do myself sometimes. With any strategy that is recommended, just try to consciously do it for a few minutes each day. It may seem like very little, but it will make a difference!
What else do you find helps or what other strategies would you like us to talk about?
If you have found this post useful, do check out our e-book, which is full of practical advice to help you and your child at every step of the way through the speech therapy process.