Can you explain a bit about what speech-language pathologists do to help kids?
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) help people with concerns regarding communication including speech, language, voice, fluency, social communication, and swallowing. We work with people of all ages, from babies to adults. Pediatric SLPs primarily work with children who need support to meet speech and language developmental milestones.
When I first meet with a child and their family, I complete an assessment to determine if the child needs specialized support, and if so, for which specific skills. Once the assessment is complete, I create a plan and provide therapy and/or consultation to help the child improve their communication skills. Some examples of skills SLPs help kids with are: increasing vocabulary, understanding what others say, speaking in sentences, saying speech sounds correctly, and using language to interact and communicate with peers (among other things).
For young children, SLPs work very closely with the parents to teach them strategies to support their child’s communication development in the home. Early detection of speech and language delays and disorders is important because getting support can help prevent learning problems once the child enters school.
SLPs help children with really varied abilities. For example, some children SLPs with work with are non-verbal and may work with many specialists to support their health and learning needs. Other children need may need speech and language therapy to learn how to say a few speech sounds correctly, but are developing as would be typically expected in other areas.
It’s an amazing job!
What are some things parents can do to help prevent speech and language delays or disorders?
We don’t always know the cause of speech or language delays or disorders, but there are a few things to keep in mind in terms of prevention.
It’s important that your child be able to hear in order for speech and language skills to develop. If they have frequent ear infections, be sure to get their hearing checked to ensure there is not a temporary blockage due to fluid build up in the middle ear.
Wearing a helmet during activities such as riding a bike or scooter is also important to prevent brain injury. I’ll never forget about one of the first clients that I worked with. He was a sixteen-year-old boy, learning to regain his ability to speak after a suffering a significant brain injury from a skateboarding accident.
Ensuring you provide your child with a “language-rich environment” is another necessity. Your child needs to be hearing many, many words per day during conversations with a responsive adult. Children learn how to talk through back and forth interactions with adults.
What are some activities you would suggest for parents of babies to promote language development?
It’s important to start a reading routine with your baby. Aim for 15 minutes of reading aloud per day, but of course don’t worry about perfection here! It’s never too early to start reading with your baby, and it’s a wonderful bonding activity. Don’t stress over which books to read. Anything you enjoy reading together will be perfect! Reading should be a fun time that you both enjoy.
Exposure to books help them learn so many new words that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to on a typical day. It’s completely normal if they have a short attention span or flip through the pages quickly. The goal is to foster a love of books early on.
Talking with your baby throughout the day also is very important for language development. Describe what they are seeing and experiencing. Make eye contact, respond to their sounds and facial expressions, and explain to them what they are seeing and experiencing. This helps build their understanding of language which is essential for beginning to speak. Babies will understand many, many words before they start to say them.
I also recommend singing songs and rhymes. Classics like “Itsy bitsy spider” and “The Wheels on the bus” are great. I share many more on my Instagram account @weetalkers to keep things fresh for you and your baby.
Do you have any tips for kids around age one who are just beginning to talk?
Yes! Children begin to say their first words around age one, so this is a very exciting time!
Don’t worry about teaching them colors, numbers and shapes at this age. I see many parents thinking of these things as important first words, but these skills develop later and are more abstract. Instead, talk about what they are interested in and explain what is happening and then pause and WAIT for them to take a turn. Back and forth interaction is key!
So, for example, if they are dumping blocks in and out of a shape sorter say things like, “in”, “out”, “the blocks are in”, “ut oh the blocks are out” versus quizzing them on the names of the shapes.
In addition to speaking to your child throughout the day and explaining things in full sentences (to help increase their understanding), modeling short, simple, meaningful words and phrases for them to copy is valuable. For example, “up”, “go”, “wow!”, “more”, “ut-oh”, “mama”, “dada”. Repeat the words often, PAUSE and let them take a turn, and they will begin to copy you more and more! Encourage them to copy gestures as well. Don’t worry about the words being pronounced perfectly at this age. Have fun and honor their attempts to communicate with you (e.g., making sounds, eye contact, gestures).
What are your go-to toys that promote language development?
Classic toys such as balls, doll/stuffed animals, cars, pretend food, a doll house, a farm set, and blocks are my favorite because they promote pretend play and are open ended. Electronic toys that do all the talking and sound making for our children don’t provide as many opportunities for talking, so they are not as good for language development.
Carly Tulloch, M.A. CCC-SLP is a pediatric speech-language pathologist, founder of Wee Talkers, and the mother of two girls. Carly provides speech and language assessment, therapy, and consultation for kids ages birth-five. She also teaches parents effective strategies to help support their child’s language development, play, and early literacy skills. Her approach always prioritizes using evidenced-based practices and supporting children in having fun while learning. Carly has over a decade of experience and has spoken at many events and conferences for parents and professionals. For more information, visit weetalkers.com and follow @weetalkers on Instagram.