6 simple steps to tackle speech delays


Deidre Pate Omahen

Obstacles and delays in speech are not uncommon among children with special needs. Toys and play offer parents fertile ground to help children develop and grow these important skills.

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Parents usually do a lot of the talking, so let's try some role reversal. Have your child choose a "buddy" or "playmate" among his or her stuffed animals. You could even introduce a new stuffed animal to add excitement. Buddy Dog by PlayAbility Toys is a great little critter that offers simple, stimulating play possibilities. Tell them they are in charge of communicating and involving their friend in the entire day's events. Make sure you ask your child to tell you how their special friend is doing or liking the activities.

Morning session

Speech and singing experts know that warming up the voice helps stretch the muscles in the face and assists in proper articulation. So start doing some repetitive chants. Try using all the vowels by creating sounds like "me, me, me," "la, la, la," "no, no, no," "u, u, u." Beat a drum (or empty container), then get silly and add gestures or movements to the rhythms. Take it up a notch by singing songs like, "If you're happy and you know it" and change the lyrics. Challenge older children to create their own lyrics or write a rap or song themselves.


Most kids can be motivated by food, so offer your child some menu choices this special day. Make a game of having them request their choices in a complete sentence and give them some examples so they know what you're asking for. Don't forget please and thank you.

Afternoon session

Food can continue to inspire conversation by "cooking" something for your child's buddy or pretend playmates. Get the pots and pans out, food dye, Play-Doh and get your child talking about what they want to cook, mix or prepare for their special friend. Create a space by placing a blanket or cloth on the table or floor. Remember, get your child to talk, ask and verbalize while preparing.

One play item I feel is a good investment is a play kitchen. It not only mimics the real center of conversations in most homes, but also can add social opportunities to engage other children. Little Tikes makes a Deluxe Wood Kitchen and Laundry Center that even includes a pretend phone to further encourage communication.


As a special treat you can go out to dinner or just pretend. Have your child ask what's being served, request their food and thank the "waitress," real or parental. Gather 'Round Restaurant Game is a great way to stimulate communication and give children practice in talking to unfamiliar people (supervised, of course).


Try role reversal again by having your child read or tell a bedtime story to his "buddy." You can also end the day by asking your child or his imaginary friend to answer questions such as, "What did you like most about the day?" Hopefully there will be a lot to talk about.

Deidre Pate Omahen is a mom, a Chicago Special Parent Advisory Board member and director of programs at the National Lekotek Center in Chicago.


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