By definition, speech-language therapy for children is close, hands-on work that takes place in an interactive environment, intentionally designed to be positive and fun. Like so many other aspects of our lives, the coronavirus pandemic has forced speech-language therapy online, with children and their speech-language pathologists meeting through screens rather than in-person.
“Parents might wonder how their kids can get the most out of this virtual experience,” says Cindy Krizizke M.S., CCC-SLP, clinical instructor and adjunct faculty with the Midwestern University Speech-Language Institute in Downers Grove. “With a little work and a flexible approach, parents can help their kids have fun, positive teletherapy experiences to enhance their communication skills.”
By first discovering what technology families have at home, a speech-language pathologist can then build a program suited to a child’s age and needs. “Working with parents is of the utmost importance and whatever tech they have, we make it work,” Krizizke says. “Tablets or laptops work, but some only have a phone, and that’s fine, too.” Initial sessions are informal and build a relationship between the speech-language pathologist and the child. “I’ll ask the child to show me their toys and I’ll learn their special interests.”
Create some time and space
Parents can set the stage for productive sessions by preparing their child in plenty of time to start. “You might set a timer, turn off the TV or music, and remove any distractions,” Krizizke suggests. Helping your child get into the mindset for speech time can help them switch gears and be more productive from the outset.
Carve out physical space for speech time — a corner of a room, a spot in the hallway, even a cleared-out closet works. “Typically little ones don’t sit at a desk but might like a beanbag chair and a table. They’ll also need to stand up for some sensory movement,” Krizizke says. Make it special and enticing with decorations or seasonal pictures. “Talk with the speech-language pathologist about what toys will be helpful to have available, too.”
If the speech-language pathologist sends a visual schedule of pictures or words that describe the activities for each session, share this with your child to help establish a routine. “They’ll know there is a beginning and activities to accomplish during each session,” Krizizke explains. “It might start with a welcome song, then a book, followed by a game. Kids quickly learn these routines and it really helps build communication.” Be patient, warns Krizizke, as the first few sessions are all about learning the routine.
Parents have an important role
Children engaged in speech-language therapy will need parents nearby during their sessions. Mistakes are all part of the learning experience, so don’t feel the need to correct them along the way. “It’s really positive that parents can see what we are doing during teletherapy and model it afterward,” Krizizke says. “Parents can talk with their child and ask what they did in speech. They can ask about the games we play. Were they fun? Parents can even offer small rewards to encourage children to stay in the session.”
Some kids put themselves to work right from the start, Krizizke says. “They see their moms and dads doing virtual meetings for work and recognize that this is their own speech meeting,” she says. “Parents don’t always think their kids are watching but they are. And it’s such great pretend play for kids to attend their own ‘meetings.’”
Finally, be sure to talk with your child’s speech-language pathologist if any part of it is overwhelming for you or for your child. You can work together to make whatever adjustments are necessary.
“As a speech-language pathologist, I want to keep sessions fun for kids,” Krizizke says. “Communicate with your speech-language pathologist if you are overwhelmed. The more we know, the more we can make it a positive experience.”
Learn more about Midwestern University and Midwestern University Speech-Language Institute at midwestern.edu.