How Parents Can Help Facilitate Their Child’s Speech and Language During Covid-19 School Closures
By Deborah A. Chalifoux, MS-Ed, MA, CCC-SLP, EEM-AP
If my child is receiving speech via teletherapy, how can I help them make the most of their session?
Here are some tips from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) to maximize the success of virtual treatment sessions:
- Make sure your computer is connected to Wi-Fi is working and troubleshoot possible tech well before your child’s session to avoid wasting valuable treatment time.
- Find a dedicated quiet spot where your child can work with the SLP with as little distraction as possible.
- Help your child accept that services likely won’t look exactly as they did in school by modeling your own flexibility and being open-minded to these service modifications yourself.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your child’s SLP. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s progress or how services are being delivered, share them directly with your SLP.
My child is having anxiety while learning form home and is having difficulty expressing feelings. How can I help?
There is a lot of panic right now about the coronavirus, and because of communication difficulties, there’s a pretty good chance that your child doesn’t fully understand what’s going on around them, even if someone has tried to explain it. Although they may not be able to express it, your child is most likely feeling the anxiety and tension in their home and community. You can help lessen anxiety about the situation by finding ways to talk about the coronavirus in ways your child can understand. If you need help finding appropriate ways to do so, ask your child’s SLP for help. You don’t need to share every detail, but you can try by simply explaining in a calm, non-reactive way that some people are getting sick, so it’s important to wash our hands and stay home to help keep people healthy. As much as possible, model your own calmness in the best way you can, and be sure to keep the news channel off of the TV when your child is in the room. Save any stressful conversations that you may have with other adults for when your child is not present.
How can I support my child’s communication growth and help them maintain their skills while learning from home?
Here are some easy to implement strategies that can help parents to effectively incorporate speech and language practice into their every day, “new-normal” routines:
- Let real life be the guide. Young children learn best doing real-life activities with the people who are most important to them. Weave communication interactions and goals into everyday routines and activities such as mealtime, bath time, bedtime, playtime, and household chores.
- Errands are language-fueled activities. While we might not be able to take them grocery shopping at this time, let children help you take inventory of items you have and make a list of what you need. When ordering groceries on-line, help your child find and choose items on the computer, targeting things like sorting foods by categories or colors. When the items get delivered, they can continue working on language by unpacking and sorting items into groups (refrigerated or snacks, for example).
- Car rides, walks, or even strolls around the house also offer opportunities to work on language. Try playing license plate tag while driving to target speech sounds and multi-syllable words, or “I Spy” while taking a walk which can help to work on categories (I spy something that is a vehicle) or speech sounds (I spy something that starts with the /k/ sound).
- Make TV time interactive and language-infused.Sit on opposite sides of the couch and find a favorite show or try a new one. Then have each person pick a character to be and mute the TV. Now fill in the dialogue yourself based on the images. Or play a guessing game—pausing the TV and try to guess how a character is feeling based on facial expressions and the background images.
- During your nightly bedtime story, ask follow-up questions or change one of the lines in a familiar story and ask them if they think it really happened. Associate something happening in the story with something that happened in your day or on a trip you took. Pause and ask questions even if you don’t think they can answer—this strengthens language. With older children, if you know they read a story in their online class or speech session, ask them to retell it to you.
What if my child isn’t progressing in his speech and language?
Be patient with your child’s progress. Understand that the goal may be to maintain skills rather than advance them at this unprecedented time. Amidst current circumstances, some children with speech and language disorders may experience regression educationally. However, in most cases, a child’s regression will not be permanent. Children are resilient can rebound and regain ground! Remember, everyone is trying their best under difficult circumstances, including you, your child, and your child’s SLP:
- YOUR SLP is doing their best. Most school-based SLPs were not set up to provide telepractice or implement changes to Individualized Education Programs for a large number of students in this very challenging situation. Nonetheless, SLPs continue to be dedicated and fully invested in your child’s educational, social, and life success.
- YOUR CHILD is doing their best. Change in routine, extended time at home, and restrictions may cause anxiety and impact your child’s ability to focus and concentrate on learning. Be as patient and flexible with your child as possible, understanding that children with speech and/or language disorders may not adapt to distance learning as easily as other children.
- YOU are doing your best. Most parents are not trained as professional therapists or student aides, and your child’s SLP and other teachers recognize that parents are doing their best, as they strive to help their child with schoolwork and therapy—often while dealing with a range of other responsibilities. So be gentle with yourself, as well as with your children.
Remember that the most important thing is the health and safety of you and family, and that of your service provider. Stay safe and continue to follow your local government’s guidelines for social distancing and practicing appropriate health and safety measures. These unusual and trying circumstances will surely pass, and the inherent resilience of our human nature will allow us as individuals, as well as our education system, to come out of this stronger and wiser for the lessons we’ve learned. Be well!
Additional resources and references:
“your child is most likely feeling the anxiety and tension in their home and community. You can help lessen anxiety about the situation by finding ways to talk about the coronavirus in ways your child can understand.”
debbie chalifoux,Speech Language Pathologist : Communication Disorders
Debbie is a licensed and certified Speech-Language Pathologist with Master’s Degrees in both Communication Disorders and Elementary Education. Debbie has over 17 years of experience providing speech-language therapy to preschoolers in a variety of settings and populations, including students with special needs, and in performing speech-language evaluations for both preschool and school-age children. , it is Debbie’s desire to work “wholistically” with families to promote optimal wellness for the “whole” child and the “whole” parent: in mind, in body and in spirit.
Debbie Chalifoux M. A. CCC-SLP, M.S. ED, EEM-AP, RMT