When learning about the sensory and tactile approaches to speech therapy, something really resonated: if the problem is speech production then we need to help a child produce speech. Equally, if the problem is listening, then we need to help a child listen. In the early months of Lockdown 2020 here in the UK the weather was fantastic, providing a great antidote to many of the external stresses we encountered. When speech therapists were tasked with getting creative online, children and families were connecting more and more with the outdoors. The outdoors has some great features that can be fantastic for communication. Here are just 3 ways I discussed with Elise to support her son’s listening skills:
Tip 1 – Highlight listening for general sounds
Step outside and find a comfortable place to sit. Close your eyes and try to be really still, blocking out as many other senses as you can to really highlight what you can hear. Add simple labels or comments to what you hear – birds tweeting, a plane overhead, leaves rustling, a car in the street – to draw your child’s attention to these sounds. Before and after you could use a picture lotto board to see how many outdoor sounds you noticed. Having the real experience will also help your child to really understand the meaning of the words and the pictures.
Tip 2 – Have a ‘Special’ Time
When you set aside just 5 to 10 minutes of time where you slow down to focus 100% on your child at play, you will become the best communication partner ever. By getting down at his level, waiting, observing and listening, showing him that his world is all that matters for that special time, you will create so many opportunities for speech. Try to remove all other distractions, let him lead, then go with the flow. Add comments but don’t ask questions. Give him space to talk and when you join in he will be more likely to listen to you too.
Tip 3 – Have a Sound Focus
Sometimes when our goal is too broad we can struggle to work out what exactly is needed, so picking out just one thing to really focus on for a while can help. One way of doing this is to have a sound focus for each day or each week, depending on what works best for you and your child. For example the sound could be ‘s’. Then find lots of different ways to keep bringing in that focus sound. Look out for the sound in books and stories. Spot the sound written down on signs in the environment. Make the shape of the letter in playdough or sauce. Collect things that begin with the focus sound. Sing songs about the sound. The key here is repetition through exposure but try not to add pressure on your child to say the sound until he is ready.
Following these 3 tips helped Elise and Rex to work together at home on his listening for speech, without having to place too much pressure on talking.