Category Archives: Phonological Awareness

Causes of speech and language disorders: Some answers to parent’s “why’s”

When parents walk through our door, they often want to know ‘WHY’ their child is not understanding and talking like other children; ‘WHY’ they aren’t pronouncing sounds like others; or ‘WHY’ they’re stuttering. Listed below are some factors that are known to predispose or precipitate speech and language disorders.

Neurological factors: Specific areas in the brain control our speech and language functions. Understanding what others say to us, expressing our thoughts and needs, remembering details of what was said, reading, and writing are all controlled by regions in the brain. There is evidence in the literature to suggest that children with language disorders may have a neurological involvement contributing to their speech and language difficulties. This means that there may be obvious or subtle differences in the brain which makes the child susceptible to a language disorder. No one pattern of brain architecture has been consistently shown in all individuals with language impairments, which makes this all still a bit of a mystery.

Motor and Sensory factors: Our senses serve as channels for us to perceive the external environment. Be it our sense of vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell; they offer us with different ways to perceive things from the external environment. If any of these senses are not functioning optimally, it would limit the essential information that we receive from our environment. For example, children with vision or hearing problems will not be able to use those senses to see by reading, or hear someone speaking in their environment, making them more susceptible to a speech or language disorder. Having adequate motor skills is also essential to speech and language development. Early on, children move around and explore their environment. This exploration fosters early language and cognitive development as they are exposed to new ideas and vocabulary. Children who have limited motor abilities may be at a disadvantage because of not being able to actively explore their environment. Adequate motor abilities are also required for the movement of the voice and oral structures (lips, teeth, tongue etc.) required for speech. Thus, any difficulty with speaking movements may impact a child’s speech and language development.

Cognitive: Intact cognition (the ability to think, know, perceive, judge, reason etc.) is an important foundation on which we build our speech and language skills. Vice versa, developing our speech and language skills helps us improve our cognitive abilities. Hence, children with cognitive challenges may be at risk for developing speech and language disorders. These children may have trouble associating different words with their meanings, remembering words, recognizing patterns and sorting words into different categories, and learning new concepts in general.

Genetic factors: Speech and language disorders tend to run in families, suggesting a possible genetic involvement in causing these disorders. However, it is also true that many people with speech/language disorders’ children do not have any difficulties, and that children with speech/language disorders have no family history of it in the past.

Environmental factors: Environmental information is key in fostering speech and language development. Providing a language rich environment with an adequate amount of stimulation is necessary to support children in developing age-appropriate speech and language skills. Children who have a less language rich environment and stimulation may be at risk for developing speech and language disorders.

Acquired factors: Some individuals may acquire speech and language skills as per typical milestones and then lose some of these skills due to an acquired injury or illness. Some examples of these include a traumatic brain injury, infections such as meningitis, tumors, strokes, etc.

It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive, but is an overview of some of the reasons we may see speech-language disorders.

If you are concerned about  your child’s speech and language development, see a Speech-Language Pathologist to address your concerns.

Nisha Balakrishnan M.A. SLP, Reg. CASLPO
Speech-Language Pathologist
 
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
www.speechtherapycentres.com
 

Reference: Paul, R. (2007). Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence- Assessment and Intervention. (3rd ed.). St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby Inc.

Back in School

With the start of a new school year already upon us, here are some activity ideas to help you and your kids as they get back into the grind.

By incorporating activities for listening, language expression, reading and writing into your daily routine, and creating a language-literacy rich environment, you can help ensure smoother transitions at school.

Simon Says: This is a great game to sharpen your child’s listening skills. This game can help to improve verbal attention, following directions, language processing skills, and self-regulation. You can increase the difficulty level of the game based on your child’s skill level.  You can also incorporate multi-step directions (e.g., ‘Simon says take your back pack, put on your shoes, and wait in your seat’); opposites (e.g., ‘Simon says do the opposite of walk’); negatives (e.g., ‘Simon says don’t clap’); rhyming (e.g., ‘Simon says tell me a word that rhymes with bat’); segmenting words into syllables (e.g., Simon asks you to clap for the word potato’)…The possibilities are endless!

Shared book reading: Set aside some time for shared book reading. Look through the book with your child and encourage them to tell you the story. Encourage your child to read the words if the book is at their reading level. Encourage them to use the pictures in the book to support their story narration. Ask them to predict what will happen next in the story. Retell the story to your child including important details. Ask your child to recall the main ideas, main characters, and the plot of the story. Ask your child to make inferences about the feelings of the characters and other events in the story (e.g., How do you think she feels? Why does she feel this way? What would make her feel better?)

 Name-Place-Animal-Thing: Here’s a fun group word game that stimulates
vocabulary and targets literacy skills. Ask one person in the group to call out
a letter of the alphabet. All the members of the group then take a couple of
minutes to write down a ‘name’, a ‘place’, an ‘animal’, and a ‘thing’ that
starts with that letter. When all members in the group have finished writing
down all four fields, each one calls out their list. Participants will get full
credit for any responses that don’t overlap and half credit for any overlapping
answers. You can build on to this game, and have your child identify the
‘category’ the ‘thing’ belongs to. Have them add on one more member to that
category. Give them an opportunity to describe how the members of that category are related. You can further expand this game to include adjectives and verbs as well. Encourage your child to think of synonyms (words with similar
meanings-e.g., scold, yell, shout) and antonyms (opposites-e.g., angry vs.
happy).

Young writers in the making! What did your child do this summer? Travel to a new and exciting place? Watched a movie that they’ve been waiting for forever! Encourage your child to write about it. If they travelled to a new place, enrolled in a summer camp, visited some exciting local attractions, ask your child to write about it in a descriptive paragraph. Start with brain storming ideas together. Support your child’s writing with a topic and conclusion sentence (e.g., Topic sentence- ‘This summer, I had a lot of fun’. Conclusion sentence- ‘I can’t wait for another fun-filled summer next year). Watch them as they write. If you see them struggling with their spelling, encourage them to sound out the sounds in the words and to come up with ‘possible’ spellings (e.g., conclusion,
conclution, conclushan). Discuss what is an ‘accepted’ spelling (e.g., conclusion). Once they have finished writing, encourage them to check their work. Provide them with guidelines for checking: Punctuation (i.e., periods, commas, question marks), Capitalization, Spelling, and Articles (and, the, an).

 Nisha Balakrishnan M.A. SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO
 
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
www.speechtherapycentres.com
 

SLP’s, Reading, and Math

Parents often ask why, we, as SLPs work with their school-aged kids on reading and math. It is sometimes difficult to see what our role is in these subjects. We are not tutors, we are not teachers, we are language specialists. What this means is that as SLPs, we need to figure out whether your child is having difficulty with actual math and reading concepts, or if the breakdown in comprehending the language used in those particular subjects.

For examle, in math the most difficult tasks are word problems. Most children will find this to be the most difficult, but it is not the addition/subtraction/ multiplication/division that causes the breakdown; rather it’s the way the questions are worded. These students are having a problems identifying what the question is asking, distinguishing the most important from the irrelevant information among other language tasks. Without these skills,  students will not be able to answer or interpret the problem properly.

As another example, with reading tasks, so often we see kids that can read well but when it comes to comprehending the story and answering questions about the story they become lost. Once again this is a breakdown in the comprehension of story, rather than in the reading itself.

As speech-langauge pathologists, it is our responsibility to target the comprehension of language to ensure academic success. We will provide students with strategies to search for key information, as well as aid teachers in modifying questions and instructions in a way that will be understood by the students. With these strategies in place your child’s academic career will be fruitful and successful!

Melissa Oziel
M.Sc-SLP, Reg. CASLPO
Speech-Language Pathologist
 
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
http://www.speechtherapycentres.com/

What is a Phonological Disorder?

When a youngster is learning to speak, he or she will often have difficulty producing certain sounds and will replace those sounds with another sound.

A common example of this is the “Elmer Fudd” way of speaking, where all the /r/ sounds are replaced by /w/ sounds. There are several typical phonological processes that children use as they learn speech and language. Usually, children are completely unaware that they have mispronounced a word and may even argue that they said it correctly. Typically, as children get older, they learn to produce those difficult sounds and usually correct those errors without even realizing it. As this happens, children’s speech productions become clearer, and they becomes more intelligible (i.e., easy to understand).

When phonological processes do not disappear by a certain age; and/or the child can easily produce the omitted sound but doesn’t use it in his or her speech, the child is said to have a phonological disorder. Phonological disorders can and do affect pre-literacy skills. As a result, children with these difficulties usually have difficulty learning to read and write.

As speech therapists, we can help children with phonological difficulties in the following ways:

• We can teach the child how to make the sounds that he/she is having difficulty producing

• We can help the child become aware of his/her difficulties

 • We can work with the child and caregivers to improve pre-literacy skills.

Written by:  Claudia Correia, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada.

WHAT CAN I DO TO PROMOTE PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS SKILLS IN MY CHILD?

Children generally begin to show early phonological awareness when they demonstrate an appreciation of rhyme. For children as young as 4 years old, focusing on rhyme is a good starting place.

Rhyming activities you can do at home:
 
Sing fun rhyming songs together, such as

Row row row your boat, gently down the stream
     Merrily merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream

Emphasize the rhyming words by saying them slightly louder and longer. Tell your child that these words rhyme and that they sound the same at the end! After your child is familiar with this song, pause and wait for them to fill in the rhyming word (e.g. Life is but a _________).

Read rhyming books together (e.g. Dr. Suess books) and work together to pick out rhyming words. Make a list of all the rhyming words you can find using markers, crayons or chalk. Ask your child to think of another word that rhymes with those on your list (e.g. “fun, run, sun…can you think of another rhyming word?)

While singing songs or reading books together with rhyming words, pause and ask your child questions such as, “Do “hat” and “cat” rhyme?”, or “Do “dog” and “cat” rhyme?” to encourage rhyme identification. Your child can give a thumbs-up for yes and a thumbs- down for no. Once your child is able to do this with two words, say three words aloud and ask them to tell you which word doesn’t belong.

Make up “silly sentences” while riding in the car or shopping together using rhyming words. Begin a sentence and have your child try to fill in the end using a word that rhymes. For example, you could say, “the bunny is…” and your child can respond, “funny!”

Be creative and have fun! 

Written by:  Emily Dykstra, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd