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
 

How to Help People With Communication Disorders in the Community

Last week I was in Tim Horton’s when I saw a man trying to order a coffee but he was struggling because of a communication disorder. He was having a difficult time being understood by the Tim Horton’s employee and needed help getting his money out of his wallet because of physical difficulties. Although the people around him – both the employee and bystanders – all seemed to want to help the man they were all hesitant and did not seem to know what to do or how to help this man.

One of our jobs as speech-language pathologists is to advocate for those with
communication disorders.  As part of that we try to increase awareness and knowledge on how to interact with people in the community who have various communication disorders. This may include people with disabilities (cerebral palsy, developmental disorders), people who have had a stroke or head injury, people with dementia (such as Alzheimer’s), people who communicate with assistive technology/computers, or people with speech that is difficult to understand. Here are some communication tips that you can use with almost any kind of communication difficulty:

First and foremost – always be respectful and ask the person if they would like your assistance! Remember: a communication disorder does not mean they are unintelligent!!

To help the person understand you:

  • Keep your messages short and to the point (for example: say “Do you want help?” not “I noticed you’re trying to order and I thought that I could help by…)
  • Wait! They may need more time to process the information
  • Keep your message short but grammatically correct so they do not feel that you are insulting them (for example: do not say you….help….get….coffee??”)
  • Repeat if necessary or try to say your message in a different way
  • If they are still having difficulty understanding you, use gestures (pointing to objects or locations) or use objects around you (if they don’t understand “what size coffee do you want?” show them the different sized cups)
  • If open ended questions are difficult (“what do you want?) give choices (“do you want a drink or something to eat?” “do you want coffee or tea?”)

To help the person express themself:

  • Give them specific feedback on what you did not understand. Instead of just saying what?” try saying  “you want a coffee, what do you want in it?”
  • As explained above – if they are still struggling have them gesture, use objects around the room, or give them choices
  • If they are using assistive technology – wait for them to finish creating their message. Avoid reading their message over their shoulder or guessing what they might be saying.
  • Most importantly – be patient, give them time, and don’t give up!
Carla Montgomery, M.H.Sc. SLP(C)
Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO
 
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
www.speechtherapycentres.com

Bullying

When I was a kid I had a pet hamster, that I adoringly named Grover. Unfortunately, I was not able to produce my /R/ sound, so Grover shortly became known as “Gwova.” By being teased and imitated at school, I quickly learned what other people heard when I spoke… and I was very embarrassed about my speech. Looking back years later, I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate that this teasing did not lead to bullying, but sadly not the case for most children.

It has been a goal of mine, since becoming a speech-language pathologist, to not only work on the communication difficulty itself, but to target self-esteem. Speech-language pathologists often find themselves faced with the bullying epidemic. They may work in schools, where most bullying typically occurs, or they may work outside of schools, but with students that are frequently susceptible to bullying, for example, children with communication, developmental, and/or social difficulties.

A professor from Pennsylvania State University, Gordon Blood, has done extensive research on bullying and feels that speech-language pathologists have a role in managing and reducing social bullying. Examples of social bullying are: a child not being allowed to join a game, to participate in conversation with peers, or becoming the subject of teasing or negative gossip, in turn causing children to experience emotional and/or academic difficulties. Blood says, “In all bullying, there’s intent to do harm, and a perceived power imbalance.” Speech-language pathologists are in a position where they can often have a strong role in restoring the balance of power that is disrupted in bullying. Instead of encouraging a child to ignore the problem, or pretend not to be bothered, it is recommended that professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, teachers, and parents do the following: 1) Listen to the child. Give them non-interrupted time to speak. 2) Praise the child for discussing the bullying – it can be incredibly hard for children to talk about. 3) Encourage the child to build his or her social network – one or two friends is all most children need to stick up to a bully.

Remember that the common goal for children that experience bullying is to develop their confidence enough to overcome bullying before it has negative effects on their learning and health.

Information obtained from Speech-language pathologists positioned to help victims of bullying, January 7, 2011, written by Gordon Blood, Ingrid Blood, Michael Boyle, and Gina Nalesnik from Pennsylvania State University.

Written by:
Michelle Cameron, M.H.Sc. S-LP(C)
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/

Speech-Language Therapy in the Movies

As speech-language pathologists (SLPs), my coworkers and I were all excited to see an SLP hold a prominent role in a movie when “The King’s Speech” hit theatres last winter. All of the sudden other people had an interest in a movie we wanted to see!  Little does everyone know we have a few other favourites that circulate around our water cooler conversations, not because they deal specifically with our profession, but because they feature the people we work with.

One of my personal favourites is “Autism: the Musical”.  This is a documentary which follows five children with Autism who take part in a project to write and perform their own full length musical.  Under the guidance of one mother’s vision and many parents determination, the musical allows these special kids to explore their creativity and show off their talents.  As an SLP I loved watching it to get some perspective on thinking outside the box to help children with autism realize their potential and showcase accomplishments.

Another movie I recently stumbled across is called “Wretches and Jabberers.”  It’s the story of two grown men with autism, Larry and Tracy, who embark on a world tour to advocate for people with disabilities.   Larry and Tracy communicate by typing to augment their speech. On their journey they meet
others who use similar forms of communicating. In the SLP world this is called AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) and the movie is a great example of how AAC can be used to open up a world of communicating.  Larry and Tracy’s views are profound and often poetic. I highly recommend it.

Jana Zalmanowitz, M.Cl.Sc.
Speech-Language Pathologist (C)

 

The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
www.speechtherapycentres.com

Social communication and bullying

Social communication is the way that we relate, understand someone else’s perspective, make connections and develop meaningful relationships. Being able to communicate effectively is vital to being a part of the world around us and
feeling included. For many children delays in social communication, even the
slightest and most subtle delays, can wreak havoc on their ability to
participate in peer games and interactions on the school yard.  For many children being included is much more important than their grade on the last math test. Feeling lost in a social environment can leave children feeling alone and can have negative impact on their self-esteem putting them at risk for bullying. Speech-Language Pathologists can offer strategies to help students develop social communication skills. Depending on the child’s age, focus may be on conversational skills such as starting a conversation and turn taking, or non-verbal skills such as understanding facial expressions and emotions. Understanding someone else’s perspective, learning how to deal with negative communication in a constructive way and discovering the nuances of peer interactions can help give your child the right strategies to join in.  Having
strong social communication skills leads to increased confidence in social
settings making interaction with peers easier and more enjoyable for your
child. Social communication may be the link your child needs to make those
connections on the playground.

Stephanie Mathias
Speech Language Pathologist
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
http://www.speechtherapycentres.com/

Make ‘Bath Time’ ‘Language Therapy’ Time!

When life gets busy it can be hard to find time to work on your child’s early language skills BUT you can enhance your child’s communication during everyday activities that you’re already doing!  Here are some tips on how to facilitate communication during bath time.

  • Being face to face with your child is important and bath time is an easy way to ensure you’re in this position when playing and talking
  • Follow your child’s lead – talk about objects they are already interested in or are already playing with instead of trying to introduce a new toy or game
  • Wait and pause to give your child a chance to communicate
  • Use lots of single words or two word combinations (ex. Boat! Woo. Big boat!) This will help your child identify words and repeat them.
  • Use a slower rate of speech and fun intonation to catch their attention
  • Imitate the words, sounds, and actions your child makes
  • This can be a great way to teach new words:
    • Objects – hold bath toys up as you label them (ex. duck, boat, ball)
    • Action words –  say the word as you make the action (ex. make a toy SWIM, make a toy JUMP into the bath)
    •  Location words – example: the man goes IN the boat, the man goes OVER the boat, the man goes UNDER the boat
    • Sing songs and rhymes! These provide a lot of repetition and make it easier for your child to predict familiar words and to join in. After they know the song you can pause and give them a chance to participate. Example: row, row, row your _____. Your child may respond with an expectant look, a sound, an action, a word…all are ways of communicating with you. Song ideas: row your boat, Patty-cake, this little piggy etc.
    • Similarly to the songs – use simple repetitive routine games to give them a chance to participate. Example: bring a toy up while saying ‘up, up, up’ and drop it into the water as you say DOWN! Once they are used to this routine pause before you say down to give them a chance to respond and join in.
    •  Expand on your child’s utterances. For example: if they say “duck” you can say “yellow duck”!
    • Give choices – do you want the boat or the bucket? Do you want the pink towel or the yellow towel?

Have fun and enjoy your time together! Bath time is a great time to bond with your child and teach them many important language and play skills! Happy bath time!

Written by:  Carla Montgomery, speech-language pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada

www.SpeechTherapyCentres.com

What causes my child to stutter?

 As a speech-language pathologist, I am often asked “what causes my son/daughter to stutter?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t one, straight-forward answer.  Although much research has been done, clinicians and researchers alike are still unsure. 

Some researchers think that some people are more genetically predisposed to stuttering. This is why some children exhibit the behaviour and others do not. There are also ideas that this predisposition can interact with a child’s environment to bring out stuttering.  For example, some children stutter more at school and some stutter more at home.  This means there are certain things about the environment that may trigger stuttering. 

So, the only thing that everyone can agree on is that the cause of stuttering is complex.  It is dependent on numerous factors and how they interact with one another. 

As a parent of a child who stutters, it is important to remember that nobody is to blame.  Early intervention by a speech-language pathologist can be extremely valuable to both parents and the child.  The focus of therapy should be less  about the “why” (does my child stutter) and more about the “how” (can we make it better).

 Written by: Jana Zalmanowitz, speech-language pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada.

 

Play-based learning: How to create your own language-rich environment this summer

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Ontario government’s move towards providing full-day kindergarten and incorporating a play-based curriculum.  A play-based curriculum means that children learn through play.  The idea behind this is that when children are given the opportunity to explore an exciting and stimulating environment, they will learn without even realising they are learning. 

You can create your own stimulating environment for your child at home.  Try this activity to create a language-rich environment while doing a simple, inexpensive craft:

Play-dough

Play dough Ingredients:

  • ½ cup salt
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • food colouring (optional)

Language ingredients:

  • Action words (verbs): Talk about how you are pouring the ingredients, mixing them together, stirring with a spoon, squishing, rolling, patting, poking, and cutting the play-dough.
  • Description words (adjectives): Discuss how the play-dough feels sticky or squishy. Roll a ball and make it smooth.  Touch the water and talk about how it is wet, and contrast that to the dry flour.
  • Location words (prepositions): Maybe the flour is beside the salt, on the table.  The ingredients go in the bowl.  Make a tree out of your play-dough and a person to go under the tree.
  • People, places or things (nouns): This can be almost anything!  Names of the ingredients, the tools you are using, the objects you are building, the names of those participating, names of shapes, numbers etc…..      

Instructions:

  • Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Choose a word or two to focus on from each type listed above.
  • Use those words 5 or more times during the activity.
  • Encourage your child to actively participate, by doing, asking, feeling, and commenting.

 For more information on Ontario’s play-based curriculum visit: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/kindergarten/whatwillmychildlearnanddo.html

Written by: Jana Zalmanowitz, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada. (www.speechtherapycentres.com)

Developing pre-literacy skills at home during the preschool years

The environment and daily routines in your home can be one of the best teaching tools to help children develop pre-reading skills. A print-rich environment helps foster skills needed for reading.  By surrounding your children with print in your home and talking to them about what it means, they will learn more every day.

They will begin to discover cues and understand that the words they see in print and the words they speak and hear are related. They will begin to learn that print can carry a meaning, and that therear many different ways to communicate.

A print-rich environment also ignites an interest in writing. Kids want to model what they see around them and communicate in written form. If they also see you modeling reading and writing during your daily activities, they will want to try to communicate this way too!

Ordinary household routines and activities can be used as learning experiences for kids. Below are some simple and fun ways to make your home a print-rich environment, and incorporate print into daily routines:

  • Post signs and label items in your home, such as “Kelly’s room” on your daughter’s door, or “coats” by the hooks by the back door. Draw your child’s attention to these signs as you read them.
  • Make labels together. For example, when you pack away the winter clothes, have your child put labels on each container (e.g. hats, mitts, sweaters, pants).  If your child is young, you can write the word for them and they can try to write it underneath.
  • Write a grocery list together. Have your child help you decide what you need, and then write the words down. Look at the list together in the grocery store and have your child help you cross off items as you shop.
  • Surround your child with lots of books-storybooks, non-fiction books about things like dinosaurs and insects, as well as poetry and nursery rhymes, newspapers and magazines. Create a “reading corner” in their bedroom or in the family room.
  • Point out print to your child during daily activities. For example, when you are cooking, direct your child’s attention to the recipe and read it aloud as you follow each step. You child will begin to learn that print carries meaning. You can also point out print when you are out of the home. For example, point to the stop sign and tell your child that every time you see those words on that sign you need to stop. Have them help you watch for stop signs.
  • Make growth charts together. Measure your child’s height and have him help you record the numbers. Talk about how the numbers are getting bigger as they are getting taller. You can display this chart in their bedroom where they can see it.
  • You can turn a walk into a learning activity by playing games such as pointing out all of the “S” words that you see on signs or store names, etc. You can also use a sand box for letter recognition. Writing out letters in the sand and erasing it is a great game that kids will enjoy and it’s easy to do.

When kids are in an environment that has labels, signs and charts, they will be exposed to letters, words and numbers early and make connections between the letters and the functions they serve, thus developing their pre-literacy skills. Try these suggestions in your home, and have fun!

Written by Emily Begley, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada