Talking Points

6 Online Learning Tips For Children With Speech-Language Disorders

by Ernest Roebuck, CCC-SLP

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If you’re the parent of a child with speech and language disorders, you may have found some especially unique challenges while adjusting to distance learning. Here’s how to help your child get the very most out of the experience.

Get Focused
Children with speech and language disorders may be more easily distracted—by other children on the screen, by noises or activities occurring in their own home, or by the technology itself. Consider the child’s work area, and factors such as comfortable seating, screen glare, and lighting. Find a quiet spot, away from noisy appliances and other people from inside or outside the house. Eliminate technology-based distractions by closing other applications, turning off alerts, and covering distracting parts of the screen (e.g., their own image or those of classmates) with sticky notes.

Get Understood
A child who stutters, or has trouble pronouncing certain sounds, may be harder to understand online. If this is a concern, make sure the teacher knows what supports your child needs, such as: Asking the child to repeat themselves, use different words, type it in the chat, draw it on a whiteboard, or use gestures.

Get Clarity
A child with a language disorder or social communication disorder may miss some cues that normally occur in person, and aid in comprehension (such as pointing to a page when reading.) Ask if the teacher can incorporate supports such as captioning, additional “wait time” to allow the child to process information, or rephrasing of messages if the child doesn’t seem to understand. You can also encourage your child to speak up if they didn’t understand—and even help develop a script for doing so (such as “I didn’t understand—could you please say it again?”)

Get Social
Children with language disorders and social communication disorders generally require lots of interaction with peers to improve social skills. Ask the teacher if it’s possible to use breakout rooms with smaller groups for some lessons, or to set up after-school virtual activities.
You can also organize phone calls and virtual play dates.

Get Moving
Screen fatigue is an issue for all children. But for those with speech and language disorders – who must put effort into communication under typical circumstances – the extra energy it takes to communicate virtually can make them especially susceptible to screen fatigue. Be sure to provide lots of opportunities for movement: alternate screen time with physical time when possible, or add a review of the day’s lessons with physical activity (such as practicing spelling during a walk around the block.)

Also, make room for “ramp-up time” if your child needs additional time to get ready to learn, or “cool-down time” to transition out of learning. Using a visual schedule to show the times for various tasks—and to highlight upcoming fun activities or breaks—can help.

Get Help
Parents of children with speech and language disorders have many challenges as they try to help their child with school. Be sure to talk to your teachers and to your speech-language pathologist about those challenges. Using video of some the challenging behaviors can aid professionals in offering feedback. You might also consider sharing your child’s communication needs with other parents, helpers or cooperative groups that share responsibilities with other families if you feel it’s safe.

Download the “6 Online Learning Tips For Children With Speech-Language Disorders” Handout

Ernest Roebuck, CCC-SLP is Executive Director of WestField Speech Solutions in Bedford, NY


What Is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is a disorder that affects a child’s ability to speak in certain settings. For example, a child may be able to speak with family at home, but not at school. Selective Mutism does not occur because a child is shy or chooses not to speak — Instead, it is a type of communication disorder with social anxiety elements. Learn more about Selective Mutism and its diagnosis, associated behaviors and treatment in this handout.

Responding to Speech Sounds While Reading May Help Develop Babies’ Language


Reading to babies has long been linked to their early language development. But researchers from the University of Iowa may have found two interesting reasons why: Babies tend to make more speech sounds with books than they do with toys, and mothers are more responsive to those sounds.

In a study published in Language Learning and Development, lead author Julie Gros-Louis suggests that beyond simply reading with a child, parents can help develop language even further by interacting and responding to the sounds their children make during book time. The full article can be found here.

Big Vocabularies in 2-Year-Olds May Predict Kindergarten Success


The size of children’s oral vocabularies at age 2 may predict their eventual readiness for kindergarten according to a new joint study from Penn State, Columbia University and UCLA Irvine.

After analyzing the vocabularies of 8,650 2-year-old children around the United States, researchers followed up three years later to evaluate those children’s academic and behavioral skills. “Our findings provide compelling evidence for oral vocabulary’s theorized importance as a multi-faceted contributor to children’s early development,” says lead author Paul Morgan. The full study can be found here in the journal Child Development.

Ten Language Mistakes Kids Make That Are Actually Pretty Smart


The kinds of mistakes kids make when they are learning the language show that they actually know a lot more about the rules than we might think. The mistakes are evidence of very smart hypotheses the kids are forming from the limited data they’ve been given so far. Have a look at this fun article from Mental Floss magazine about 10 really smart language mistakes that kids make.

Connections Between Literacy, Language and Speech

Father reading story to daughter and son

“We know that it is important that young children hear language, and that they need to hear it from people, not from screens…..” — Dr. Perri Klass, writing in The New York Times.

Read more about how picture books can be an important source of vocabulary for young children here, at the Psychological Science journal.

Identifying Treatment Goals for Your Child


“What does your child need?”

One of the first steps in obtaining services for your child is meeting with a Speech-Language Pathologist to develop a treatment plan. Faced with the challenge of trying to summarize their child’s needs, however, parents often answer, “I’m not sure,” or “I want him to be able to talk.” While this is valuable information, it does not create a full understanding of what your child needs in order to be successful.

Thoroughly completing a Patient History form, like the one you can download here, is a solid first step in communicating with an SLP about your child’s needs. Beforehand, you can focus your thinking by answering a few basic questions about your child in these general treatment areas:

● Communication skills
● Daily Living Skills
● Socialization or Social Skills
● Academic Readiness or Academic Skill Building
● Behaviors (Maladaptive, Oppositional and/or Adaptive)
● Behaviors (Hyperactive and/or Self-Stimulatory)

Of course, not all of these questions will apply to your child. But how you answer the questions that do apply will greatly aid your discussions with your SLP as you work towards developing specific goals:

Step 1
Basic Communication

What to ask yourself when thinking about your child’s communication needs:

● Is your child able to gesture for what he/she wants? How does your child go about getting your attention? Does he/she pull you, grab you, point or guide you to what he/she wants?

● Does your child have any language skills? If so, does he/she seem to understand the meaning of the words he/she uses?

● Does your child have conversational skills? In other words, does your child understand questions in context, respond to others, ask appropriate questions or show interest in others through conversation?

● Is your child able to describe or name objects?

Step 2
Daily Living Skills

What to ask yourself when thinking about your child’s daily living needs:

● What type of things is your child capable of performing on his/her own? Can your child dress/undress, groom and feed himself?

● Is your child toilet trained? Does your child have additional bathroom skills such as washing hands, face and keeping proper hygiene after using the toilet?

● Is your child aware of safety measures such as not touching hot items or not talking to strangers?

● Can your child tolerate grooming?

Step 3
Social Skills

What to ask yourself when thinking about your child’s socialization needs:

● How does your child react to unfamiliar people? Does your child approach strangers by touching them or staying close to them?

● Is your child able to play with another child not just side by side? Does your child share toys or attention with others?

● Can your child tolerate loud noises or busy environments? Can your child tolerate physical contact? Does your child become agitated when other children cry?

Step 4
Academic Readiness

What to ask yourself when thinking about your child’s academic needs:

● What academic skills does your child already possess? Does your child have math, reading, writing skills? If so, what is his/her level or abilities in these areas?

● Does your child have difficulty with attentiveness, ability to focus and sit still? Is your child easily distracted?

Step 5

What to ask yourself when thinking about your child’s behavioral needs:

● What type of behaviors does your child engage in; for example, is your child aggressive towards others and/or himself?

● Does your child hit, bite, kick or scratch other often?

● How does your child respond when he/she is asked to do a non-preferred task? Does your child protest, become verbally aggressive, simply ignore you or attempt to walk away?

● Does your child engage in repetitive behaviors or self-stimulatory behaviors such as hand flapping, rocking or repeating noises or words?

● Is your child constantly moving, engage in pacing, etc.?

● Does your child throw items or destroy property?

These are just some of the questions that can help you identify specific goals for your child’s treatment plan. There are more behaviors that can be included, some of which may be unique to your child. The most important thing to remember is to be as clear and concise as possible when discussing your child’s abilities, needs and behaviors. The more information you are able to provide, the better. The more your SLP understands your child’s behaviors and specific needs, the better he/she will be able to develop an individualized service plan to help your child attain and maximize his/her full potential.

Familiar Voices Help Improve Children’s Speech Processing

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Familiar voices can improve spoken language processing among school-age children, according to a study by NYU’s Steinhardt School. However, the advantage of hearing a familiar voice only helps children to process and understand words they already know well — not new words that aren’t already in their vocabularies.

Research has already demonstrated this “familiar talker advantage” among adults, describing the ability to accurately (and quickly) process what a person with a familiar voice is saying — even in a crowded room with a lot of background noise. Up to this point, however, little research had been done to see how children process familiar versus unfamiliar voices.

The study revealed that children between ages 7 – 12 could more accurately repeat words spoken by familiar voices, demonstrating that their spoken language processing improved with familiar speakers. Familiarity was not useful for words the children didn’t know.

Read more details about the study at NYU’s website, or the Journal of Child Language.


Fostering Vocabulary and Pre-Literacy Skills in Pre-Schoolers


Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, children with limited vocabulary skills face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read. Addressing this “Language Gap,” literacy experts are emphasizing the importance of natural conversations with pre-school-aged children, asking questions while reading books, and helping children identify words during playtime. Such activities boost early vocabulary skills in a natural setting, while aiding in later success with reading comprehension. Read more at the New York Times

How Parents Can Help Their Premature Child At Risk for Speech and Language Delays


Premature infants face many health risks, including an increased risk of language delay. But a recent study helps to confirm an easy and cost-effective intervention that parents of premature children can start immediately: Talking and singing to their baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Researchers at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island wanted to know: Is there a relationship between the amount of speech that a premature baby hears, and the child’s performance on standardized language tests? Not only did they find a relationship, but they found that a premature child’s language score could increase an average of two points when the number of words spoken per hour by adults increased by just 100. (To put that in perspective, adults generally speak at a rate of 125 words per minute.)
In short, premature babies absolutely benefit from exposure to adult talk as early and as often as possible. Dr. Betty Vohr, who co-authored the study, had found in an earlier study that “extremely premature infants vocalize—make sounds—eight weeks before their mother’s due date and vocalize more when their mothers are present in the NICU than when they are cared for by NICU staff.” This new study, Vohr adds, demonstrates the “powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes.” Find out more in the journal Pediatrics.