Every May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. This year is focused on children’s use of tablets. Kids today are using devices for hours every day—time that once was reserved for talking and reading, interactive and imaginative play, outdoor experiences, and other activities. Yet, the primary way young children develop their speech and language abilities is through verbal exchange—talking and reading with parents. This is a precursor for their own reading abilities and overall academic success.
Children also learn from hands-on experiences. Educational apps can play a part, but they are in no way a replacement for what is learned through person-to-person communication. As we head into the summer months, when children no doubt will have more time to use devices, consider carving out some device-free time each day. You may be surprised by how little they (and you) miss it!
Another pressing issue related to technology use is hearing damage. Unfortunately, there has been a significant spike in hearing loss in young people in recent years. This coincides with the rise in popularity of mp3 players, tablets, and other devices. Even mild hearing loss can lead to reduced academic achievement (particularly in reading and math), poor self-concept, and feelings of social isolation, among other consequences—so, encourage your kids to keep the volume on their devices to half level and to take listening breaks. Hearing loss due to unsafe listening habits can be prevented, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Teach (and model yourself) these good habits early.
Getting involved in your local community is a wonderful way for your child to gain social skills and begin learning early school skills, such as sitting in groups and following adult –led activities. For both of these, I recommend attending story time at your local library.
The Anythink Library has Toddler Tales, for children aged 2-3; Baby Bounce, for ages birth to 23 months; Story Time, for ages 2-6; and many more. You can visit Anythink’s Event Calendar to see their full calendar of events.
In Boulder, you can attend Lap Babies, for ages birth – 15 months and All Ages Story Time. You can visit Boulder’s Event Calendar to get exact dates.
For families of children with Autism, it’s important to have all the support and information to help you advocate for your child. The Autism Society of Colorado has an excellent website with both national and local resources for you to access, such as support groups, help with financing, and TSA information for children with disabilities. They also have updates on events in the area. I suggest utilizing this website as a guide while you raise your child with Autism.
Many children struggle to sit during mealtime. To help with this, I suggest setting a mealtime routine so children know when it’s time to eat. For example, you can have your child help set the table as much as they can. This could be them simple taking a few utensils to the table or just some napkins. You could also play some music that indicates it’s time to sit or turn on a light near the table; this way your child has a visual cue that dinner is ready. When sitting at the table, if your child has the ability to serve themselves allow them to. This give them some control over their food and their choices. When they’re done eating, make sure they clear their plate from the table and take it to the sink. If everyone else is still sitting at the table, however, it is important that they come back and sit because mealtime is family time. Your child might need a few toys to help them stay focused, but it’s important they learn to stay at the table until everyone is done. This will take practice, but is very rewarding!
Recent research has found that, during play with electronic toys, parents and children spoke and vocalized less during play with electronic toys. Parents also engaged in fewer conversational turns, which means they did not model a great deal of language for their children. When reading books and playing with traditional toys, however, parents used significantly more language related to the activity. This demonstrates the importance of reading books, playing with traditional toys, and reducing play with electronic toys so you can focus on language development.
The Zero to Three website is a wonderful resource for families. It has information about playing with children, social-emotional development, sleep behaviors, and help with challenging behaviors. You can sign up for a newsletter and podcasts to stay updated on current research and ways to help your child. There’s even information for grandparents!
Colorado offers early intervention services for children aged birth to three in their homes. The website www.eicolorado.org has a great deal of information for parents regarding how the early intervention system works, such as the process of IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) development and transition to preschool. There are also documents from the states regarding regulations and processes of the early intervention system. As a parent, it’s important to education yourself regarding your child’s care!
In my early intervention practice, my speech therapy clients love Halloween and all the fun that comes along with it. There are ways to encourage speech and communication skills while trick or treating. You can work on social skills such as saying “hi,” “please,” “thank you,” and “bye.” You can also model verbs such as “run,” “go,” “walk,” and “knock knock.” If you’ve been working on eye contact, encourage your child to look at the person giving them candy when they say “trick or treat.” If you’ve been working on expanding your child’s sentence length, model this by describing what you see with short sentences such as “white ghost,” “big monster,” and “hi puppy.” My example is for a child who needs to begin using two word utterances, but you could model three or four word utterances as well. The most important things to do on Halloween, while you’re working on speech and language, are to have fun and be safe!
The Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind and the Rocky Mountain Deaf School put on the Early Years Toddler Program and Community Events. At these events, teachers from the schools will read and sign stories, everyone will sing songs, and your family can do arts crafts. This is a great opportunity for your family to meet other families going through a similar experience, meet possible future providers or teachers, and learn about resources in the community. They have special events throughout the year, such as going to a pumpkin patch in October!
Teachers, early interventionists, and speech language pathologists often use social stories with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They are small stories, typically with pictures, that describe interactions, behaviors, and routines in order to help children with ASD prepare for activities and practice behaviors.
Many parents struggle when told their child has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism Speaks is an organization focusing on advocacy and supporting research. Their 100 Day Kit is a resource for families to utilize for the first 100 days after an ASD diagnosis. It contains information on the meaning of the diagnosis, planning intervention, gathering information, and advocating for their child. I suggest that all parents whose children have ASD utilize this kit to help them navigate the changes that occur once their child receives a diagnosis of ASD.
Hearing Like Me is a community for people with hearing loss, who work with hearing loss, or related to someone with hearing loss to communicate, receive support, and gain new information. This hearing loss simulator allows parents to experience how processing speech and environmental sounds may be impacted by varying degrees of hearing loss. This helps parents understand why their child’s speech, language, and articulation may be delayed.
A recent release from the American Speech and Hearing Association shared the following information.
The average child age 8 and under in the United States uses more than three personal tech devices—such as a tablet, smartphone, or video game console—at home, according to a new poll of parents conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). With even the youngest kids now “connected” via such technology, it is important to remember to manage tech time so it doesn’t overtake time for talking with children.
Talking to children in their first years of life sets them up for future academic success. The easiest and most effective way that children learn is simply by talking. Studies have proven the link between the number and variety of words a child hears and later academic achievement.
May is Better Hearing & Speech Month—a time to prioritize communication. Here are 10 tips for parents on how to manage kids’ technology use to keep communication at the forefront.
- Create tech-free times. Find at least one or two opportunities during the day—at the dinner table, for example—for everyone to disconnect. Mealtime is a prime opportunity for conversation. Make a commitment and have everyone check their devices at the kitchen door.
- Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Fifty-five percent of parents worry that they rely on technology too much to keep their child entertained, according to the ASHA poll. Roughly half of parents say that they are using technology as a means to keep kids age 0–3 entertained. Remember that the best opportunities for conversation and learning are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip—particularly for the youngest children. While it may be tempting, try to resist the urge to immediately turn to these devices as a source of entertainment.
- Don’t overestimate the value of educational apps. Children learn best simply through talking, conversing, and reading. Technology is not the best way to teach, though it can reinforce and allow practice of skills under development.
- Make tech use a group activity. While it is most often used on an individual basis, tech use can be turned into a group activity, such as while playing an online game. Talk about what you’re doing!
- Consider whether young kids really need their own devices. It is not uncommon for kids to have their own tablets or mp3 players. Many are designed and marketed specifically for kids. This may lead to more time spent alone with technology throughout the day. On the other hand, devices designed for kids often offer additional features that appeal to parents, such as limited (kid-appropriate) content and extra security options, so this is a balance for parents to consider.
- Set daily time limits. Certain devices can be programmed by parents to shut off after a certain amount of time, but you can also make a child aware of the time limit and keep track yourself.
- Be consistent in enforcing the parameters you set for tech use. ASHA’s poll found a majority of parents report setting limitations on their children’s tech use. However, the reality of their children’s tech use often doesn’t line up with the set restrictions, by parents’ own accounts. Moreover, adherence often seems to break down at ages 7 or 8 despite the rules parents say they set.
- Always practice safe listening, especially when using ear buds or headphones. Misuse of this technology can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Even minor hearing loss takes a significant toll academically, socially, vocationally, and in other ways, so prevent the preventable. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and take listening breaks.
- Model the tech habits you want your kids to adopt. Practice what you preach when it comes to tech time and safe-listening habits.
- Learn the signs of communication disorders. This is important for all parents, regardless of their children’s technology use. Early treatment can prevent or reverse many communication disorders. Parents should not wait to see if a child “outgrows” a suspected speech or hearing problem. If you have any question about your child’s speech or hearing, seek an assessment from a speech-language pathologist or audiologist. Learn more at http://IdentifytheSigns.org.
An Easter egg hunt is a great way to work on receptive skills. You can hide a variety of colored plastic eggs and tell your child which color to pick out. This helps them learn their colors. You can also give directions with prepositions, such as “Get the egg that’s on the couch” or “Find the egg that’s under the chair.” If your child is working on a certain sound in speech, you can hide pictures or words in each egg and have them say the word they find and earn a small piece of candy. Acting like the Easter bunny is a great opportunity to practice pretend play as well as action words. Since Easter is typically a time when families and friends get together to celebrate, you can model words and appropriate language. Enjoy your holiday!
The History Colorado Center is a great place to learn about Colorado for children in kindergarten and up. They have Free Low-Sensory Mornings this year on March 21st, July 18th, and October 17th from 8 – 10 am. Attendance will be limited, exhibit sounds will be lowered, and the general public will not be allowed admission. For children with sensory issues, this is a wonderful opportunity to experience a Colorado museum. Please contact Shannon Voirel at (303)866-4691 to RVSP.
In my early intervention practice, many of my clients struggle with eye contact. There are many ways to help children improve this skill. The most important step is to be on the same level as your child so that they can be comfortable and feel less pressure. I will hold up preferred toys or items to my eyes to get the child to look at my eyes. Wearing play glasses can also help as it draws the child’s attention to my eyes. When a child wants something, he or she must look me in the eyes before getting it. Even if the eye contact lasts for less than a second the child receives what they want so that they learn that eye contact is important.
The Hanen Program offers programs for parents and professionals to play and communicate better with their children. Programs focus on children with language delays, children with Autism, or children with Asperger Syndrome. Speech-Language Pathologists are trained by the The Hanen Program and then work with families to teach them new skills and methods to work with their children. Their website has a great deal of information and can serve as a great resource. If you are already receiving Early Intervention services and feel The Hanen Program could be appropriate for your family, tell your service provider and he or she can help you find a provider.
This time of year, many of my families use the Elf on the Shelf to help with behavior and as part of their general Christmas celebration. You can use the elf as a way to encourage speech and practice pretend play. You can have your child make food for the elf, make it a little house, or even have your child put the elf to bed each night. Have your child tell the elf what he or she did during the day to practice recall as well as new words and sentence structure. If you’re one of the creative parents who put the elf in all sorts of silly situations, ask your child to describe what they see! Have fun with it and enjoy your holiday.
Hands and Voices is a great organization in Colorado for children with hearing loss and their families. They offer information regarding preschool transition, state laws regarding special education, and activities in the area. This is a great website to utilize and signing up to receive further information will connect you with resources specific to your area.