One of the more common goals that parents express during my evaluation of children with special needs is the acquisition of speech. It is always a struggle to try and explain the line between my profession, as an occupational therapist and that of another therapeutic service, speech and language pathology. I try to explain that my focus is more on improving the child’s ability to communicate in order for them to successfully engage in occupations.
Case-Smith (2006) explains that communication is a more general term which includes verbal expression, written expression, and physical cues such as gesture and facial expressions that have social meaning. It enables social interaction essential for human life and participation in the area of daily living. Speech on the other hand is verbal expression, considered as a primary means of social interaction.
One of the interventions occupational therapists employ in improving the communication of children with special needs are Language Facilitation Techniques (LFTs). In using LFTs, an important reminder to ask ourselves is: “What can/cannot the child do?”and “What can I do to facilitate the child’s language?”
The following are several LFTs and examples that I typically use in my practice.
1. Infotalk. Used for children who have not started speaking yet. When using infotalk, talk to the child about things happening and activities he does at the moment. Use nouns and verbs. It’s like constantly reporting or providing information on what is going on around in the environment or what the child is doing. This way, the child is stimulated and is oriented that things in his environment and his actions have names attached to them.
Example: (While the child is playing). “Mateo is playing with the ball. A big blue ball. You like playing with ball, Mateo? Try bouncing the ball. The ball is bouncing! Mateo is bouncing the ball.
2. Echotalk. When children start acquiring physical communication or gestures, but have still yet to develop verbal communication, you can echotalk. You become the spoken “echo” of the child’s gestures. This technique pairs actions to the corresponding words. And trains the child of what is the right word/s to the right objects or actions.
Example: (The child is asking for a treat by “pals-up” gesture) “Erika wants a cookie. Give cookie, mommy. Here’s the cookie Erika wants.” (And right before you give the cookie) “Give cookie.”
3. Obstacles. Some children who have acquired the ability to talk sometimes find it unmotivated to speak. It is a challenge for us to facilitate them to practice the skills that they have learned. When the child wants something (an objects or action to be done), wait for him to say it or model it to the child. You may use facial expressions indicating you want him to talk. Provide situations wherein your child will be required to talk. Be “playfully obstructive” by seemingly acting as if you did not understand his request. This way, he learns that for him to get what he wants, he has to verbally ask for it.
Example: (The child is pointing to her doll on the toy cabinet) “So you want the truck? Jenny wants the truck? Here you go. Not the truck? What do you want? Give what?)
4. Filling In. Another great approach in stimulating children to speak is to use songs. You might want to ask the teachers of therapists of the child on the common songs they sing with the child. Aside from improving social interaction between you and the child, this activity can improve their speech as well. You try to sing with or to the child the song as leaving a word or a phrase for the child to complete. Just make sure that the child is familiar to the song.
Example: (Singing with the child “Where is ____”) “Nico let’s look for Mommy! Where is _______ (pointing to yourself)? Yes here’s Mommy! Where is ________ (pointing to yourself)? Here she is! Here _____ is! How are you this ________ (morning/afternoon/evening). How are you this ________. Clap your _______ (hands). Clap your ______.”
5. Expansion. Sometimes called Expansion talk, I find this technique useful for children developing wider vocabulary of utterances. When the child says a word, repeat his utterance and add words. Aside from stimulating language, this is also a nice avenue to introduce concepts of color, shape, size, etc. Do be discrete in introducing concepts. Introduce them one by one, and avoid bombarding the child with too much information.
Example: (The child is asking “Give crayon”) “Ace wants crayon? You want crayon, the RED crayon? What do you want? (Wait for the child to verbalize, and look out if the child adds RED to his request. If not, correct the child and say) “RED crayon? You want RED crayon? (if the child was successful in expanding his verbal request, you can try adding another element, say for example BIG) “What’s that? It’s a BIG red crayon! What’s that Ace? A BIG red crayon!”
If you have any questions, clarifications or comments with the article above, please feel free leave a message. Happy teaching!