Empowering Early Intervention Practices During Better Hearing and Speech Month
Written by Caitlin Stacy & Rana Barghouty
The month of May has arrived, the month in which we are called to raise awareness of the field of speech and hearing. This May is going to be a little different! We have been isolated in our homes, we have rapidly adjusted to alternative service delivery models, and we have been more creative and specific than ever. Although at first it seemed daunting, now it feels like we have discovered synergy in the early intervention world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has directly affected the delivery of early intervention services around the nation. With enforced stay-at-home protocols and social distancing, most agencies have quickly switched their treatment delivery from in-person sessions to virtual sessions through teletherapy.
Initially, we were all a little bit hesitant about switching to this model. Families were asking questions like, “How will I get my baby/toddler to pay attention to the screen?” and “Will this be effective without my therapist present?” Well, as early interventionists, we are pleased to say that we are still doing everything we would do in an in-person early intervention session. Even new families, potentially with a child who is only 3 months old, benefit from this type of service. They are learning about foundational skills such as joint attention, turn-taking, and eye contact. We are educating families about child development, helping families understand their child’s hearing loss, and how their child may be impacted by it. Although we miss seeing our families and teletherapy comes with its own set of challenges, this new normal has resulted in pleasantly surprising outcomes.
The first improvement we have noticed is advancement in parent coaching. Parents are taking the lead with therapists as their guide. This is the way listening and spoken language therapy is intended to be, but teletherapy emphasizes the strength of this model. Therapists have to be more direct and specific with their instruction, and parents are being trained to become the therapist! Parents are taking ownership of the topics and techniques, which is both empowering and inspiring. Parents are the child’s first and best advocate, and the necessity of their participation via teletherapy is creating amazing outcomes that will last a lifetime.
We have also noticed an increased confidence in parents. Families are reporting that their children are still making progress during this time. Since families are spending more time together, opportunities for conversation are more frequent. Parents are reporting instances of incidental learning, which is when their child just seems to pick up on something during their daily routines. Siblings are home from school, which has been very interesting and valuable. Using siblings in sessions is a great motivator for the kids we work with. The therapist can also help coach siblings, which will improve their relationship with their brother or sister. Older siblings are our “big helpers” and they are assisting with carry-over of activities and strategies modeled during therapy.
So, what are some objectives to focus on each day during the month of May? Here are some ideas to share with parents to help you out!
- Music is so beneficial for children with hearing loss for a variety of reasons. It exposes children to pitch, melody, rhythm, and rhyme, which is useful for discriminating between similar sounding words. Nursery rhymes are repetitive and fun, and an easy way to get a child’s attention. Choose a new song for a family to master this month, like Old McDonald, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, Patty Cake etc. Research shows that the more nursery rhymes a child knows by kindergarten, the higher their language levels are later on.
- Children learn best when parents are at their eye and ear level. Tell parents to get on the floor more often this month, or sit with the child at the table and play. Narration is a great strategy to guide play; ask parents to talk about what they are doing and what their child is doing. Create opportunities during play to encourage the child to use words and sentences. Respond to the child’s vocal attempts, and keep the conversation going (even if the parent have no idea what they are saying!), because turn taking is the foundation of conversation.
- If the family does not already have a book reading routine, suggest they start one this month! Ask them to choose a time during their daily routine to implement reading and make this a habit. They could read books after breakfast, after rest time, or before bed time (put amplification on after bath!). Add more language by reading beyond the words of the book, practice labeling and pointing to pictures, and relate it back to personal experiences.
- Tune in more to the child’s articulation during Better Speech and Hearing Month. During in person sessions, therapists are constantly assessing the accuracy of a child’s productions, to get insight on how they are perceiving these sounds. This can be a challenge for parents because they are used to how their child talks, and may not be actively listening for production errors. With a teletherapy model, it is more difficult for the therapist to hear the exact production over the computer. We have to ask parents, “did you hear an /f/ sound when he said “Clifford?” Parents now need to relay this information; really listen closely to the way the child is producing sounds!
We are so happy to see families bonding. Families are spending more time cooking, playing outside, taking nature walks, reading books, and doing family chores and projects. During Better Hearing and Speech Month, take a moment to consciously think about how you can raise awareness of this field during your routines. Although this May is going to be different, we hope that you feel as empowered as ever. Advocate with passion, embrace the technology, and embody Better Hearing and Speech Month!
Caitlin Stacy, M.S., CCC-SLP, and Rana Barghouty, M.A., CCC-SLP, are early intervention providers at the St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf.