Collaboration is the Secret Sauce
As a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who delivers either face-to-face or online speech therapy, you teach each student valuable skills and provide time for supervised practice. But generally, you might have only an hour per week with each child. Contrast that with parents who have the opportunity to engage their children in relevant activities throughout the day.
Studies have shown that online speech therapy’s chances of being more successful and productive rise when a team is involved, including the parents. To enhance the impact of your therapy, it’s essential to include the parents as partners in the intervention. Here are ten tips on how to work with parents for maximum benefits.
1. Gain the Trust of Both Children and Parents
It is critical to do what it takes to earn the child’s trust through patience, empathy, and honest communication. The better rapport you develop with the child, and the more he/she trusts you, the greater the likelihood that the parents will as well. This trusting relationship with both the parents and child becomes an indispensable platform to keep working toward your mutual goals.
2. Express your Empathy
Often, when a child has speech problems, parents are worried about the child’s future. They may express this anxiety in ways that are detrimental to the process. Put yourself in their shoes so that you will be patient and understanding. Demonstrating your empathy by listening to and validating their concerns will strengthen your relationship and probably enhance the outcomes of online speech therapy.
3. Build Their Self-Confidence
Parents may feel anxious about their role in their child’s remote speech therapy, as they don’t know what is expected of them nor how to provide it. Remind the parents that they are vital in the process, and clarify to them as things move along, precisely how they can help. Let them know that much of what they will be doing to help won’t be difficult to learn.
4. Give Parents a Voice in Setting Goals
It is vital to encourage parents to make their child’s therapy a top priority in their lives. Make them aware that you will be soliciting their input and setting realistic goals together with them. Be sure to check in with parents weekly to update them on progress, and include them in recalibrating the goals for the week ahead.
5. Teach Parents Helpful Techniques
It is beneficial for everyone that a parent participates in the last part of each session. This provides an opportunity for the parent to witness firsthand how online speech therapy looks and sounds. If techniques are more complex, or you are working with the child in a school setting, create a short video with your phone and send it to the parents (with parental permission to record their child as needed).
6. Develop a Communication Notebook Together
Therapists and parents need to share information about the child’s progress and any concerns. Parents should share information with the therapist about upcoming essential events in the child’s life or any life changes.
For example, if the family just had a new baby, aside from conveying the information, it would be helpful to share the baby’s name as this might be a good speech therapy target. A communication notebook is perhaps the quickest and easiest way to share this information. Both therapists and parents can write in this notebook whenever necessary, and the child can share it with each of them.
7. Homework Needs to be Fun and Functional
Try to get creative when assigning homework by finding activities and exercises that involve the family’s daily routine, including meals, playtime, car rides, bath time, and bedtime. A child will be more motivated to become engaged in activities that are familiar and meaningful, and those that occur in the child’s comfortable surroundings.
8. If Necessary, Begin Small
Don’t assume, if the parents seem to be lax in practicing with their child, that they don’t take you seriously, aren’t devoted to their child, or aren’t interested. It may be because they feel overwhelmed. If so, try scaling back on the homework to just one small and easy exercise. Then you can slowly add exercises when you see more consistent involvement.
9. Remain Transparent and Manage Expectations
When communicating with the parents, always begin by reinforcing what is going well. You don’t need to sacrifice being positive and encouraging when being fully transparent about the child’s progress. Be careful to refrain from giving the parents false optimism, as this will surely catch up with you down the road. If the child isn’t meeting the goals you have set, consider reevaluating the diagnosis, or making adjustments to the service delivery model.
10. Share Changes and Celebrate Achievements!
Whatever the new development, be it progress or setback in the child’s virtual speech therapy, discuss it with the parents—and encourage them to reciprocate. And remember that you don’t have to wait until you see tangible progress to celebrate—acknowledging that the child is trying his/her best can be a compelling reward in and of itself.