Experienced speech-language pathologists are well aware of the critical role that parents play in the success of their children’s speech therapy. Successful treatment invariably relies heavily on practicing in the home and continuous parental involvement. While miracles may occur during the clinical sessions, those sessions are often no more than a couple of hours a week.
Perhaps a jar of jelly beans may be a good metaphor. Fill the jar with 168 jelly beans (everybody likes candy). Now pretend that each jelly bean is an hour of the week and remove two. You still have plenty of jelly beans remaining in the jar. All of those remaining jelly beans correspond to the time the parent has the child. In fact, those couple of jelly beans may not even be missed!
But getting the kid’s parents involved may not be so simple given most parent’s busy schedules. So what is an SLP to do? Perhaps more to the point, what type of interventions can be designed and integrated into those already hectic schedules that can provide the children speech therapy follow-up they so desperately need to be successful?
1. Get the parents involved in the speech therapy session
It is understandable that a tired parent would prefer to sit in a comfortable chair in the waiting room than squeezing into one of the tiny chairs in the place where you are conducting the speech therapy session. But try to persuade the kid’s mother to come in and join you anyway. Joining you means sitting at the table together with you and her child and being engaged.
Make the mother part of the activity or game. Talk about what you chose and explain why you chose it. This introduction together with her taking an active part will allow the her to experience the therapy firsthand as it enhances the rapport and opens a critical line of communication.
2. Begin the session by asking the parent, “Noticed anything new this week?”
When the SLP asks the parent such an open-ended question, the parent is prompted to respond by describing specific issues or situations related to the child’s communication. It is critical for anyone who provides speech therapy to conduct this periodic “check-up.” This check-up provides invaluable insight as to what is working so far and helps to plan future goals.
3. Have the parent provide a list of books, toys, and activities the child enjoys
Often the quickest way to assimilating successes in a speech therapy session into the child’s everyday life is to integrate those gains into what is already familiar to the child. Even if you can’t duplicate the activity exactly, the awareness of what the child enjoys will offer an important head start. The last thing you want is for life in the home to be too disparate from the session.
4. Turn speech therapy into a “family affair”
Why not take advantage of such an invaluable resource as older siblings? It is only natural that older brothers and sisters will motivate their younger siblings. Be encouraging to parents to enlist their older kids to assume the role of “speech therapy assistant” in the home. In this way you can turn speech homework into fun play time that the entire family can enjoy.