The many ways that children benefit from therapy, whether the therapy is Speech-Language, Occupational, or Mental Health, are well-known and stand alone. What isn’t as well-known is how many of the skills taught by therapists in the various disciplines can be directly implemented to enhance a child’s academic success in the classroom and overall enjoyment of the school experience.
Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) work with children with a variety of delays and disorders. These span from mild articulation delays to more complex disorders such as autism, motor speech disorders, and other developmental delays. They are well equipped to impart the skills needed for the child to succeed in the classroom, according to each child’s challenge.
1. Articulation Skills/Speech Intelligibility
Articulation is defined as the ability to move the various parts of the mouth, such as the tongue, lips, jaw, and palate to produce individual speech sounds. How well a child can do this affects the child’s intelligibility of speech. If, for some reason, a child’s articulation skills are deficient, his/her intelligibility will be compromised as a result.
SLPs help children learn how to produce those speech sounds or sound patterns that are challenging, thus increasing the child’s overall speech intelligibility.
2. Expressive Language Skills
Speech is defined as the physical capacity to speak. Language, on the other hand, is the ability to communicate a message through speaking. Language can be conveyed in a variety of ways that include words, either spoken or written or through body language and facial gestures. What the child says is known as expressive language.
SLPs can help the child develop his/her expressive language by teaching new words, how to formulate phrases and sentences, and enhance communication skills that can be used in the classroom and beyond.
3. Receptive Language/Listening Skills
Whereas expressive language is the ability to communicate, receptive language is the capacity to listen and understand language. Young children usually have stronger receptive language skills (what they understand) than expressive language skills (what they can say). SLPs help children to improve their classroom experience by teaching them new vocabulary, how to use that knowledge to follow directions, answer questions, and converse with others.
School occupational therapists are dedicated to ensuring that a student can fully participate in the entire breadth of school activities. This participation ranges from behaving appropriately, concentrating on the task at hand, and paying attention in class, holding a pencil, musical instrument, or any learning material in the most natural way.
Occupational therapists have expertise in helping students perform a broad range of tasks required for participation or learning. The objective of school-based occupational therapy is to help children acquire the skills to succeed in the classroom. Occupational therapists are trained to see beyond the specific problem that results from the child’s disability. Instead, they take a holistic view of the child to find the best solution given the strengths and weaknesses of the particular student vis a vis the task at hand.
Occupational therapy is generally prescribed for children who are beset by challenges impeding their smooth functioning in the classroom that may be affecting behavior or learning. These challenges include problems with motor skills, cognitive processing, visual or perceptual problems, difficulty staying on task, being disorganized, or responding to sensory stimulation inappropriately.
One of the most common difficulties that occupational therapists tackle in school involves handwriting. This is because handwriting is one of the most fundamental skills that a child must master in school. The occupational therapist will collaborate with the teacher to evaluate the child to identify any of the underlying problems that are factors in the handwriting difficulty.
After clarifying the problem, along with its fundamental causes, the occupational therapist will devise a program for the child to acquire the skill of handwriting which will allow that child to more fully participate in the classroom experience together with the other children. Alternatively, the occupational therapist may explore ways to compensate for the difficulty in handwriting and teach the child how to use a computer.
Mental Health Therapy
Mental Health therapists work with children who are suffering from a variety of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and trauma. Aside from relieving the suffering that these various disorders cause, the therapist can teach strategies and skills for the child to implement to enhance the child’s academic success and improve their classroom experience.
1. Positive Attitude
Attitude is a choice, even for a child. For children beset by a mental health disorder, choosing a positive attitude may seem to be beyond their reach. Mental Health Therapists through various modalities can teach children how to become more positive in general, and at school in particular. It could be as simple as helping the child learn to refrain from negative talk, to something more demanding such as learning to use imagery to lift the mood.
2. Understanding the texture of feelings
In this era of quickly advancing technology, many children are unaccustomed to making eye contact, reading facial cues, or comprehending complex emotions. Research has shown that children with depression are even more handicapped in these areas. Often, depressed children need help understanding the various textures of different emotions, such as the difference between being lonely and sad. Understanding these subtleties can have a substantial impact on how they interact with others and, consequently, their classroom and educational success.
3. Shifting Attention
Studies have shown that cultivating the ability to shift attention away from negative to positive thoughts can relieve anxiety and depression. Most people believe that relieving emotional pain requires healing old wounds, but sometimes the reality can be quite different.
Emotions, even those that are painful, are felt only in the present moment. Research has shown that what a person feels in the present moment is determined by the focus of that person’s attention. When a child learns to become aware of what he/she is paying attention to, and how to shift attention to something more pleasant, that child has acquired a powerful tool in improving emotional well-being.
Children who are taught by their therapist how to master this skill can transform unpleasant moments in the classroom into more pleasant ones. In addition to enhancing the mood, the child will be able to focus better in the classroom, become more academically successful, and an all-around happier child.