By: Sara Frederick, M.S. Ed, CCC-SLP
One of the most common questions we receive from parents is, “How can I help my child with communication goals at home?” Finding the right answer to this question often involves getting to know each family on an even more personal level. This is a key element of the coaching style of therapy, which is now the gold standard for early intervention. Maryland is in the process of transitioning all early intervention programs to this model, to encourage use of therapeutic strategies within a family’s everyday activities.
How does “coaching” work?
As clinicians, we need to first learn from parents:
- What motivates the child?
- What skills can we build upon?
- What activities and routines are particularly tricky?
We have to ask a lot of questions to find out exactly how we can best support families. We can then coach parents through these activities (i.e. dressing, mealtime, transitions, sharing books, cleaning up, etc.), by providing specific strategies to use, in order to build upon their child’s current skills and decrease frustration for all. Many of these strategies eventually become habitual for parents and generalize to other routines, allowing families to have more successful and productive interactions, overall. It’s very empowering for both parents and children!
What are some strategies?
For parents of early language learners, these strategies could be as simple as:
- providing two verbal choices, paired with presented items
- simplifying sentences when speaking to the child
- slowing down speech, adding pauses, and adding emphasis to words
- including visual cues, such as pictures, gestures, or signs when modeling language
- repeating and expanding your child’s sentence (i.e. “Dog run”, “Yes, the dog runs fast!”)
No matter the communication goals, it’s crucial for parents to incorporate strategies into everyday routines. A provider may only see a child 30-60 minutes per week, and historically, these sessions have been quite structured. While this model is beneficial for some learners, research is supporting that children may make more progress when they can practice language strategies during more organic opportunities.
Will my child progress with virtual sessions?
Virtual sessions became more popular during the pandemic, but may be a part of early intervention for years to come. Being able to connect with families within their own home proves to be so beneficial, especially when coaching is involved. For example, if a parent is struggling to know what their child wants to eat for lunch, they can schedule virtual sessions with their provider during the child’s lunchtime and practice strategies in their own kitchen and with their own food. This leads to more of a chance that they will practice with their child during other mealtimes and speed up the progress to meet communication goals!
Coaching is an important element of early intervention and the providers at HASA are excited to be incorporating this style into our therapy. We are continuously working to provide the most functional therapy for our clients, by collaborating with their families, to turn goals into skills.