This is the first article in a five-part series exploring the importance of parental involvement in meeting your child’s speech and language therapy goals.
One of the most powerful tools your child has to improve their speech and language problems is also the most accessible: you.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of parental involvement in their child’s therapy. Numerous research studies have shown that when parents play an essential role in their child’s intervention - as opposed to being passive observer - children make considerably more progress towards their speech and language therapy goals.
This can be easier said than done, of course. When a child is diagnosed with a speech or language problem, parents enter a new and unfamiliar world. From evaluations to treatment plans to therapy exercises, it can at times feel intimidating and overwhelming. It may be tempting, for example, to rely on a speech-language pathologist (SLPs) to “fix” the problem. And while SLPs will use specific techniques and strategies to improve your child’s communication, there’s no substitute for the unique role parents play in their ability to reinforce best practices at home. If SLPs bring expertise on clinical diagnoses and treatments to the table, then families bring expertise on the child.
At the end of the day, it’s really no different than learning to play guitar. Weekly lessons with a hands-on instructor will definitely help you learn scales, strumming techniques, and power chords. But if you don’t practice at home outside of lessons with your instructor, it’ll no doubt take you a lot longer to master a grand rendition of Stairway to Heaven.
Speech Therapy Roles are Shifting
When children receive speech therapy in a school or clinic-based setting, sessions are often exclusively between the SLP and the child. The SLP will do their best to update the parent in the lobby of the clinic or during an annual annual IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting, but this format isn’t conducive for the in-depth coaching and skill building it takes to get parents truly involved in their child’s speech and language goals. Sometimes the parent would sit and watch the therapy, either in the room or behind a 2-way mirror.
Over the last several years, parents have been recognized as “key players” in their child’s intervention. There are several reasons for this:
- You Know Your Child Best
Speech-language pathologists do their best to get to know your child: their preferred learning styles; how they perceive problems; their struggles. However, a SLP can never replace a parent's intuitive connection with their child. You know your child's personality and temperament best - as well as when a temper tantrum is looming! By working closely with a SLP, you can develop a treatment plan perfectly tailored to your little one.
- Learning Happens All Day, Everyday
Speech-language pathologists only have limited time with your child every week. Whether a child is learning to pronounce a letter or sound, improve their voice characteristics, or comprehend simple sentences, teaching must be practiced and reinforced routinely. Parents have the advantage of spending ample time with their children. And considering children learn to communicate during everyday activities and conversions, no one is better positioned to do that than you. Speech therapy doesn’t require a desk and a chair; you can use bath-time, play-time, and even trips to the store to make progress on your child’s speech and language goals.
- Conversations With Those Who Matter
The ultimate goal of speech therapy is to help children improve language skills so they can communicate fluently with those that matter most in their lives. And who is that? Their parents and family. When children see a therapist, they gain valuable knowledge, but when they speak with you on a daily basis, they’re able to put that new knowledge into practice.
- Comforting Environment
Many people get uncomfortable when walking into a doctor or therapist office. There’s just a strange clinical feeling that can make children feel uneasy about their surroundings. Working with your child at home, in an environment that’s familiar, is a stress-free way to test the new skills they’ve learned at therapy. It’s also a reason why more and more families are turning to online speech therapy.
What Does the Research Say?
A study conducted by two researchers from Vanderbilt University evaluated the effectiveness of “parent-implemented intervention” among groups of parents trained to promote their child’s communication. Here were some key results and takeaways from the study:
- Parents were successfully able to understand and learn the strategies taught by the speech therapists, and apply them when interacting with their child
- Parents had a positive effect on their child’s communication development. As a result children showed improvement in their verbal and nonverbal communication skills, including understanding, vocabulary, grammar, and the frequency with which they communicated
- Parents were just as effective at helping their child as speech therapists were. In fact, when it came to understanding language and grammar, parents were actually more effective than their therapists
- Children with a variety of language difficulties, including Language Impairment, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Developmental Delay, also made substantial progress when their parents were involved
As this and other studies show, empowering parents to work directly with their children can significantly improve their child’s speech-language skills. While parental involvement is not designed to replace ongoing speech therapy with a professional, experienced, and licensed speech therapist, it should be used to supplement progress and jumpstart their communication goals.
How Can You Get More Involved?
Over the course of this five-part series, we’ll be exploring strategies and exercises parents can use with their children, best practices for therapist/parent instruction, and different therapy settings most conducive to parent learning and observation. Check back soon!
How can Expressable help?
Speech therapy with Expressable is just like traditional therapy, but sessions are administered online with modern video conferencing software that our clients can access from the convenience of their home. Expressable can offer incredible therapy at a fraction of the price because our therapists focus on serving families instead of dealing with long commutes, administrative tasks, and the burden of insurance overhead.
Find out if Expressable is right for you. Schedule a free consultation with one of our licensed therapists.
The effectiveness of parent-implemented language interventions: a meta-analysis