Parents and caregivers have always had a critical role in promoting their child’s speech and language skills at home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the caregiver’s role has drastically changed and has become increasingly more hands-on. Children are spending more time at home and may be involved in virtual school as well as virtual speech and language therapy.
If the caregiver and therapist plan ahead and continue to communicate, teletherapy may be very beneficial to the child.
How can I help my child get the most out of teletherapy?
Being prepared prior to your first session is key to maximizing the teletherapy experience. An email or phone conversation between you and your speech-language pathologist (SLP) will provide an opportunity to ask questions and make sure you are prepared for your first session.
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What platform will I use? Instructions for logging onto the platform will be provided to you before the first session. Some platforms have the capability to share your screen and others do not. Your SLP will tell you if this is an option and explain how to use screen sharing if it is available.
- What device will I need? Some platforms work better on specific devices, but overall, you should be able to use an iPad, cell phone, desktop or laptop computer. Ask your SLP which device works best with their platform. You may need to make other platform arrangements according to the devices you have available.
- Do I need anything specific for the session? Ask your SLP if any specific toys or materials are needed. Don’t worry if you are not given a list of toys or materials prior to your session. Your SLP is working hard behind the scenes and will have everything they need to work with your child.
- Where should my child be for the session? If your child can sit and attend to the session, it is best to find a quiet place with minimal distractions. A well-lit room with a place away from any windows is best. It may be difficult for your SLP to see your child in a dark room or with sunlight glare from the window.
If your child does better “on the move,” you may choose to have your sessions in their bedroom or playroom and incorporate their favorite toys and games into the session. Using a phone might be easier for you in this case, as you will probably be following your child around! Consider being in a room with a door so you are not chasing your child throughout the entire house. Your SLP will guide the session and may ask for your assistance at times.
- Do I need to stay in the room during the session? Yes, your child may need guidance to participate in the virtual activity and to troubleshoot any technical issues. You will also be given strategies to try with your child during the session, which you can use throughout the week to practice for continued learning of targeted skills.
- What do I do if something goes wrong during a session? Have a back-up plan with your SLP for things such as issues with the internet, connectivity or the platform. Have your SLP’s contact information available so you can call or email each other with possible solutions. There also may be circumstances when your child just isn’t in the mood or all the siblings are home one day making it much more difficult. Be honest with your SLP about any issues you are having. They will work with you to determine what is best for you and your family at that particular time.
The pandemic has put more responsibility on parents/caregivers to foster and support their child’s therapeutic needs. The good news is that with the right support and guidance, caregivers can easily incorporate speech and language activities throughout their child’s typical day.
How can I work on my child’s speech and language skills after the teletherapy session is over?
For young children:
- Sing songs like Old MacDonald or Wheels on the Bus and pause throughout the song, giving your child an opportunity to fill in the blank.
- Be repetitive: When playing with blocks always say, “up,” “down,” “crash.” When playing with bubbles always say, “pop,” “up in the sky,” etc. Your child will learn these words go with the activity and may start saying them for you.
- Read books! You may need to start by talking about one picture on each page and build from there. Reading books about animals makes it easy to practice animal names and sounds.
For school-age children:
- Play games such as Guess Who, Headbanz and Simon Says. These games are great for working on language skills, such as asking and answering questions, describing, listing categories and following directions.
- You can also work on your child’s speech sounds by reading books and finding the words or pictures with the target sound. Or you can have a scavenger hunt around the house to find objects with the target sound.
- Doing the laundry or cooking can be wonderful activities to practice your child’s speech goals. During these activities you can work on vocabulary (naming everything), concepts (big shirts, little spoon of sugar, colors, etc.) and conversational speech (encourage talk about your child’s favorite shirt, its color and where they got it, or talk about their favorite foods and how they taste).
Your child’s speech-language pathologist can give you more suggestions based on your child’s specific needs. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Finally … be kind to yourself:
Keep in mind, we have been living in a virtual world during this pandemic and have had to adjust and learn new things quickly. All our roles and responsibilities have been pushed to the limit.
Your SLP understands what you are going through because they are most likely experiencing similar situations. Communicate with them, let them know what you need and what is realistic for you and your family. We all want what is best for your child, and together we will work to ensure the time spent together is positive and beneficial for your child.
Christine L. Sullivan, M.S., CCC-SLP