As schools continue in hybrid and remote models, parents and caregivers of students with special needs have often been serving in a primary support role to help deliver their child’s services. While there are some initial and ongoing challenges for families to navigate, there are often a range of particularly compelling benefits, many of which could be here to stay. At times the shift has opened up a stronger and more collaborative relationship among the parent, child, and therapist.
But, as parents and caregivers take on these expanded roles, they have also had a range of questions and their own learning curves. In fact, “tips for parents supporting speech therapy at home” was listed as one of Google’s leading search terms during the fall months. Responding to this growing need, Kristin Martinez, clinical director of SLP & OT, developed the following article with tips for parents and caregivers supporting children of all age groups. This is the first piece in a new PresenceLearning series about at-home support for a range of student IEPs. Read on to learn more and stay connected.
Teletherapy at home can be a really effective and positive experience for students and families—and is well-suited to help a growing number of schools and states open up access to services for more students and truly meet each one where they are. During the pandemic in particular, we’ve witnessed firsthand how parents and caregivers have risen to many occasions whenever they can and as best they can to support continuity in services for their children with special needs.
Some of the advantages we’ve seen during speech therapy at home include the parent or caregiver seeing strategies firsthand and gaining deeper knowledge into the child’s therapy exercises and goals, which can enhance how they support their child throughout the week. For example, for students using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, parents can sometimes feel unsure of how best to leverage these low- or high-tech devices in the home setting to support their child’s communication. When teletherapy services are being provided in the home setting with the parent or caregiver as support person, however, the SLP has the opportunity to observe how the child and parent use the AAC device, and then provide modeling and coaching to ensure the parent is empowered to leverage the AAC system for maximum communicative impact.
As parents gain greater visibility into the effectiveness of their expanded support role at home, it’s no surprise that parents are searching online for a range of resources and tips on supporting speech and language at home (starting with speech therapy for toddlers at home and all the age groups from there) and speech therapy exercises at home, among numerous other resources. I hope the below “tips” (organized by age group) are helpful in your journey. I look forward to providing more resources in the coming months.
Speech Therapy for Toddlers: Early Childhood through Preschool
The youngest group of students we see for speech therapy are commonly toddlers (typically ages 3 or 4). The impact that parents of young children have by implementing their SLP’s recommended strategies cannot be overstated. Therapists might work directly with early intervention or preschool age children once or twice a week, but parents interact with their children daily, and can significantly influence their child’s ability to generalize skills. With standard in-person therapy, the parent may not be present for much or any of the therapy session, and sometimes it can be challenging for the SLP to share and model strategies. A teletherapy model, by contrast, that requires the parent to be involved generally throughout each speech-language therapy sessions supports parent engagement and education, once again empowering the parent to better support his/her child’s communicative development throughout the week. This age group is often not working on a screen by themselves for long stretches of time, so the parent or guardian is crucial for ensuring that the therapist can guide the discussion and that the model is working smoothly. Consider the following tips:
- Be as present as you can be. Sit next to the screen and be there to help coach and learn alongside your child during the session. Step in as relevant to ask questions of your child’s speech-language pathologist (SLP).
- Let the SLP observe you naturally with your child. The SLP can learn more about your child as they watch you interacting away from the screen, playing together and discussing a toy on the floor, for example.
- Take what you’ve learned as the “Primary Support Person” during these sessions and help nurture your child in similar ways throughout the rest of the week. For example, you might take advantage of meal or car time to implement any strategies suggested and modeled by your child’s SLP, such as labeling the different items in the child’s visual field, or providing accurate auditory models of your child’s errored speech sounds. A therapist may have just 30 minutes with your child, but you have the great benefit of supporting your child’s sustained growth and practical application of their emerging skills throughout the week.
- Build in any environmental supports that the SLP would like to see. For example, you might start to “think out loud” as you are doing household chores near or with your child, talking through the sequence of what you are doing (e.g, first we take the clothes out of the dryer, next we fold the clothes, then we’ll put the clothes away). This will only help you support your child’s progress and help them to carry over their work and meet their goals in daily life.
Speech Therapy for Kids: Elementary-Aged Students
This age is gaining more and more independence each year. Your child can log into the online therapy session on their own (and often enjoy doing so!) and usually participate fairly independently. Like younger children, elementary students are often still receiving a high frequency of services and direct therapy. As a parent or guardian you can provide a strong level support by:
- Having a line of sight on your child’s session, so you can help redirect and encourage them to focus in as necessary. It is not uncommon for children to get distracted at this age, so gently encouraging them to stay engaged is important. (Removing toys from the desk space and surrounding area really helps too.)
- Supporting regular practice with your child. It is particularly important that, as the parent or guardian, you are helping to ensure the practice time occurs, as directed by the SLP. This may be the assigned homework or applying suggestions for embedding goals into everyday situations.
- Providing regular reminders and challenges for your child to transfer their skills into a range of interactions with others in the household and beyond.
Speech Therapy for Teens: Middle School and High School Students
This is the age group when students can start to lose interest in their speech therapy. Having direct insights into your child’s work can help you be particularly supportive at this age (with the right amount and at the right time).
- Sometimes helping to provide motivation is the most important thing the caregiver can do. Help remind your child of their goals and what they are working toward and why.
- Be in touch with your child’s SLP to find the right balance and moderation of speech therapy and speech language exercises at home.
- Getting the frequency of services right is important too, and it is really important that the frequency of sessions is consistent week-to-week and does not drop off or become too much amid other schoolwork and demands.
- Parents can also be an integral part of the IEP team, asking questions and providing insights through regular conversations to ensure the services are appropriate as the student gets older.
- Help support your child’s speech language in their general education as well, so they can apply and gain confidence in seeing their skills spreading over all areas of their academic life.
Speech Therapy at Home: Readiness
Providing teletherapy services in a home setting can present its own challenges; however, knowing what questions to ask and taking time to educate parents and to engage them in the process can yield valuable results for children. Our home readiness survey is a great way to get started, but consider the following areas in particular:
- Internet access and available equipment required for live, synchronous teletherapy services
- Potential locations within the home environment that will optimize the SLP’s and child’s audio and video during therapy sessions
- The child’s level of independence as it relates to accessing the computer and interacting with the therapist and activities (consider what level of support is required for a child to access general education in the brick and mortar setting as a point of reference)
- Who will be available to support the child during therapy sessions? The level of required support falls along a spectrum from line-of-sight to 1:1 throughout the session, depending on the child’s age, developmental level, and ability to physically access the computer and platform tools.
As we look to the future, my greatest hope is that all children will have equal access to quality speech-language services, regardless of geography or socioeconomic status, and that legislators and educators take action to support this access—both by bridging the Internet and technology gap that exists for many families and by removing some of the regulatory and cultural barriers to teletherapy that currently exist.
Supporting speech therapy at home can be a challenge for parents and caregivers. But it is often a fruitful experience too. The experience can provide a range of new knowledge and practical methods for integrating therapy into your child’s daily life. It can also help you to develop a far stronger relationship with your child’s SLP and IEP team, which can give everyone better information and help your child work more effectively and efficiently toward their goals.
Interested in learning more? Here are a few resources I recommend:
- Teletherapy Home Environment Survey
- 7 Myths about Online Speech Therapy: BUSTED!
- Also encourage your local schools to schedule a consultation with PresenceLearning and reiterate how PresenceLearning can support parents and therapists in reinforcing and strengthening speech therapy for the children in their care.
Kristin Martinez received her M.A. in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and has been a speech-language pathologist for 20 years. Kristin provided speech-language therapy to children in her local school district and in private practice before starting as a teletherapist with PresenceLearning in 2013. Kristin is PresenceLearning Clinical Director, SLP and OT, teletherapy subject matter expert for school districts across the country, and she presents on the topics of speech-language pathology and teletherapy nationwide.