By Kelly Hungaski, MS/CCC-SLP
When I tell people that I am a speech language pathologist, I receive a blank stare. They sometimes ask if I am working with dead people. I’m not. I explain that I work with children providing speech therapy. Most people smile, nod or share a story of someone they know who needed to get speech therapy to produce “s” or the elusive “r” sound.
Speech language pathologists are experts at teaching children how to produce speech sounds. We know how to work with children who are missing a few sounds or children who are not producing hardly any sounds. Speech therapists can teach the child how to use more mature patterns of speech, the placement for consonant and vowel sounds and how to speak more clearly. But that’s not all we do. Read on for my top ten ways that speech language therapists help children of ages.
1. Teach children how to follow directions or how to answer questions.
Speech language pathologists assess a child’s ability to understand language. We can figure out which parts of the direction a child is having difficulty with. Are longer directions harder or does the child not hear the smaller location words in a direction (in vs on)? We can help children understand question words (who, what, where, when, why) and how to answer these questions.
2. Teach correct grammar.
We call it syntax. These children may have difficulty producing pronouns like he or she (him is sitting down) or they may have a hard time using the correct verb tense forms. They might say “he runned” instead of “he ran.” Difficulties with understanding pronouns and verb tense forms make it difficult for children to understand what is happening at school.
3. Help children learn how to tell about a personal experience.
Some children jump into the middle of a story or forget to tell you who was there. They may have a difficulty organzing their story into a logical manner. We can help them learn how to provide all of the relevant information (but not too much information) and how to sequence a story so that you can understand what they are talking about.
4. Teach children how to chew and swallow foods safely.
Speech language pathologists have extensive training on the anatomy of the mouth and respiration system. We can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination for children who are unable to chew and swallow foods, who choke or gag on foods, who take a long time to eat or who have difficulty drinking liquids.
5. Decrease stuttering or dysfluent behaviors .
Speech therapists can help teach breath support and fluency enhancing strategies for children who stutter. We love to educate parents and teachers about stuttering and how to respond to someone who stutters.
6. Teach children how to participate in conversations
Some children always answer I don’t know or like to dominate a conversation with their interests. Speech language pathologists can teach turn taking and understanding the parts of the conversation. We can teach how to start and end a conversation and how to ask questions and comment.
7. Teach social skills and problem solving skills.
Speech language pathologists help children developing perspective taking skills (how to understand that other people have different thoughts from us.) We can teach strategies for how to make friends. We can teach them the steps for identifying and solving problems.
8. Teach first words.
When toddlers are delayed in talking, you can turn to your speech language pathologist for help. We are experts in teaching children how to request and comment using toys, games and books.
9. Teach other methods of communication.
Some children have a really difficult time developing speech-or speech that other people understand. Speech language pathologists can provide recommendations for communication books or computer programs that will allow these children to communicate. Once the device or book is received, we use routines and typical activities to teach the child and family how to communicate using their new system.
10. Improve vocal quality and hygiene.
Speech language pathologists can work with doctors to assist children who have vocal nodules or voice disorders. We can help children develop healthy voice habits, improve breath support and teach strategies for relaxing the muscles when speaking.