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Thematic Instruction in Speech-Language Therapy

By | NESCA Notes 2021 | No Comments

By Olivia Rogers, MA, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist, NESCA

What exactly is a theme and why would we use them in speech therapy? A theme can be defined as the creation of various meaningful activities planned around a central topic or idea. For example, using activities that are all about the ocean, sports, or winter. Themed activities can be great for working on speech and language skills.

Here are some benefits of using thematic instruction (Hadley et al., 2018; Wallach, 2014):

  • Thematic instruction is a meaningful and motivating method of learning concepts.
  • Knowledge on different themes and categories supports a child in making connections between various concepts. It also provides the opportunity to teach and practice new skills by building on a child’s existing knowledge of the topic.
  • Teaching words linked in thematic groups allows for a deeper understanding of functions, categories, and features. Thematic instruction can improve vocabulary and increases a child’s understanding and use of synonyms and antonyms.
  • Activating prior knowledge and engaging students in prior knowledge activities increases the comprehension and retention of information. This, in turn, supports story retelling skills, as well as ability to answer “WH” questions – who, what, where, when and why.
  • Themes are relevant to a child’s real-life experiences; therefore, thematic instruction improves a child’s ability to make inferences and predictions. Children can make better inferences and predictions about situations they may encounter on a daily basis with this knowledge of various themes and categories.
  • Thematic instruction promotes generalization outside the therapy room.

Thematic instruction can result in improvements in overall language skills. Additionally, using themes can keep speech-language therapy interesting and help increase engagement. This is key, as it’s been shown that when a child receives eight more minutes of engaging therapy, there is significantly greater improvement than with regular therapy (Schmitt, 2020).

What can you do at home?

Fortunately, thematic instruction can be easily incorporated into daily life or special occasions at home – and can be adapted for any age. October is one of my favorite months as it is packed with themes. I like to dedicate the first part of October to autumn and leaves, as well as fire safety and occupations. Then it’s time to dive into all things Halloween! Here are some Halloween-themed activities you can do at home to support your child’s language development:

  • Read different Halloween stories while increasing the understanding of Halloween-associated vocabulary (e.g., pumpkin, leaves, haunt, eerie, costume, cauldron, ghost, broomstick, etc.) and Halloween lingo (e.g., “trick or treat,” “boo,” “hair-raising,” “if you dare,” “pumpkin carving,” etc. Some great books to help you with these words and phrases are:
    1. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
    2. There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat by Lucille Colandro
    3. Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex
  • Encourage your child to recall details and retell the stories you read. Have them:
    1. Describe the setting of the story.
    2. Tell you about one story character.
    3. Identify their favorite part of the story.
    4. Say what happened at the end of the book.
  • Encourage the use of Halloween-associated vocabulary by going on a neighborhood walk and playing I Spy with your child (e.g., “I spy something orange, that you can carve during Halloween,” or “I spy something that changes colors then falls from trees,” etc.).
  • Discuss the history of Halloween and where it originated.
    1. Make predictions regarding this upcoming Halloween and Halloweens to follow.
    2. Compare and contrast Halloween traditions over the years.
  • Create a hands-on activity (e.g., carving pumpkins, drawing a haunted house, collecting leaves for a craft, etc.) where your child/children follow directions to cooperatively complete the project. This encourages problem solving, reasoning and use of appropriate social skills.
  • Engage in a pretend play scenario about Halloween using all the information your child has learned throughout your thematic intervention.

Resources:

Hadley, E. B., Dickinson, D. K., Hirsch-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2018). Building semantic networks: The impact of a vocabulary intervention on preschoolers’ depth of word knowledge. Reading Research Quarterly.

Schmitt, M. (2020). Children’s active engagement in public school language therapy relates to greater gains. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathologyhttps://doi.org/10.1044/2020_AJSLP-19-00157

 

About the Author

Olivia Rogers received her Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Maine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders and concentrations in Childhood Development and Disability Studies.

Ms. Rogers has experience working both in the pediatric clinic setting as well as in public schools, evaluating and treating children 2-18 years of age presenting with a wide range of diagnoses (e.g., language delays and disorders, speech sound disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorder, and Down syndrome). Ms. Rogers enjoys making sure therapy is fun and tailored to each client’s interests.

In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts and spending times with friends and families.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

To book an appointment with Olivia Rogers, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Does Scatter Matter? How to Understand Your Child Better

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Families often come to testing with questions like these: My child is so smart, why is reading so hard for them? If she can remember the smallest conversation from three years ago, why can’t she remember the two things I sent her upstairs to get? If he can do all of the calculations, why can’t my son solve a word problem? The answer can show itself in the scatter.

Assessment measures are based on statistical conversions, where the number of points a child or teen earns is “translated” into a scaled or standard score. This helps us to understand how your child performs compared to other children their same age. Tests are largely based on the idea that scores should “hang together” – meaning that if your child is average for his or her age on one task (e.g., visual-spatial skills) then they should be average on another (e.g., verbal knowledge). And while this may be true for many people, it certainly it not true for all people. Many people have “scatter,” meaning that there is a statistical difference between their scores.

I will spare you the controversy about scatter in our field, about whether a certain degree of scatter or difference between scores means that you cannot calculate certain other scores. There is also specific knowledge of scatter needed to diagnose specific learning disabilities (e.g., if your child has high average verbal skills, how far apart do their reading scores need to be in order to fit the diagnostic criteria). While those topics are incredibly important to the field, my focus today is to build a little empathy for how scatter can matter.

There are times when this scatter can lead us to a diagnostic decision. For example, a relatively common pattern that I see is that of a very bright teenager whose cognitive and problem-solving are at least above average, while their basic focus and attention is below average. With other evidence that corroborates it, this can mean ADHD. A big difference between a child’s verbal knowledge/language skills and their ability to use their language for social purposes can suggest an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In these instances, the scatter absolutely matters. But, scatter can be meaningful to a child’s daily experience even if it’s not statistically “big enough” to warrant diagnosis.

Imagine being your child for a moment. Perhaps your child has a knack for building complex Lego sets and can spend hours assembling structures that are intricate, detailed, and involve more small pieces that my adult fingers could tolerate (let alone our feet as we step on them!). Perhaps your child’s visual-spatial skills are incredible, scoring in the high average range compared to their friends. Then you place a book in their hands and ask them to read a page aloud, where they struggle to sound out words, track their eyes smoothly across the page, or understand the meaning of anything they are saying. While you are left scratching your head as a parent, imagine the frustration and disappointment your child must feel wondering: why can I work with Legos better than anyone I know, but decoding words is torture?

In my mind, scatter can mean frustration. To feel exceptionally strong and confident in one skill domain and then barely hang on in another can leave your child disappointed, angry, and self-critical. Imagine having a vocabulary and encyclopedia of facts in your mind and your hand simply cannot keep up with your thoughts as you try to take notes or write down ideas for an essay. For an adult, it can be a bit like sitting in front of your computer with too many browser windows open and programs running at once, slowing down the entire operating system to the point that you growl in frustration (anyone else?).

While it can be easy to get lost in the controversy over the technical and statistical nature of scatter, it is important that we all have some empathy for what this must feel like for your child or teen. Empathy for this experience is a critical part of building the roadmap forward: where we can use those strong skills to build up the weaker ones, to grow new and stronger neural connections, and to give ourselves a little grace and patience when those weaker muscles get challenged.

 

About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Speech-Language Pathology at NESCA with Olivia Rogers, MA, CF-SLP

By | NESCA Notes 2021

Speech-Language Pathologist Olivia Rogers, MA, CF-SLP, joined NESCA in June, working with clients in the Newton, Massachusetts office, and is scheduling new clients now. We sat down with Olivia to learn more about her, what her passions in speech and language are and why she joined NESCA.

By Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

How did you initially get interested in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP)?

I started my undergraduate education as a bioengineering major. A project I was assigned to required me to research devices that related to the medical side of bioengineering. After some research, I came upon cochlear implants, which led me to learn more about Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (SLP). Ultimately, I knew I desired to work with people and make an impact in the healthcare field, but I didn’t feel like bioengineering was where I belonged. After I switched my major to Communication Sciences and Disorders, I knew I had made the right decision.

Additionally, I am the oldest of five children, so was always around kids. Once I stumbled upon this major, I realized it was a great way to combine my desire to work with kids and a career that really fulfilled me.

In what settings have you worked previously?

I’ve done a few clinical rotations in different settings. I spent a semester in a K-8 public school, and a year in pediatric private practice.  Those opportunities allowed me to work with children with various speech and language challenges. I also spent some time in a hospital working with adults in the inpatient acute care unit. All of these experiences strengthened my passion for working with the pediatric population and implementing therapy that is both functional and personal to each individual.

What brought you to NESCA?

Last summer, I was a student intern with NESCA’s Speech-Language Pathologist Abbey Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, as part of my third clinical placement. When the opportunity to work with Abbey and also some of the kids we worked with together again came to my attention, I jumped at the opportunity to work with all of them again.

It’s exciting to work at NESCA in the clinic setting where the Speech-Language team is expanding, and collaboration is so important. Here, I get to be a part of a great team of therapists, clinicians and neuropsychologists. I also appreciate that NESCA is so open to and supportive of its clinicians continuing to learn. For example, I am hoping to gain feeding therapy experience alongside the other feeding therapists here at NESCA.

What part of being a SLP do you enjoy the most?

Being able to communicate is one of the most important life skills, and giving others the tools they need to do so effectively is amazing in itself. However, no two clients are the same and it is up to me to be creative in catering to each individual to make sure that therapy is motivating and beneficial. As a SLP, creativity and play are not only allowed but encouraged. I really enjoy that part of my job.

I really love all of the work I do with children, especially working with kids on receptive and expressive language therapy. With the older children I work with, I enjoy working on the social pragmatic aspects of communication. With the younger kids, I love play-based therapy and working with parents and families to ensure that the language we are targeting is practical.

How do you partner with families when you are working with a child at NESCA?

Integrating real life and therapy is one of the most important aspects of what I do as a SLP. It’s essential for parents or other family members/caregivers to be involved in a child’s therapy to make sure that there is carryover into the home setting. Building functional language skills is a full-time venture involving therapy sessions and practice at home. I strive to have family involved either in the weekly therapy sessions and/or taking notes on what we are working on to further support that child in reaching their goals.

And regarding goals, it’s so important to have parent/caregiver input on the goals we work toward. With the older kids I work with, they are often able to communicate what they’d like to or need to work on. With the younger children, it’s critical for parents and families to help communicate a child’s challenges in order for us to establish the goals we work toward together.

What is one of the most inspiring milestones you have experienced as a Speech-Language Pathologist?

While I was working in the K-8 school, most of the children I worked with were deaf or hard of hearing. There was one 10-year-old boy who was profoundly deaf and utilized cochlear implants. He was essentially nonverbal, and our goal was to help him to auditorily recognize and verbally produce a couple of functional words that could support him in the classroom and at home. In particular, we were trying to get him to interact verbally with his dog; this was a personal goal of his. After months of work, his mom let us know that at home he said, “Sit,” and his dog followed his command! He was so motivated to learn more words since he saw how language could help him to function more easily and successfully. It was such an inspiration and really solidified my strong desire to work with kids to help them in speech and language, and in life.

 

About Speech-Language Pathologist Olivia Rogers

Olivia Rogers received her Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Maine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders and concentrations in Childhood Development and Disability Studies.

Ms. Rogers has experience working both in the pediatric clinic setting as well as in public schools, evaluating and treating children 2-18 years of age presenting with a wide range of diagnoses (e.g., language delays and disorders, speech sound disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorder, and Down syndrome). Ms. Rogers enjoys making sure therapy is fun and tailored to each client’s interests.

In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts and spending times with friends and families.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

To book an appointment with Olivia Rogers, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Importance of Play in Speech-Language Therapy

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP
NESCA Speech-Language Pathologist

As a speech-language pathologist, I immediately think about toys and games when planning my therapy sessions. Parents may wonder why speech-language therapy often looks like “just playing.” Children learn about their world through play. It facilitates their cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development. As young children develop, they begin understanding, learning how to communicate, and socializing within the context of play.

As I discussed in my last blog post, Five Ways to Facilitate Language Growth at Home, motivation and interest are key in language development, and play is highly motivating and interesting for children. When children learn in the context of play, these new concepts, sounds, and words became relevant and meaningful to the child. This promotes retention and generalization, which both increase learning.

Symbolic play is especially important in the development of language. Symbolic play is the use of objects to represent other objects (e.g., using a block as a phone). Language itself is symbolic since signs, gestures, and words represent ideas, objects, or relationships. Early symbolic play helps children understand that objects can be used to represent another object. Development of symbolic play often correlates with development of language: children often start to use single words when they begin using one object to represent another, and they may begin combining words when they combine two symbolic play actions.

Speech-language pathologists may even use play within assessment. Play in evaluations “is a nonthreatening way to gather information about general symbolic skills, linguistic skills, behaviors skills (i.e., attention and organization), and task persistence in a child-friendly setting” (Fewell & Rich, 1987; Short et al., 2011). I also use play to take language samples, which allows me to look at language understanding and use in a naturalistic environment.

For my older elementary- or middle school-aged clients, play often looks like playing games in therapy. The turn taking of games mimics the social reciprocity that we see in conversation and social communication. This facilitates older children’s understanding of taking the lead when it is their turn and waiting, listening, and watching when it is the other person’s turn. I also find more willingness to participate in therapy when it is fun and centered around specific interests.

In my opinion, we are never too old to play! I’ve found that most people learn and retain information better within the context of fun and enjoyable activities, which is why play is such an important aspect of speech-language therapy.

References:

Jarrold C, Boucher J, Smith P. Symbolic play in autism: a review. J Autism Dev Disord. 1993 Jun;23(2):281-307. doi: 10.1007/BF01046221. PMID: 7687245.

Short EJ, Schindler RC, Obeid R, Noeder MM, Hlavaty LE, Gross SI, Lewis B, Russ S, Manos MM. Examining the Role of Language in Play Among Children With and Without Developmental Disabilities. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch. 2020 Jul 15;51(3):795-806. doi: 10.1044/2020_LSHSS-19-00084. Epub 2020 May 13. PMID: 32402229.

Terrell, B. Y., Schwartz, R. G., Prelock, P. A., & Messick, C. K. (1984). Symbolic play in normal and language-impaired children. Journal of Speech & Hearing Research, 27(3), 424–429. https://doi.org/10.1044/jshr.2703.424

 

About the Author

Abigael Gray has over six years of experience in assessment and treatment of a variety of disorders, including dysphagia, childhood apraxia of speech, speech sound disorder, receptive and expressive language disorder, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She has a special interest and experience in working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders, including transitioning infants to solid foods, weaning from tube feeding, improving sensory tolerance, developing chewing skills, increasing variety and volume of nutritional intake and reducing avoidance behaviors during mealtimes.

 

To book an appointment with or to learn more about NESCA’s Speech & Language Therapy, please fill out our online Intake Form, email NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Facilitating Language Growth at Home

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP
NESCA Speech-Language Pathologist

I recently got to spend time with my 18-month-old nephew, after not having seen him in a year and a half due to the pandemic. It got me thinking about practical ways to help facilitate language throughout the day without feeling like you’re doing anything extra. Play and routines are great times to build language, and you can often find opportunities that are motivating for your child. Motivation and interest are key, because children are much more likely to participate and communicate. Below, I discuss tips to incorporate into your daily routine at home.

Five ways to facilitate language growth at home:

  1. Play!
    • Play the way your child is playing and imitate what they’re doing.
    • Even if you had a plan, don’t be afraid to change it to focus on their interests (i.e., follow their lead, as explained below).
    • Use fun sounds, words and gestures to go with what you’re doing (e.g., “beep beep” when playing with cars, “pop” when popping bubbles, “yummy/mmm” and rubbing your stomach when pretending to eat play food).
  2. Follow your child’s lead
    • Observe what they’re interested in, wait until they initiate or continue interaction, and listen to their words and sounds.
    • Get on their level so they know you are joining in.
    • If they are doing something unsafe, explain why it’s unsafe in simple terms and redirect them to a safe activity.
  3. Get silly
    • Repeat actions they think are funny.
    • Switch up routines in a silly way (e.g., “forget” their favorite bath toy, give them a fork with their yogurt). This encourages language when your child notices and wants to tell you something is different or missing.
    • Change song lyrics or words in stories to be about your child, their interests and/or what is happening around you in the moment.
  4. Pause
    • Slowly sing familiar nursery rhymes and songs and then pause at key words to encourage them to fill in a word or gesture.
    • Pause a familiar activity, such as pushing the swing, and wait for them to ask you to continue using words or gestures (e.g., “more,” “again,” “go”).
    • When looking for a response, stop talking, lean forward and look at them expectantly. You can count slowly to 10 silently, which gives your child time to respond.
  5. Expand
    • When your child uses one to two words, turn it into a short sentence. For example, if they say “up” wanting you to pick them up, you could say, “Ok, I’ll pick you up.”
    • Be sure to use correct grammar when expanding their message, even if your child is still using immature grammar.
    • Use a variety of words (e.g., describing words, action words, words for feelings, location words, etc.). Start with words your child would want to say to talk about the things they are interested in.

Many of these ideas are things you may already be doing throughout the day, but it is good to think about how doing so helps your child learn to understand and use language. If you feel that your child may be behind in their language understanding or production, it is helpful to schedule an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist. If therapy is warranted, your speech-language pathologist can make recommendations specific to your child and family and show you how to best encourage language growth in the home environment.

References:
Weitzman, E. (2017). It takes two to talk: A practical guide for parents of children with language delays (5th ed.). Toronto: Hanen Centre.

 

About the Author

Abigael Gray has over six years of experience in assessment and treatment of a variety of disorders, including dysphagia, childhood apraxia of speech, speech sound disorder, receptive and expressive language disorder, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She has a special interest and experience in working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders, including transitioning infants to solid foods, weaning from tube feeding, improving sensory tolerance, developing chewing skills, increasing variety and volume of nutritional intake and reducing avoidance behaviors during mealtimes.

 

To book an appointment with or to learn more about NESCA’s Speech & Language Therapy, please fill out our online Intake Form, email NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.