Struggling to Communicate with your Child? Try AAC

In the special needs community we LOVE a good acronym, but if you don’t know exactly what each one means they can feel overwhelming and unintelligible.

You might be asked:

Does your child get ABA?

Is it included in your IEP?

Do you have a good SLP?

Argh!

I sympathize; in grad school an entire portion of one of our exams was dedicated to acronyms!

However, I do have a favorite.

AAC.

It stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, and it basically refers to any kind of communication system that helps kids (or anyone, for that matter) express their needs to you if they can’t use verbal speech.

And, what’s more, it’s not all high tech.

One of the biggest misconceptions I see in my practice is that people think that AAC only refers to sleek gadgets activated by fancy buttons.

In fact, some of the most effective AAC supports I use every day are quite simple, and considered “no tech” or “low tech”.

 

NO TECH= NO EQUIPMENT

No tech AAC means that you don’t need any equipment at all!

It amazes me how savvy children can be to get what they want, especially children with limited verbal communication!

They are looking with their eyes, pointing with their fingers and making facial expressions to communicate to us how they are feeling.

Sometimes we get so caught up in technology that we forget the power of teaching a simple head shake for “no” or pointing to something that is desired. Those gestures are universally understood, even by grandma and grandpa.

 

LOW TECH= NO BATTERY

Low tech AAC essentially means there’s no battery.

I love low-tech AAC because it really helps students who are visual learners. Visual aids such as pictures or cues cards can help ease that burden.

One of my favorite tools to use is a communication board.

Click here to get my free communication board to help your child get beyond single words. 

Something else we need to remember is that sometimes high tech AAC fails us. Screens smash, batteries die, iOS updates take way longer than you expected.

TALKING TIP: You always want to have a solid low tech backup so that your child isn’t stuck without the means to communicate with you.

HIGH TECH= REQUIRES A BATTERY

High tech AAC is extremely useful, when used well.

Technology advances have been a serious game-changer in helping children with complex communication needs.

Communicate with the world using just the tap of a button!

And if your child doesn’t have access or mobility to tap a button, rest assured, we can now use eye-gaze technology to track the movements of their eyes. For children who are non-verbal, a high tech speech-generating device affords a child the opportunity to speak when they might otherwise have no means of verbal communication.

With so many apps and systems out there, however, it’s challenging to know which one has the features that are optimal for your child’s specific needs.

My best piece of advice? Focus on core word vocabulary to help support a child’s ability to generate novel language.

Over to you

What’s been your experience with AAC? Have you and your child had any success with no, low or high tech? Let me know in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

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4 Strategies to Increase your Child's Attention Span tion, behavior

Have you noticed that everyone’s attention span is slowly disappearing? It’s no surprise that this is one area of weakness I notice in a lot of the children who come to see me in my practice.

Distractors are everyone, so I find that teaching children to sustain attention is critical to long-term learning success.

When you enhance this executive functioning skill, you can expect to see rapid improvements across all domains of your child’s learning.

Specifically, this can help them with:

- Following directions

- Answering questions

- Maintaining appropriate conversations

Help improve your child’s ability to focus with these 4 tips:

1) Minimize distractors for better attention

In order for a child to be successful you have to begin with an optimal learning environment.

Choose a location that is free from visual and auditory distractors. This could mean clearing clutter off the table, throwing beloved toys in the closet, or being mindful to turn off a television that might be playing in the background.

It’s also important to be cognizant of younger siblings or pets that might act as a distraction to your little one.

Once a child becomes proficient in an “optimal” learning space you can gradually add in subtle distractors (e.g. placing toys on the table) or low level background noise (e.g. playing music) so that your child is able to learn how to filter out distractors on their own.

2) Give a definitive end

Children are more apt to focus on a non-preferred task when they know there is an end in sight. Setting clear expectations in advance helps set children up for success.

Try using a visual schedule where you outline all of the activities you hope to accomplish. You can also use a token board where tokens are earned towards receiving a short break.

I love this app for creating effective token boards!

During an earned break I always set a timer and I allow a child to choose whatever activity they like. If possible, I try to encourage children to take a movement break where they are able to get out of their seat and get some energy out. It can be as simple as 10 star jumps or spinning around in a circle.

3) With attention, start small, think big

One way to gain momentum in any learning activity is to achieve success early on.

Create realistic expectations regarding what time intervals are developmentally appropriate for a child to pay attention.

Remember that children are able to sustain attention for varying lengths of time, dependent on age and interest in activity. As a general rule of thumb you can take their chronological age+1 to determine what’s appropriate.

For example, a 3-year-old child should be able to sustain attention to a learning activity for approximately 4 minutes (i.e. 3+1). Always start with a motivating game or toy and then you are able to gradually progress to less motivating activities.

4) Explain attention-related buzzwords

As adults we are constantly encouraging children to “focus” and “pay attention,” but often times children don’t have an understanding of what these words mean.

Explaining to a child that to “pay attention” means to “look at what you're doing” or “listen to a teacher when they are talking” can be helpful descriptions to teach the concept of attention.

I will often create opportunities where I’m purposefully NOT paying attention when a child is trying to gain my attention. Then I make a point to say: “Oops, I was not paying attention. I need to focus on the game”. This teaches children what it looks like when someone is not “paying attention”.

 After several sessions children start to grasp when someone is or isn’t paying attention and they are usually able to catch me and say: “Ms. Rachel…you’re not paying attention!”

Over to you

What’s been your experience with your child’s ability to focus? Can they sustain attention, or do they struggle? Let me know in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

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Building Your Child's Confidence with Effective Praise

Every good parent or teacher knows the importance of giving children positive reinforcement for a job well done. Keep these 4 strategies in mind when giving children praise and inspire them to keep up the good work! 

Be Specific: When you give a child specific feedback you are able to highlight exactly what they did well and set clear expectations for the future. Instead of using a blanket “good job” after a child achieves an accomplishment, try making your response more detailed. For instance, “I love the way you told me that story” or “Great job answering all of those questions”.  The more specific the better!

Deliver Instantly:  In order for praise to start shaping positive behaviors, it needs to be delivered to the child immediately. Sometimes children require continuous feedback in order to complete a challenging task. For example, if your little one has difficulty cleaning up toys try continuing to repeat the phrase (e.g.,“great job cleaning”)  until they are finished. Once a child becomes more proficient in the task, you can scale back how frequently the praise is given. 

Recognize your Child’s Efforts: When a child is expending significant effort to complete a task, be sure to recognize their hard work. Children often deliver subtle cues with their body language when frustration levels are rising. Are they beginning to fidget in their seat? Have their breathing patterns changed? Acknowledging this frustration could be as simple as saying, “I see this is a little difficult for you” or “Are you feeling frustrated?”.  Once a child’s feelings are out on the table you can support their efforts with, “ I see you’re working very hard” or “You’re doing a great job staying calm”. This acknowledgement is usually the extra push a child needs to persevere through a challenging task. 

Discuss the Value of the Accomplishment:  Adults often ask children to complete activities without stating a clear purpose. We know that finishing our green beans will lead to optimal health,  but children don’t always understand the value of certain tasks. Alongside of specific praise (e.g.,“I love that you ate all of your green beans”) be sure to describe the importance of their work (e.g., “Eating green beans make our bodies healthy and strong”). 

How do you keep your child motivated to learn? Share your tips and tricks below in the comments. 

Over to you...

Does your child struggle with attention? Any tricks you've found successful? Share your story in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

Enjoyed this post?

Every week I release brand new articles and videos full of useful tips for parents. With my guidance, you'll quickly learn to improve your child's learning potential through simple techniques that you can start using today.

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Teaching Your Child to Control Impulsive Behavior

Impulse control is the ability for children to resist impulsive responses and regulate themselves so they are able to learn new skills. Impulsivity can often lead to children having difficulties following teacher directions, sharing with peers and taking turns in conversation. Being able to control such impulses is an executive functioning skill that can be strengthened over time, so try incorporating these 4 activities into an every day practice!

Hand Squeeze: When children catch a glimpse of a toy they want, they often can’t help but immediately grab it off the table. To help children resist this urge, I encourage them to squeeze their hands together before I introduce an exciting new toy. Constant reminders of “squeeze those hands!” help children resist the impulse of grabbing the toy. You could also use a fidget toy like a squeeze ball, but I love the hand squeeze technique since they will always have this at their disposal. 

Take Control of Technology: Games on tablets or phones can sometimes exacerbate a child’s impulsivity with constant temptations of icons to tap, drag and push. To help children manage these urges, I hold the game in front of them and help them practice listening to directions. I always employ the “Hand Squeeze” technique so that they are able to self-regulate as they wait for a turn. For young children an app such as "Peekaboo Barn" works perfectly because they can hear an animal inside the barn and then have to wait for two to three seconds before opening the doors. As the child becomes better at controlling his or her impulses you can gradually increase the wait time for longer increments.  For older children you can use an app such as “My PlayHome” and give children specific directions for more sophisticated commands (e.g. “Open the refrigerator and take out the pizza”). 

Impulse Re-Do: Every child has moments where they act impulsively (think: running out of the room because they are thirsty). You can capitalize on these moments as a teaching opportunity by helping a child replay them with an appropriate reaction and response. If a child runs out of the room for some water, I take the child’s hand and lead them back to the table. We then sit down and replay the situation again. I’ll often lead the child through the situation (e.g. “If we need water, first we raise our hand and then we ask the teacher”), and then I help them practice the appropriate reaction. Teaching these “Stop and Think” moments will help a child learn to regulate impulses more consistently.

Practice Taking One: Helping children “Take one” is another game to help practice managing the urge to grab as many toys as their little hands can hold. This works great with toys that have lots of small parts such as blocks,  puzzles or small food items such as blueberries or popcorn.  Initially I give constant reminders to “Take one” before each turn and then fade these reminders as a child becomes less impulsive. Be sure to give lots of positive praise “I love how you’re only taking one at a time”. 

Is your child having challenges with controlling his/her impulses? I’d love you to share any tips or tricks you use in the comments section below!

Over to you...

Do you notice your own child's impulsive behavior? Which methods have you found most useful to help your child with his or her impulses? Let me know in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

Enjoyed this post?

I send out blogs like this every week, offering my expertise and top tips for parents about all things related to child development, speech and language therapy and the use of technology to aid children’s communication. 

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Executive Functions: The Most Important Skills a Child can Master

Executive functioning skills are the cognitive processes that allow our brains to function properly and learn new things. Often times, executive functioning deficits result in children who have a difficult time regulating their behavior and have challenges with learning. These areas must be specifically targeted in order to unlock a child's ability to learn new information.

COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY: a child's ability to sustain attention and shift attention appropriately during learning tasks.

When a child's brain is unable to sustain adequate attention, they miss out on learning opportunities. Being able to filter out distractors and maintain attention is one of the most valuable skills a child can learn. If your child has challenges with cognitive flexibility, they may: 

  • have difficulty sitting for stories or participating in circle time
  • demonstrate anxiety when asked to change plans
  • have difficulty transitioning to new activities
  • take a long time to recover from disappointments
  • have trouble sharing with other children

WORKING MEMORY: a child's ability to remember and use information while in the middle of an activity. 

This skill allows children to begin processing more complex information and often leads to following directions more consistently, producing more sophisticated communication and engaging in more appropriate conversations.  If your child has poor working memory skills, they may: 

  • struggle following multi-step directions
  • not remember instructions given
  • not be able to repeat back items in a list
  • have difficulty responding to questions

INHIBITORY CONTROL: a child's ability to resist impulsive responses and regulate themselves, in order to learn.

Being able to regulate impulses helps a child increase their ability to attend to a speaker, sustain attention and socialize more naturally with siblings and peers. Improving impulse control allows a child to follow directions with more consistency and respond more appropriately in conversations. If your child has problems with inhibitory control, they may: 

  • perseverate on the same topics or engage in repetitive behaviors
  • grab desired items without asking first
  • rush through activities without checking answers
  • blurt out responses without thinking of thoughtful responses
  • have difficulty accurately answering questions  

Like any other skill, practice makes perfect when it comes to executive functioning skills. Children learn best when they are motivated and engaged in meaningful social interactions, and can practice sustaining attention, filtering out distractions, shifting between tasks and building working memory skills. 

Do you suspect your child has executive functioning difficulties? Click here for more information about a speech/language evaluation.  

Over to you...

Does your child struggle with attention? Any tricks you've found successful? Share your story in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

Enjoyed this post?

Every week I release brand new articles and videos full of useful tips for parents. With my guidance, you'll quickly learn to improve your child's learning potential through simple techniques that you can start using today.  

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Top 5 Signs your Child Needs a Speech Therapist

Have concerns that your child might not be meeting developmental milestones? Here are the top 5 signs that you might need a speech and language evaluation.  

No one Understands your Child

Often times, parents learn to speak their child’s language and can understand most of what they are trying to communicate. The true test is whether or not your friends and family understand your little one. Making speech sound errors is a typical developmental process that begins to subside as children develop appropriate musculature and coordination in their lips, tongues and jaw. By 3 years of age, an unfamiliar listener should be able to understand 75% of what your child has to say. 

Uses a lot of Nonverbal Communication

It’s normal for a baby to use gestures, such as pointing or crying in order to communicate a desire or tell you they need something. However, by 2 years of age this habit should decrease significantly and be replaced by the use of words and short phrases. If your toddler is frequently using nonverbal communication such as pointing, crying or grabbing, encourage them to use their words to get what they want. 


Difficulty Answering Questions

By 1 to 2 years of age, children begin understanding and answering simple questions. For instance, if you ask “Where’s the ball?” they can retrieve or point to it.  They also begin answering “Yes/No” questions with a head shake/nod. As a child continues to learn, they begin answering more complex questions and are able to formulate more sophisticated responses. If a child has language difficulties, they will often repeat words of a question back to you as a strategy to compensate. For example, if you ask, “Where did Daddy go?” a child might respond “Daddy go”. Try giving a choice of two options to help support comprehension (e.g., “Is he inside or outside?”).

Limited Vocabulary

A child’s vocabulary grows as they have repeated exposure to a variety of words. Children typically understand a greater number of words than they are able to say. By three, they should have a vocabulary of at least 500 words. Children with vocabulary difficulties frequently use very general language to communicate. For example, they might say, “I want it” or “that thing” instead of using the item’s specific name.

Not Putting Words into Sentences

As a child’s vocabulary grows, they begin stringing words into more complex phrases and sentences. Children usually begin combining words into short phrases around 24 months of age or after they have a vocabulary of at least 35 to 50 words. Sometimes children are able to put sentences together, but they are not using appropriate grammatical endings or are confusing certain verb tenses. Difficulty formulating complex sentences may be an indication that a child needs a speech and language assessment. 

If you recognize any of these red flags in your child’s development,  it’s always better to err on the side of caution. The earlier a child starts receiving appropriate treatment, the faster their communication skills can grow.  

Click here for more information on Speech and Language Development.

Over to you...

Does your child struggle with attention? Any tricks you've found successful? Share your story in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

Enjoyed this post?

Every week I release brand new articles and videos full of useful tips for parents. With my guidance, you'll quickly learn to improve your child's learning potential through simple techniques that you can start using today. 

If you sign up for my email updates, I’ll send exclusive content straight to your inbox!

P.s. pass it on

Like this post? Share the love and send this to a friend who might enjoy it too!


Stop Reading to your Kids: Here's What to do Instead

Incorporating reading into a child’s daily routines is an excellent way to encourage early communication skills, boost vocabulary and form foundations for listening and attention. Often time parents feel obligated to stay within the confines of a book’s words and forget that there are a variety of ways to utilize your child’s favorite books.  Here are 3 creative ideas for switching up story time.

Go Beyond Reading the Page Verbatim: Depending on your child’s age and ability to understand language, reading the words of a book could be overwhelming for your child. Instead of reading to them you can both point to pictures and say the names of the things you see (e.g. “Look, there’s a lion!”) or the actions that are taking place (e.g. “He is eating icecream”). You could even play a modified hide-and-seek game by naming items and helping your child find them on the page (e.g. “Where’s the bicycle”).

Give Your Child the Mic: Children often love hearing the same stories read to them over and over again. Once they are able to start putting more words together try a story retell. First read them the story cover to cover and then hand the mic to them and see what they come up with. Children typically have a hard time getting started, so you can help by giving them starter sentences (e.g. “The duck is….”)  and pointing to relevant plot details to guide their descriptions.  Remember: the focus is on telling a story in their own words, so it’s not necessary for them to retell the story exactly as it reads. Be sure to provide lots of encouragement (e.g. “I love when you tell me stories”) to keep the experience positive.

Get Creative: Take your child’s favorite story and help them make up their own version. This is a helpful way to enhance early narrative skills by discussing story components such as characters, setting and sequencing of events. Get some construction paper out to help them draw pictures or use a doodle app such as “Doodle Buddy”  to help create each page. Be sure to encourage creativity and work together to brainstorm how you can change the story in a fun way. This will help give your child ownership of their work and ultimately fulfill a sense of accomplishment at the conclusion of the project.

Have you tried any of these activities? Let us know how it went in the comments section below. 

Over to you...

Does your child struggle with attention? Any tricks you've found successful? Share your story in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!

Enjoyed this post?

Every week I release brand new articles and videos full of useful tips for parents. With my guidance, you'll quickly learn to improve your child's learning potential through simple techniques that you can start using today.  

If you sign up for my email updates, I’ll send exclusive content straight to your inbox!

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Baby's First Words: 5 strategies to get them talking earlier

A baby’s first words are a monumental achievement in any parent’s eyes. It’s important to recognize that children first begin communicating with gestures and vocalizations at a very young age (e.g. smiling at you or pointing to what they want) but words don’t typically come until after a child’s first birthday.  Everyday your baby listens to the conversations surrounding them and slowly begin connecting words to their meanings. Once a child develops the appropriate musculature and coordination they begin stringing sounds together (i.e. babbling) and their vocalizations begin sounding more and more like real words. 

Do you desperately want to hear what your baby has to say? These five strategies will help your baby utter those first words in no time! 

Will Repeating Help your Baby Talk More?

When it comes to learning a new skill, practice makes perfect. Including repetitive words and phrases into a child’s daily routine is the quickest way to reinforce new vocabulary and inspire children to begin communicating. Children must be exposed to a new word numerous times before developing appropriate comprehension and use of the word in the correct context.