As a speech language pathologist specializing in the treatment of children with developmental disorders, I strive to help my students become fully engaged and effective communicators. I believe that atypical language and social-emotional development is best treated with a strong understanding of, and ability to, address the foundational milestones which occur within the course of typical language development that begins in infancy. Children with atypical language and social-emotional development can go back and improve in the early milestones that they did not fully develop due to their challenges. There are three important themes that emerge when looking through the lens of the course of typical language development which inform my treatment of children with language delays. They are as follows:
Functional language development involves much more than just speaking words and following directions. It hinges on the social-emotional milestones through which infants and toddlers must progress to become effective communicators. Language does not develop in a vacuum and therefore cannot progress without development of inter-connected and foundational social-emotional, cognitive and physical capacities. This is especially evident when working with children with autism spectrum disorders. When students do not have strong shared attention and joint attention due to sensory processing and emotional regulation challenges, these areas must be addressed in order for these children to eventually develop meaningful and fully functional language and social capacities (Gerber, 2013). To achieve this whole-child approach, collaboration with other professionals on the child’s team – such as teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists and mental health professionals is critical. (ASHA, 2004).
Therefore the treatment of the child should take place within warm and playful interactions with the therapist and the child’s caregivers (Greenspan and Wieder, 1998). As a therapist it’s important to have a strong, positive relationship with students, and the best results for children come about when caregivers are an integral part of the process. Caregivers should take part in sessions if possible, and be coached on how to interact and infuse language learning opportunities into co-created play time as well as the daily home life. Helping parents accept and understand their child’s developmental profile and how to best support their learning is critical to the child’s continued, lifelong, growth and development. (ASHA, 2016).
Children working to develop their language abilities must be taught words and concepts that have meaning to them and thus enable them to express their ideas and deepen their learning. Child-led play is where typical children build and explore their ideas and understanding of the world and this should be focused on with atypical language learners as well, as a way to build language. Play is a driver that can be used therapeutically to build ideas and therefore improve and deepen language skills. Play should be the “work” of the session for the child and not just considered a reward for working on static language skills. By first tuning into each child’s unique interests and then building on those themes, adults can ensure that they will be helping to build a child’s meaningful language and true social interaction abilities (Prizant and Wetherby, 2000).
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2016). Scope of practice in speech-language pathology [Scope of Practice]. Available from www.asha.org/policy/
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2004). Preferred practice patterns for the profession of speech-language pathology [Preferred Practice Patterns]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
Gerber, S. (2013) Developmental-pragmatic approaches/strategies. In F. Volkmar (Ed.),
Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Greenspan, S. and Wieder, S. (1998). The Child with Special Needs: Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Lahey, M. (1988). Language Disorders and Language Development. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Company.
Prizant, B. and Wetherby, A. (2000). Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Transactional Developmental Perspective. Paul Brookes. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.