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Does your child have a speech delay? 16 expert ways to help

A speech-language pathologist shares her advice.

Does your child have a speech delay? 16 expert ways to help

As a speech-language pathologist, I am often asked by other parents what they can do to help their child's speech-language or social skills at home. Don't think of these as added work for you. Instead, look for ways that you can incorporate them into your everyday play routines and interactions. After a while, it will become second nature.

I compiled a list of some tried and true speech-language and social development tips. You can use these suggestions for children who are typically developing or for those who may have a speech-language delay.

1. Provide positive praise

Continue to have immediate positive praise and reinforcement when your kid is following directions, using grammar correctly or when demonstrating appropriate social skills and behavior.

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2. Increase receptive and expressive vocabulary

Help your kiddo increase their vocabulary by expanding on the phrases they say, talking through activities that they're doing and asking them questions when reading books or completing tasks to start conversations.

3. Be visual

Pair what you are verbally teaching with something visible for your child to see or something physical for them to manipulate. Google images are one of your best friends! When a child can't visualize a new vocabulary term, search the word and walk through some of the images.

4. Model appropriate behavior

When your child uses incorrect grammar or incomplete sentences, model the utterance back to him using the appropriate sentence structure. Emphasize the word error that you fixed. This modeling technique goes with negative behaviors as well. Show them what they should do instead.

5. Have your child repeat directions back to you

This will ensure they understand exactly what is expected at home and offers them the opportunity to ask any questions.

6. Provide open-ended questions

Share opportunities for your kid to answer open-ended questions so they can practice expressive language skills with longer responses. This could be asking them what they learned at school, or getting their feedback on a show or book.

7. Read, read, read

Read, read and then read some more! Stop after every couple of pages and discuss what you have read. Ask your kid "wh-" questions (who, what, when, where, why) to talk about what is occurring in the story. Also, ask questions about what might happen next and talk about the characters' emotions/feelings in the story. You can discuss the problems in the story and ideas of what the characters can do to fix them.

8. Use pictures to practice sentence forming

Look at pictures in books and have your child make up grammatically correct and complete sentences about each picture they see. If the sentences are short in length, help them think of ways to expand and make the sentence longer and more complicated.

9. Use household products to practice spatial vocabulary

Spatial vocabulary words include: in, on, behind, under, next to, between, front, back, first, last, middle, above, below and over. Use household objects and instruct your kid where to place them. "Put the spoon under the bowl." "Put the dishes in the dishwasher."

10. Get their attention first

"Hey, go pick up your toys," works much better if you say, "Will, can you look at me, please? Can you go pick up your toys?" That ensures they are focused on what you are saying and not still distracted by their toys.

11. Incorporate daily routines

Visual schedules and calendars are great tools to help with daily routines and keep your child focused and organized throughout the day.

12. Practice following directions

Give your child verbal directions that contain one to three steps (i.e., first touch your nose, then stand up and make a silly face) so they can get used to completing instructions in sequential order. Making it a game can be a simple way to incorporate it.

13. Play games

Play fun language games to squeeze in extra practice at home. Some of my favorites include: "Guess Who?" "Naming items in a category," "Memory," "Simon Says" and "20 Questions."

14. Answer "wh-" questions

Questions are a great way to get your kiddo talking. Kids like to talk about themselves, so asking (who, what, when, where, why) during daily activities encourages them to converse in new ways. Examples: "Who is sitting next to you right now?" "What color are you using for your picture?" "Why do you think the dog is wagging his tail right now?"

15. Provide social interaction outside of school

Offer a variety of opportunities for social interaction with age-matched peers for them to continue to develop appropriate pragmatic skills. Play dates, summer camps and non-competitive activities are a great place to start. Even time around cousins is a great option.

16. Teach expected behaviors

Before your kid goes to a play date, camp, or activity, try to pre-teach expected behavior and things to talk about in each particular interaction. This could include sharing, taking turns, trying to stay calm when something doesn't go your way, asking your friend questions, and others depending on the situation. If you help him prepare speech-language or social skills at home, it may ease anxiety or issues that could occur during the event.

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