“My child is receiving early intervention services. They will get all the practice they need with their therapist, right?”
First of all, I want to praise you for taking those steps! You are showing the initiative to help your child reach their full potential. You are already helping your child in so many ways.
To put your question into perspective, imagine this scenario. Let’s say your child sees a speech-language pathologist for one hour per week to work on his or her language development. That’s one hour out of 168 hours. In other words, 0.6% of your child’s week is spent directly with their therapist. Is that enough time to see significant change?
It’s safe to say that this is not nearly enough time for your child to practice those critical skills. Not only that, it’s not nearly enough context to know how the child is performing or communicating in other situations. Your child’s therapist sees him or her for one hour in one setting (whether it’s at home, at daycare, or in the community). So, what is the missing ingredient that will make a huge difference in your child’s progress? It’s you!
“Why do I need to be involved in my child’s therapy session? I am not the expert here.”
This could not be further from the truth. You might not have gone through any specialized training in child development, but you are the expert of your child. Nobody knows your child better than you do. You are the most important person in your child’s life as well as their greatest teacher. Research shows that children learn in the context of their real-life, daily activities and with the people who are most important to them. As the caregiver, you are there during life’s biggest teaching moments. There’s no way that his or her therapist can be there for all of those day-to-day moments (as much as we’d like to be!).
“My therapist gives me an overview of what they worked on at the end of each session. Is that enough?”
Research shows that caregivers learn to use strategies and skills at significantly higher rates when using a more hands-on coaching approach than simply being given a summary of the session. Your child’s session is the perfect place to practice those skills that you will implement throughout the week.
“Okay, I’m starting to understand why my involvement matters. What will therapy look like?”
I’m so glad you’re seeing how crucial your role is in this process. Your support and involvement are directly tied to your child’s success in therapy. The best practice for early intervention programs involves a family-centered, coaching model. The speech-language pathologist’s role is to support your child’s speech/language development, meet you where you are (both physically and emotionally), educate you on skills and strategies, and empower you to use those tools on your own. Your role is to be your child’s greatest teacher!
As a caregiver, you will be most motivated to participate in therapy if the goals are functional to not only the child, but to the family. Make sure you are on board with your child’s goals and that they are meaningful to you. After all, you are going to play an active role in therapy.
During sessions, your child’s speech-language pathologist will have your child practice skills within play activities or during daily routines. The therapist will model strategies and explain the reason behind them. They will provide opportunities for you to practice these skills as well as offer helpful feedback.
“How much time should I devote to working on these skills with my child?”
Realistically, you may not always have the flexibility in your day to sit on the floor and play with your child for a set amount of time. The beauty of communication is that language opportunities are embedded into all of our daily routines. You will be there to narrate steps during their next diaper change. You will be there to offer choices during snack time. You will be there to label action words during bath time. There are countless opportunities for practicing these new language skills in a way that’s functional, and ultimately more meaningful.
“My child receives services at daycare or at a clinic, but I still want to be involved. What can I do?”
Your child’s therapist will be thrilled to hear this! Without you, it’s impossible to have a full picture of how your child is doing outside of therapy. Sometimes it makes the most sense for sessions to take place outside of the home, based on the child’s schedule and/or the family’s needs.
Communicate openly with your therapist about your desire to stay involved in the process. You may ask for a communication notebook that is passed between daycare teachers, therapists, and yourself. You may prefer phone calls, text messages, or emails to share updates and strategies. Your child’s therapist will be more than happy to share guidance to promote carryover throughout the week. When we are all working together to encourage your child’s growth, that is when we will see the biggest, most positive changes. It takes a village!
We see what a difference caregiver involvement makes. The more involved you are as a parent, the more success you’ll see, the stronger your bond will be, and the more empowered I hope you feel. You are the difference maker.
Written By: Shannon Rumpf MS CCC-SLP
Content Graphics: by Kristin Weingart MS CCC-SLP