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FLUENCY ENHANCING THERAPY FOR PRESCHOOLCHILDREN
Guidelines for Verbal Interaction
It has been found effective during adult-child verbal interactions to reducethe excitement level of activities, for parents and others to talk at a slowerrate, to reduce the number of questions, and to program some silent periodsduring play. Examination of video/tape recordings show that this type ofparent-child interaction does alter the frequency and type of disfluencies, thelength of the childs utterances, the rate of childs speech and the audiblecharacteristics of effort associated with disfluencies. The following areguidelines for strategies that parents can implement aimed towardencouraging children to verbalize at a less stressful level linguistically. Aswe work with parents/caregivers, we discuss with them our joint efforts toimplement the strategies and we engage in problem solving discussions.
RATE. One factor which may affect fluency is the rate at which thechild and those around him talk. Often children try to talk fast to keeppace with the adults rate of speech. When children hurry, especiallyif they are only two or three or four years old, they often repeat andhesitate because their tongues, lips and jaws simply cannot move thatquickly in a coordinated manner. There is greater likelihood of incoordination of breathing, voicing and sound formation at a fast rate.Once the child has learned to talk rapidly, it is often harder for him totalk more slowly later. Some youngsters become programmed forhurrying. If we reduce our own rate of talking a little, then theyoungster may learn to talk slower also. However, people should nottell your child to slow downtake your time. Such advice may givehim the idea that he is doing something wrong when he talks and thathe should try not to talk as he does now. In his attempt to stop doingthat something wrong his muscles may stiffen and the disfluenciesmay increase.
As some children become more involved in the activities they talk
faster and their speech, though fluent, is less clear. When they becomeeven more excited, some of their speech is not intelligible. The rate isso fast that words are blended together, sounds are slurred andsyllables seem to be omitted. Children who speak super fast mayrepeat the initial word or part of it and repeat linking words as andto give themselves time to formulate ideas.
QUESTIONS. Young childrens disfluencies have been observed toincrease if we ask them many questions. Much of adults verbalcommunication with children is question-asking in nature. Questionsput children on the spot for a response. We believe that it will behelpful to change verbal interaction style with children as much aspossible. Try to reduce by 50 percent the number of questions youask. How are you to talk with your child then? Parents have found ithelpful to do more commenting. The commenting strategy involvesverbalizing in short sentences what you think your child is doing,feeling and thinking as he is playing or being with you. It is a littlelike saying thoughts aloud. Leave some silences, though. Your childshould not think that a person has to be talking constantly.
DISPLAY SPEECH. It is important not to put children on the spot inanother way. Avoid doing the Show and Tell routine. It is disruptiveof thought processes, requires a great deal of memory and puts toomuch attention on the childs language formulation skills to directhim: Tell Daddy where we went; Tell Mommy who we saw:Tell Grandpa what you got for your birthday, and so on. As anadult, you can comment and give information about the event to Dad,Mother of Grandfather; if the child wants to chime in and add his owncomments, fine.
HERE AND NOW. Young childrens fluency often increases if wemake use of the idea of the here and now. Children have beenobserved to be more fluent and to acquire a vocabulary of labels fasterwhen the object or event being talked about is right in front of them. Ifa child has to recall what was done or seen yesterday or an hour ago,he appears to search more for the word names and for the words toexpress thoughts. The objects actual physical presence seems tofacilitate verbalization for many children. A substitute for the object is
a picture book. When looking at a book together or reading a story toa child, refrain from quizzing about the pictures. Instead of askingWhats this? or Do dogs have tails?, you might name some of thepictures or features of the picture of comment on the action. If thechild wants to name pictures for you spontaneously or comment onthe, fine. Talk about concrete objects and experiences that the childhas.
ECHOING. For very young children, less that three years old,disfluencies may decrease if some of the time we echo part of whatthey have just said rather than engage in a conversation. One caution:if the child stutters, you simply echo fluently what he said withoutcalling his attention to the stuttering. It is not an exciting way to talkwith a child, but it can give him the awareness that we haveunderstood his words. A child relaxes and enjoys talking when hefeels the message is getting through to the listener. Further, the childdoes not feel the adult will take over the conversation and change thetopic. The suggestion would be that only the two parents do someechoing and plan to stop the echoing gradually in one to two months.However, if the child responds negatively to the echoing or considerssuch to be teasing, stop doing it immediately.
Some children do not talk clearly. Repeating some of their utterancesindicates to the child that the speech has been understood. Further,echoing often prevents the adult from forging ahead in the interaction.
LISTENING AND ATTENDING. Childrens disfluencies mayincrease when they try to get us to listen to them. They are not good atwaiting their turn to talk. Often they interrupt our talking to someoneor interrupt our activity to gain attention. Many young children wantus to look at them and want to be able to see our eyes when they talk.They do not want us to continue fixing a meal or reading as we listen.They seem to want 100 percent of our attention. If it isnt possible togive your undivided attention at the moment, ask the child to wait aminute. Expect a child to speak with more disfluencies when you aredriving a car and have to focus on driving. You cannot turn to look athim very much at the time. In addition, the youngster may want to callyour attention to something he sees which is rapidly disappearingfrom view as you continue driving down the road.
Children may begin a verbal interaction with a persons name, asMom, repeated 3-10 times. The remainder of the sentence may befluent. What you do in that situation depends on whether the repetitionof Mom is a signal Hey, listen to me or whether the repeating ofMom gives the child time to organize his thoughts.
LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT. For some children ages 2 to 4years, the disfluencies appear to be due to their stage of languagedevelopment--at least in part. The child is learning new words andlinking them together in sentences. He is learning to ask questionswhich require a different word order than do sentences. His languageand comprehension are expanding. He is practicing these newlanguage forms. Children often are disfluent at this stage ofvocabulary acquisition and language formulation. Your goal is toreduce language development pressure. We believe it would behelpful for adults to decrease markedly their efforts to eachvocabulary labels, concepts, colors, printing and so forth for the nexttwo to three months. Your child will not stop learning but he maylearn at a more relaxed pace. Once he has re-established more fluency,then you can return to the teaching activities again. You can enjoybeing together without trying to teach or direct if you do quietertable top crafts or sand box type activities. The activity should be onethat lends itself to doing without feeling a need to talk constantly.Leave more PAUSE TIME when you talk with himspaces where hecan insert his ideas if he wishes or spaces where both of you arecomfortable with silence. Some parents have actually programmedquiet time or thinking time. If, however, the child feels he is losinghis turn during the waiting period, this idea will fail as a strategy.Teach turn-taking if the disfluencies increase when you child wantsto take command of the situation and wants to refocus the attention onhimself.
We believe some children may be disfluent because motorically they areattempting to coordinate respiratory, phonatory and articulatory systems at alevel above their physical capability at this time. We also believe that thegreater the uncertainty about information, the longer and more complex the
sentence formulation, the greater the number of linguistic decisions he has tomake, the more likely his physical system is to fluency disruption.
There are many young children regardless of age whose stuttering severitycan be altered little by the clinician during the evaluation. It may also beapparent that environmental manipulation and altering communicativepressure is less effective in the clinic and at home that is desired. It is thenthat a decision to begin some direct altering of the childs talking behaviorneeds to be made. It is likely then too, that the parents and the clinician willneed to problem-solve in nearly every therapy session for strategies that willreduce the severity of the stuttering for a specific child. Ineffectiveness ofthe fluency enhancing strategies presented above indicates the need fordirect intervention by trained clinicians. Three behaviors of the child signal aneed for direct intervention: (1) breath stream mismanagement and/or hardvocal attacks; (2) active attempts to stop stuttering; (3) active attempts toconceal stuttering. Excessive parental/caregiver concerns may also warrantdirect intervention by a speech/language pathologist who has knowledge ofchildhood stuttering.
Excellent resources for parent/caregiver/teacher education to enhancefluency are as follows:
1. STUTTERING AND THE PRESCHOOL CHILD, HELP FORFAMILIES video and booklet IF YOUR CHILD STUTTERS, AGUIDE FOR PARENTS from the Stuttering Foundation of America(SFA) at 1-800-992-9392 or www.stutteringhelp.org
2. PRESCHOOL CHILDREN WHO STUTTER, INFORMATIONAND SUPPORT FOR PARENTS booklet from the NationalStuttering Association (NSA) at 1-800-364-1677 orwww.westutter.org
Source: Judith Eckardt, SLP, Board Recognized Fluency Specialist,firstname.lastname@example.org , USA, 11/03.