As Speech and Language Therapists we have a lot of knowledge about many aspects of child development. But we can often take that knowledge for granted, and we aren’t always aware of what families do and don’t know when it comes to speech and language development. Here’s 6 things Kim from Activity Tailor unexpectedly learned when she started her own Facebook group for parents of late talkers.
The ‘why’ behind my Facebook group
So many families with toddlers and preschoolers felt adrift during quarantine, especially if their little one was behind in their language skills. Were they language delayed? Was it a product of less social interaction and overwhelmed and exhausted parents?
Wanting to offer a haven for parents and caregivers, I opened a free Facebook group, Intentionally Parenting Late Talkers. It provided general education, a community of parents and caregivers, and tips to support language delayed children in their home environment.
The first surprise
While lots of parents reached out for support, a bigger surprise was the number of speech-language pathologists who asked to join because they needed more insight into what families were dealing with at home. It’s heartwarming to be part of a field and a community of professionals that are so dedicated to their craft and looking for ways to continue to grow and serve!
As the group moved forward, I found recurring themes in questions from parents and caregivers, including common myths, perpetuated by well-meaning friends and family members. Based on this, these are the top issues you need to address when working with parents and caregivers of late talkers:
The knowledge SLPs take for granted that consistently confuses parents
- The first lesson was one from Comm Dis 101; the difference between speech and language. Many parents and caregivers equate speech therapy with articulation therapy and were unaware that language was a separate issue to work on. During our sessions, it is important that we make sure parents and caregivers understand their child’s goals and understand the reasons why we are working on certain skills.
- The difference between speech and language milestones was another source of confusion. Parent handouts and development books tend to give minimum thresholds, like 10 words by 18 months. For parents who had limited interaction with other children, it was shocking to suddenly meet up at a park or mommy’s morning out, and see that in real life most 18-month-olds had an average of 50 words. That’s a huge, and alarming, difference!
If you want quality milestone handouts to share with the parents and caregivers you work with, check out these Communication Development Handouts for birth to five, or check out this blog post for tips for explaining communication milestones to caregivers.
Detrimental myths about late talkers were common
- The benefits of early intervention are still not widely realized outside of educational/therapy communities. Most families were unaware that speech and language therapy was available and effective with children under 3 years of age. Part of this stems from not understanding the difference between speech and language. But a great deal of this is still perpetuated by pediatricians who advocate waiting, and by family members with stories of “you never talked until you were three.” Even with families who are seeking services for a child under the age of three, take a moment to validate their decision by highlighting the advantages of early intervention.
- Bilingualism is an increasingly common aspect of family life and an easy scapegoat when it comes to the reason for a language delay. Parents and caregivers were often told that using a second language at home was “confusing” their child, and that English needed to be the only focus. This myth was so common, that now families must be reassured that speaking in their native tongue provides a superior language environment and that research does not suggest a correlation between language delays and bilingualism. The misinformation is so pervasive, this should be addressed with all multilingual families regardless of whether the question is asked.
- Most families felt the best way to help a late talker “catch up” was by using screens/apps or flashcards. Play based intervention and techniques used throughout the day during typical routines were discounted because they looked “easy.” While families cited lack of time and energy as a barrier to supporting their child at home, they put more value on technology or activities that looked like traditional academics. Parents and caregivers need assistance in understanding play is the work of children. In your coaching sessions, it is important that you work with parents and caregivers to make sure they understand the benefit of supporting language in play and routines. Check out these Play Based Early Language Handouts to support parents and caregivers to incorporate more language during play.
Red zone topic for parents of late talkers
Therapists often recommend decreasing screentime for children with language delays. This is an unpopular suggestion that was consistently met with frustration and guilt from parents and caregivers. Part was due to the perceived importance of technology in remediation (see myths above). Part was due to parents’ needs for childcare breaks. While we can continue to suggest decreasing screentime, let families know that you appreciate the need for breaks and help them come up with other non-technology ways to make this happen (check out this post for ideas for supporting independent play at home). Looking for easy ways to educate your families on similar topics? Try these Parent Handouts for Early Language.
For SLPs looking for more information on the parent/caregiver perspective, join me for a webinar this fall (2022)! We’ll go in depth on the topics above, plus several more, and discuss direct quotes and poll results from my parents and caregivers of late talkers. Sign up here.
I hope you’ve found this blog post helpful. Did you find any of these points surprising? What other nuggets of knowledge do you think SLPs take for granted? Let us know in the comments below.