Welcome to the Children's Speech Therapy Corner

Welcome to a Corner filled with Information related to the Speech and Language disorders seen in Children. Information on assessment, intervention strategies, and the latest updates in research. You will also be able to interact with other professionals and parents.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Baby Einsteins: Not So Smart After All

The claim always seemed too good to be true: park your infant in front of a video and, in no time, he or she will be talking and getting smarter than the neighbor's kid. In the latest study on the effects of popular videos such as the "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Baby" series, researchers find that these products may be doing more harm than good. And they may actually delay language development in toddlers.

It's not the first blow to baby videos, and likely won't be the last. Mounting evidence suggests that passive screen sucking not only doesn't help children learn, but could also set back their development. Last spring, Christakis and his colleagues found that by three months, 40% of babies are regular viewers of DVDs, videos or television; by the time they are two years old, almost 90% are spending two to three hours each day in front of a screen. Three studies have shown that watching television, even if it includes educational programming such as Sesame Street, delays language development. "Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn," says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "They don't get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development." Previous studies have shown, for example, that babies learn faster and better from a native speaker of a language when they are interacting with that speaker instead of watching the same speaker talk on a video screen. "Even watching a live person speak to you via television is not the same thing as having that person in front of you," says Christakis.Led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, the research team found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. "The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew," says Christakis. "These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos."

This growing evidence led the Academy to issue its recommendation in 1999 that no child under two years old watch any television. The authors of the new study might suggest reading instead: children who got daily reading or storytelling time with their parents showed a slight increase in language skills.

Though the popular baby videos and DVDs in the Washington study were designed to stimulate infants' brains, not necessarily to promote language development, parents generally assume that the products' promises to make their babies smarter include improvement of speaking skills. But, says Christakis, "the majority of the videos don't try to promote language; they have rapid scene changes and quick edits, and no appearance of the 'parent-ese' type of speaking that parents use when talking to their babies."

As far as Christakis and his colleagues can determine, the only thing that baby videos are doing is producing a generation of overstimulated kids. "There is an assumption that stimulation is good, so more is better," he says. "But that's not true; there is such a thing as overstimulation." His group has found that the more television children watch, the shorter their attention spans later in life. "Their minds come to expect a high level of stimulation, and view that as normal," says Christakis, "and by comparison, reality is boring."

He and other experts worry that the proliferation of these products will continue to displace the one thing that babies need in the first months of life — face time with human beings. "Every interaction with your child is meaningful," says Christakis. "Time is precious in those early years, and the newborn is watching you, and learning from everything you do." So just talk to them; they're listening.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nursery Rhymes And Language Development

My son, who is 2.5 years old has been learning a few nursery rhymes over the past 6 months. He has been hearing it since he was a baby. Recently , I bought a second hand book of common nursery rhymes which had a CD in it too. He was just too captivated , listening to the CD and also following the song in the book. It's only been a few weeks and he has learnt 3 rhymes and 2 rhymes (earlier heard and learnt)have become clear, speech vice.
Some observations:
  • He pays more attention to the words and music. Consequently, I have seen he plays more by himself (giving me some time to do things)(Increased attention ans concentration span with creative play)
  • Tries to follow the words in the book for each individual rhyme, thus building awareness of print and sounds heard( building up Phonological awareness). Exploring the illustrations and talking about them.
  • Sings along with the music and has improved catching up with the words.

Some researchers have found that children’s early knowledge of nursery rhymes is related to their development of emergent reading abilities, specifically phonemic awareness skills (i.e. the awareness of sounds and their association with letters within words). Reading skills are the not the only skills they develop. Listening and thinking skills are developed along with singing rhymes.

What you can do:
  1. Expose your child to a rhyme either through you singing or through a CD repeatedly. So they will become familiar to it.
  2. Associate actions along with those that you know. Encourage them to participate but don't force them.
  3. If you have a book with the rhymes , show them and read along with them pointing your finger to each word. Explain the illustration and talk about the rhyme.Stimulating discussions are a great way to build oral language and comprehension skills.
  4. Repeat , Repeat and repeat. Is the key to your child learning and enjoying the rhymes.

Have fun singing and dancing with your children!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Listening to the Whole Sentence

Listening to the Whole Sentence

How to deal with listening and comprehension difficulties caused by complex sentences.

By Susan Zimmerman, MA, CCC-SLP

Many of the students we work with have difficulties with listening and comprehension, especially when they encounter sentences that are longer than five to seven words. They usually can interpret simple declarative and interrogative sentences, but they may need to have them repeated.

What happens to children's ability to listen and comprehend when sentences are longer and more complex and express gradations in meaning? How can they "listen their way" through these sentences and interpret the meaning? We can express great thoughts with simple sentences, such as "Love is kind" or "It hurts to be hungry." But what if we want to talk about relative values or conditional truths? We have to use more complex language, like "Because love is kind, I will show I love you by being kind to you," or "It hurts to be hungry, but it's worse to be hungry and alone."

One of the great rewards of practicing speech therapy is taking complex skills and breaking them down into parts. Not only does this help students learn how to manage the parts of speech and language, it helps them put everything together.

There are many ways to create complex sentences. We typically use coordinating or subordinating conjunctions and adverbs to combine phrases and clauses. I present the main part of a complex sentence and help students understand how to manipulate it to refine meaning.

The first step is to get some sentence strips big enough so all students at the therapy table can see them easily. Write adverbs and conjunctions on individual slips of construction paper or index cards, and give each student a small pile. Each child should have identical stacks of words. I suggest using the following words or phrases: "because," "since," "or," "when," "although," "however," "but," "except" and "even though." I would not put "and" in the stack because it doesn't help with auditory complexity.

Present a simple sentence on the sentence strip. Leave an underscore at the beginning and end of the sentence to allow room for the adverb or conjunction. Read the written sentence, such as "I like apples," to the group, then alter the sentence by saying something like, "Although I like apples, I like oranges better." You then can perform the following steps in any order:

  • Students repeat the expanded sentence.
  • They find the adverb or conjunction in their pile.
  • They identify whether it came at the beginning or end of the original sentence.
  • Question students about the meaning of the sentence. Does this person like apples? Do they like oranges? How do you know? If they had a choice, which one would they pick?
  • Do they agree with the expanded sentence? How would they change it if they could? Would they turn it around? Would they add another fruit?

Depending on the needs of your group, you can stay with this one sentence for the entire session or move on to another sentence, such as "Basketball is fun to watch." You can expand this sentence in the same way depending on the needs of your group. For example, you can say, "Although basketball is fun to watch, I like football better," or you can expand it to say, "Basketball is fun to watch, although it gets very noisy!"

Go through the steps each time you expand a sentence. I do not recommend writing down the expanded sentence because the main point of the lesson is to improve auditory processing. We are working on helping students understand what they hear the first time they hear it, and we want to give them as many trials as possible in the time we have with them. Writing down sentences can come a little later when they are sure of what they have heard.

One reason I like this therapy activity is that all preparation can be done ahead of time and saved for many sessions. Since only the basic sentence is written on the sentence strip, you can expand it differently the next time without the need for more preparation.

You can use this lesson at any age, depending on the needs of your students. They don't have to be able to read. As long as one student in the group can find the written adverb or conjunction, he or she can show the others. Students also can guess until they find it.

After completing a sufficient number of lessons, students will become comfortable with the process and demonstrate an increased understanding of complex sentences. You then can let them make up their own sentences. Either you or the students can suggest a core sentence, and they can take turns expanding it in different ways. Make sure they are listening to and understanding each other. It's important to check for comprehension frequently by asking questions.

I do not use this as a grammar lesson about parts of speech. I don't even use the words "adverb" or "conjunction." I just call them words to help us tell more.

Susan Zimmerman is on staff at Madison Elementary School in Madison, ME. She can be contacted at szimmerman@mes.sad59.k12.me.us.