As SLPs we often find ourselves wearing multiple career hats. We see ourselves as detectives. During assessments, we look out for signs and symptoms that point to exact diagnosis of the child. Multiple overlapping symptoms often make diagnosis less clear cut. That is the reason why we often ask parents to give us more time to work with the child and assess the child along the way. We see ourselves as speech and language doctors, in which we repair the underlying deficits of language processing so that the child can learn. Very often too, we find ourselves acting as counsellors to some extent, answering questions relating to the psychosocial aspects of the child, in particular where family situations are stressors by themselves and pose as a hindrance to the child’s learning abilities.
The student’s past history is useful in helping us make decisions of whether the child is at “high risk” of having a delay or disorder. We know from studies that residual effects such as auditory processing difficulties can still be present 2 years later. Knowing this bit of critical history allows us to monitor the child’s language growth successfully.
A family history of language learning difficulties is often red light for us to do something early – it may mean putting the child in a “dyslexia preventative” training that strengthens phonological awareness (a strong predictor of reading abilities). Knowledge of family history may also inform us how we should plan our services, (i.e. students who have parents with similar symptoms).
WILL MORE TUTORING HELP?
SLPs repair language deficits by sifting out areas of weaknesses through standardised testing and dynamic testing. We look at patterns of development and formulate goals and objectives to help bridge that learning gap. We don’t see ourselves as conventional tutors in this sense.
Parents often ask if more English tutoring would be still necessary on top of language therapy. Our advice would be that if we feel additional support is required (i.e. such as someone who could help us carry out goals for phonological awareness) we would certainly let the parents know. In the meantime, it is sensible to give enough “push” for remediation to be possible, but not so much as wear the student down with multiple therapies and activities. Language remediation can’t really go the route of being taught, it has to be acquired over time, and oftentimes alongside meaningful experiences.
Parents could assist by:
Recasting sentences – if the wrong tense is being used for example, you could say “Oh.. You mean you “went to zoo yesterday”. You could feign ignorance of what a Tyrannosaurus is and have him describe to you how it looks like. You could emphasize the “How” questions in that way and help him acquire an understanding of answering this form of questioning.
Guiding and sharing thoughts – as you communicate with your child, understand that you are taking on the powerful role of guiding and shaping thoughts and changing perspectives.
Being selective in the types of books appropriate for the student. In Singapore, narratives of school aged children are increasing mirroring the sort of popular mainstream ‘craze of moment” books (usually in the form of comics) that really do nothing to increase narrative abilities of the students.
Making each family moment worthwhile. Even if you have a busy schedule, you could be very conscious about the quality of language used. Mealtimes could be “language therapy” time too.
Involving Dad. We can’t tell you how much we’ve witnessed the fact that when Dad steps in and shows interest in the student, and gets involved in some ways, the student tries a little harder, and becomes a little more self-motivated. There are many clinical studies to show the importance of the father in facilitating learning. By showing interest in your child’s work in the midst of your busy schedule, and by providing him with encouragement, you are actually setting the stage for success in intervention.
Language intervention is a process that is also experience-dependent, of which the student’s own personal reflection is highly important for success to take place. The parents’ role is as important as our role as interventionists, and the more this is acknowledged, the better we are able to maximise the potential of student with language disorder learning difficulties.
Prudence Low, SLP