It’s very tempting to feel that you need to be “doing therapy” every waking hour of every day for your child to make progress. If you can do this, on top of cooking meals, doing laundry, working, and taking care of siblings, you are Superparent! But here are some tips for the rest of us…
Truthfully, it’s insane to expect every moment of your day to be therapy time. And you know what? It might not even be that productive, either. In her research on improving auditory skills through focused training, Dr. Beverly Wright found that too much training over a threshold amount actually did not lead to increased improvement, and that breaks in training were harmful if filled with nothing (or with visual stimuli), but helpful if filled with passive exposure to the target. What does that mean for us?
We need to work smarter, not harder.
Flashcarding your child to death is not the way to go. Instead, work hard to learn auditory verbal techniques until they feel like second nature to you, and integrate them into your everyday life. After all, life isn’t therapy, it’s life. It’s far more important for the child to learn to communicate when he’s helping you make dinner, riding in the car, or going to the doctor’s office than it is for him to speak perfectly during the one hour of a therapy session. The Auditory Verbal model is set up to help you, the family, become your child’s first and best teacher.
The number of appointments, goals, and commitments for a child with hearing loss can seem overwhelming, and it’s the parents who have mastered the art of infusing their everyday interactions with language and listening who seem to manage the stress the best. Don’t set yourself up for burnout. Instead, make therapy a lifestyle, not a chore. By changing simple things about your everyday interactions with your child, you can “bump up” the language and listening content of your everyday routines. Life gets a lot easier, and a lot calmer, when you are confident that you have the tools you need to help your child succeed. If your therapist isn’t getting you there, it’s time for a change.
Sometimes parents ask, “How much is enough?” in terms of working with their child at home. There are just some times — a sibling needs a diaper change, your spouse is sick, dinner needs to get on the table — that a formal language lesson is not going to happen. Therapists need to acknowledge this. I tell parents, “When you’re on, be on. When you can’t, it’s okay, too.” Children need free time for self-directed play. They need time to be bored, to create their own adventures, to color a picture, to read a book. This time off is not a waste. As long as a parent’s “off” time doesn’t mean a child’s excessive plug in/zone out time, it’s okay.
Professionals, too, can benefit from thinking of smarter, not harder, ways to work. One of the biggest obstacles that my graduate students and mentees report is the excessive amount of time they spend planning their AVT sessions. When we get down to it, however, it’s not really that they’re spending too much time determining the goals (true, this does take time, but that time is a worthwhile investment and will get faster with practice), but that they’re spending hours constructing elaborate, complicated activities for each session. I challenge them with this: pick five toys and use them for ALL of your clients this week. Every session, regardless of level. Pick (and plan) smarter, not harder. Remember, the magic is in the talk, not the toys! A clever therapist can make a game out of cleaning up the therapy room. Don’t hide behind fancy toys or think that the child needs something expensive or complex each time. After all, we want the family to see activities in therapy that they can easily do at home, not those that require the latest toy or fancy technology.
We’re not superheroes. We’re all human. Most of us are probably tired. But by working smarter, not harder, we can have the strength that we need to make learning language a fun part of every single day.