I often hear from frustrated parents, “My child knows A, my child knows B, so why on earth can’t she make a sentence with A and B together? I’m pulling my hair out!” Moving from single words to phrases of two words or more is a significant milestone in language development. How do we help children achieve this goal?
A lot of attention in the AVT world is focused on infants and toddlers — detecting hearing loss at birth, fitting them hearing technology ASAP, and getting their families off to a running start with listening and spoken language early intervention. When all goes well, many of these children can be fully mainstreamed from preschool and have no need for further therapy. That’s the ideal. It happens for many children, but not all. What about children who are identified as toddlers, or implanted late, or have other complicating factors that lead to slower than expected speech and language progress? What happens when little kids become big kids who still need intervention?
We know that you need thousands of hours of practice to become an expert at any skill, and many, many repetitions for something to stick. The same is true for children learning new speech, language, or listening skills. But how can we get in the practice they need without boring them (and ourselves!) to tears?
When an infant or toddler first receives hearing technology, it’s an exciting day! Shortly after, though, parents want to know, “When will he start to talk?” Stop and listen for a minute. Do you hear that baby babbling? What if we could learn to listen and talk to new listeners in a way that would help them build foundational skills for the “real words” that come later? All you have to know is D-I-P.
Due to family schedules, it’s usually the same parent or caregiver who is able to attend therapy with the child each week. Each session, this “present parent” receives coaching, modeling, and guidance in becoming their child’s first and best teacher. In a two-parent family, how do we as therapists also provide this same level of support and learning to the “other parent,” the one who isn’t present in the therapy session each week?
Psychologist Lev Vygotsky is credited with identifying the concept of the “Zone of Proximal Development.” This “ZPD” is the area between what a learner can do without help and what a learner can do with help — that is, it’s the zone where growth and learning really happen. Zone of Proximal Development sounds impressive, but for me, I like to think of it as the “Just Right Challenge.”