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Promoting Speech-Language In Infancy

mommy talking to infant

By Jacqueline Kellner-Hiczewski, M.S., CCC-SLP/NYSL, TSHH

Becoming a new parent can be overwhelming but at the same time you have now become your child’s first “teacher”.  Communication between infant and parent begins the day he/she is born.  Infants communicate their needs through cries, eye contact, and moving their little bodies (even kicking for excitement and tongue movement to practice getting ready to eat!).   As a parent myself, I have used these strategies with my son from birth and he was verbal earlier than the norm.  Many commented on his extensive vocabulary.  In saying that, each child develops at a different rate and norms are “ranges” not guarantees for development. Your child may be ahead of his/her milestones in physical development but may be below milestones in social development.  As parents, we all know this or are currently educating ourselves by reading updated materials.  This is our full time job and we know our child best.  So I am here as a “full-time” parent with my “full-time” speech-language knowledge and therapy experience to easily communicate to you, how to be your own child’s speech and language “teacher”.

In saying that, as a Speech-Language Pathologist, it should be noted that if you are at all concerned about your child’s development in any area then you should talk to your pediatrician and ask for a developmental evaluation which can be in the areas of speech-language, gross motor (large muscle movements), fine motor (small muscle movements), psycho-educational development (overall learning abilities), social development (emotional development), and/or behavioral development.

Here, I am going to provide some simple everyday activities that really revolve around your day (such as chores) and allow for natural interactions you can have with your infant that will get that little brain thinking and understanding new words from day 1!  These are simple ideas and strategies that every parent can do! Let’s face it, we need to get our work done too, so why not have your infant be a part of your activities. They are organized by direct(infant activity) contact- meaning, you do these activities with your child or indirect(your activity) contact meaning – the parent is completing their activity while the infant is within listening range.

~direct contact~

  • Activity:  Bathing

Why do this? Your child will learn (understand) new words such as body parts and  textures.

What you could say:

*talk about which body part you are washing out-loud.  You can even make a silly song to it!

*talk about toys in the tub and use the words “squishy, soft, hard, rough, etc….

  • Activity:  Diaper changes

Why do this?  Your child will learn words associated with diaper changes, and the order of how things are done (first, then, next, last).

What you could say:

*”First I am going to take your dirty diaper off, then use the wipes…they may feel cold….brrrr…”

*Create a diaper change song! Start with the same cue (a special phrase or even a something simple such as “diaper time”(sing this J) each time so baby begins to know it is time for a change.

  • Activity:  Getting dressed

Why do this?  Your child will learn about clothing and seasonal clothes (spring, summer, fall, winter), the order of putting them on and how they are put on (on, off,  over, under).

What you could say:

· “It’s time to get you dressed, you will need a onsie, pants, and a long sleeve shirt.  It is

very cold out!  First let’s put your onsie on (take this opportunity to play peek-a-boo, especially if the infant does not enjoy something over his/her head), great job…we did it!, Now for your pants, one foot, now the other foot, up to your tummy…..  etc….”

These are just some ideas to have that “direct contact” using your language skills to “teach” your infant about language.

~indirect contact~

  • Activity:  Cooking dinner ( I always placed my child in their bouncy seat,” bumbo” chair)

Why do this?  Your child will learn about food names, kitchen items, where things go (in/out, etc.)

What you could say:

· “Time to make dinner!  Hmmm, what should I make?”  I think we should make chicken, broccoli which is a vegetable, some cheesy noodles, and maybe some fruit like pears”.  Let’s get the pans out so we can cook!  I need to turn on the stove first and remember it is really hot, so never touch it!! I am going to put the broccoli in the pan with a little water to steam it.  Let’s name some veggies!!!!”

  • Activity:  Dusting the living room

Why do this?  Your child will learn about things and names of the items you dust, action words (reaching, dusting, moving, dancing, lifting, etc.).

What you could say:

· “Time to do some dusting to keep the house clean! I am going to spray some cleaner on the cloth.  Listen, it makes a sound (which you can also make).  Let’s start with the TV, dusting over the screen, on top of the TV.  Now I have to move these great pictures of your cousins! See, this is cousin Ben.  He is a little boy too!, (Show your infant the picture), now I need to dust the coffee table, wow is it dirty, but look!! now it’s clean!!”  etc…

· Of course to make this more interesting and get exercise for yourself you could also dance around the room which will give you a workout and keep the attention of your infant J

  • Activity:  Doing the dishes (well, placing the dishes in the dishwasher).

Why do this? Your child will learn about using eye contact and how important it is when communicating, what you are doing and why you are cleaning the dishes.  Making silly sounds will also keep your infant’s attention!

What you can do:

While doing the dishes, place your child in his/her bouncer on the floor, explain what you are doing and why.  ‘I am putting the dirty dishes in the dish washer to make them clean.” Make up some silly dishwasher sounds. After turning on the dishwasher, put your hand up to your ear, “do you hear that________?”  It’s the sound of the dishwasher….  Then make the sound with your mouth.  This will keep the baby entertained and you will get your dishes done!

Filed under Birth to 3 years old, Expressive Language, Language Development, Receptive Language by Tami

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Talk With Your Hands

Sign Language with Babies

By Karin Howard, M.A., CCC-SLP

As parents there are lots of little extra efforts we can make to be supportive of our young children's communication growth. There are many skills involved when children are developing their speech and language. Children learn the ability to make the outward effort to express themselves; they form  a way to understand once they have made the effort; and they develop the ability to understand the information taken in from their surroundings. As we are all individuals with unique strengths and challenges, these amazing accomplishments are carried out in different ways and at different times.

By the same token, there are common threads to this process which present opportunities for you to be proactive. The use of sign language with hearing children is one excellent way to help our little ones along with their development. To get you started, here is a list several signs that are appropriate for children 1-3 years of age - eat, drink, play, good, happy, sad, mom and dad. The following procedures will be a good guideline to use when working with your children.

  1. First, practice these signs by yourself so that you become consistent with the signs you use with your child. Don't worry if they are not exact according to American Sign Language (ASL), just make sure that you use the same sign for play each time you use it. The most important thing is that you are consistent. Remember, your child will replace these signs with accurate verbal productions when he is ready and his use of the signs will then fade.
  2. Begin to introduce these signs to your child. Use the signs when it is appropriate, for example, when your child is looking for food and you know it's time to eat, sign "eat" as you say, "Let's find you something to eat."  Always use verbal productions along with your signed attempts, as this article is addressing hearing children. The verbal and signed communication will allow your child to take in the auditory as well as the visual modality for a multi-sensory and enriched experience.

  3. After continued use of signing your child may use some of these signs expressively. Give enthusiastic verbal and signed praise. Their use of expressive signs may be with or without a verbal attempt. Either way is great. Remember also to follow up by supporting your child's communication attempt. For example, if your child signs "play", then play with them, or at least let them know you understand what they were trying to communicate by saying something like "How great you told me you want to play, okay Mommy will play with you soon".

  4. As stated earlier, when your child achieves a close enough approximation of the verbal production and they are being understood they will usually drop the signed production and move on with only verbal attempts to communicate, which is appropriate.

While there are so many ways you can encourage your child's communication skills, current research has supported the use of sign language to proactively promote expressive language, receptive and expressive vocabulary and much more. The use of signed communication in children seems to decrease  frustration during the acquisition of speech and language development as it provides them with a way to communicate.

So have fun and maybe you will be motivated to take a closer look at the wonders of communicating with your hands!

Karin Howard is a practicing speech/language pathologist in Los Angeles. She has taught "Mommy and Me" classes that emphasize speech and language to aid parents of typically developing infants and toddlers. She is also the creator of "Exploring Language through Song and Play," a CD set with an accompanying lyric and activity book. You can learn more about this CD set here. There is also a Buy Now button on the upper right side bar of this website if you wish to purchase this CD set.

Signing Time DVD of the Month Club

Filed under Birth to 3 years old, Expressive Language, Language Development, Receptive Language, Sign Language by Tami

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10 Tips to Promote Speech and Language Skills in Your Child

10 Tips

By Karin Howard, M.A., CCC-SLP

The communication skills of a newbon are astonishing. In fact, speech and language development visibly occurs immediately after birth. Moments after the birth of my daughter, I looked into her eyes and said "Welcome, Rebekah. We have all been waiting for you." Then, through body language, she communicated back to me. Searching with her little mouth she instantly and non-verbally expressed that she was hungry. As she began to nurse, I knew that we had begun to communicate.

Research in Speech and Hearing Sciences recognizes the communication skills of newborns and even the developing fetus during the last trimester of pregnancy. Nonetheless, parents tend to concentrate on the physical growth of their young child as he or she develops. While physical development is very important, communication skills are equally important. In fact, these two areas of development are interdependent for a healthy child.

The following are ten ways you can nurture the five different areas of speech and language development in typically developing infants and toddlers.

Social Language

1) Eye contact. When communicating with your child, look at his or her face and eyes as often as possible. This helps your child learn that it is appropriate to look at people during communication. Children learn a lot about you through facial expressions and acquire articulation skills by watching the movement of your mouth.

2) Taking turns. Talk to your child and then pause to give them a moment to verbalize. This teaches them the art of turn taking. This skill can also be accomplished during play, using objects and toys.

Expressive Language

3) Give your child space. When your child is trying to communicate with you and you know what they want, give them a few seconds before you instantly meet their needs. This will give them the opportunity to vocalize (coo and babble), point, or attempt a word.

4) Give your child choices and then let them express their choice by pointing, vocalizing, or attempting words. The feelings of confidence a child gains by expressing their own choice are building blocks for further exploration of expressive language.

Receptive Language

5) Get your child to follow instructions. Start with simple requests that only involve one element, such as "smile" or "kiss." Then increase to two elements when one element becomes easy for your child (i.e. "Hand up," or "Touch your nose," and so on).

6) Read simple books to your child with one or two pictures on each page. Ask them questions that can be answered verbally or by pointing to the correct picture. Try not to put too much pressure on them. If your child does not respond after about 10 or 15 seconds, model the answer for them with a positive tone of voice.

Vocabulary Development

7) Reinforce and demonstrate. If your child produces a verbal attempt that resembles a word, praise them with a pleasant tone of voice and then model the word that you think they attempted. For example, if the child says "ba" for ball, say "You said ball. Yes, it is a ball!"

8) Explore. There are wonderful opportunities to model vocabulary out in the community. A simple trip to the market can be a great chance to name items for your child.


9) Observe how often other people understand your child's speech. This will give you an idea of how clear his or her articulation really is (parents usually understand their children more than an outside listener). Don't worry if your toddler is not producing all the sounds in the English language. Many sounds may not develop until four years of age or later. However, you should consider consulting a speech pathologist if it is extremely hard to understand your child's speech at 3 years of age.

10) Articulate your words clearly when you communicate withh your child. Speak slowly and remember to look directly at your child's face.

While speech and language development varies with each child, there is no question that positive daily involvement from a parent and/or a loving caregiver makes the process much smoother. You, the parent, are the "super model" for your child's speech and language development. Taking time to put these tips into action can give you a thoughtful approach as you interact with your amazing little communicator.

Karin Howard is a practicing speech/language pathologist in Los Angeles. She has taught "Mommy and Me" classes that emphasize speech and language to aid parents of typically developing infants and toddlers. She is also the creator of "Exploring Language through Song and Play," a CD set with an accompanying lyric and activity book. You can learn more about this CD set here. There is also a Buy Now button on the upper right side bar of this website if you wish to purchase this CD set.

Filed under Articulation, Birth to 3 years old, Encouragement, Expressive Language, Language Development, Receptive Language by Tami

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