SCREENINGS!

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We’ve been BUSY this month here at Skill Builders. Twice a year, we conduct screenings at local preschools. Screenings are used to determine whether or not a child presents within the average range, as compared to same-aged children. We like to think of screenings as a way of catching kids before they fall. Identifying potential areas of weakness or delays early on can help start the intervention process sooner, rather than waiting until academic or social problems arise. A screening is not a formal assessment, but a tool used to identify whether a formal evaluation is needed. Screenings are an important part of well-child health care, and can be a valuable tool for both parents and teachers

So what is a screening?

Prior to the screening, we collect a brief case history form from the parents that alert us to any pertinent medical history or diagnoses, as well as any previous therapy services. This form also allows for parents to express concerns or ask questions so we can take an extra look at certain skill areas.  

Additionally, we often collect a short questionnaire from the child’s classroom teacher to get an idea of how the child presents in class, as well as any areas of concern that the teacher might have. 

Each screening takes approximately 15-20 minutes. Clinicians will often pull children in groups of 2-3 in order to make them more comfortable. We use a combination of standardized assessment tools, as well as our own clinical observations as we engage the children in tasks that showcase various skills. The activities are play-based and fun, and our goal is for the children to perceive the experience as just “playing with a new teacher”! 🙂

After the screening is over, the clinician will write up a short report to summarize the findings. If areas of concern are identified, a formal evaluation may be recommended. Sometimes, if a skill area appears “on the cusp”, we recommend that a child’s skills be monitored, and re-screened in 6 months. If all looks age-appropriate, we recommend that children still participate in screenings once a year until they reach elementary school. At Skill Builders, we offer the option of scheduling a brief phone call with the screening therapist to ensure parents understand the results, and to address any additional questions. 

Skill Builders offers three different types of screenings:

1.       Hearing Screening

A Pure Tone Test is a “pass/fail” test that determines if a child can detect a range of frequencies in each ear. If the child passes, it is presumed that there is no hearing loss. If the child is not able to detect one or more frequencies, a comprehensive evaluation conducted by an audiologist is required. If a child is not cooperative, or does not appear to understand the task, we may recommend that he have a repeat hearing screening at his pediatrician’s office.

2.       Speech and Language Screening

*Articulation

*Oral Motor Skills

*Expressive Language

*Receptive Language

*Auditory Processing

*Fluency

*Voice

*Pragmatic/Social Languag

3.       Occupational Therapy Screening

*Fine Motor

*Pre-Writing Skill Development

*Visual Perceptual Skills

*Sensory-Motor Processing

*Balance

*Bilateral Coordination

*Frustration Tolerance

*Body Awareness

*Visual Attention

We love doing screenings because it allows us private practice clinicians a glimpse into classroom life, and it gives us a good refresher of what typical development looks like. Skill Builders enjoys partnering with area schools and parents to promote early identification and intervention in important areas of development. 

If your child’s preschool is interested in offering screenings, please contact Cari Syron at cari@skillbuildersllc.com.

 

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

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Cause and Effect

One of the earliest developing skills and interests of a child comes with cause and effect. We talked about some important toys that assist in children’s development previously, but wanted to delve a little deeper into these toys that have all the “bells and whistles” that may be so interesting to your child. These are toys such as ball poppers,
door poppers, and anything that makes noise or does something “exciting” once a button or switch is activated. It has been noted that these toys decrease interaction between parents and children since the kids can play with them on their own. But we have some ideas on how to make these toys more interactive and reciprocal.

cause-and-effectIn December 2015, a study was published that cautioned parents against the use of cause and effect toys for language development. The study (from JAMA Pediatrics) was conducted on 26 families with children ages 10 months to 16 months. The families received a variety of toys, which included a set of noisy, flashy cause and effect toys; wooden puzzles, shape sorters, and blocks; and board books with basic concepts. Results yielded information that suggested books were the most interactive and language-rich activity, followed by traditional toys (puzzles/blocks). Least interactive were the cause and effect toys. As SLPs, we are definite advocates of book reading at a very early age – start right away! Books have the power to teach concepts, character and story development, sequencing, and so much more. What a great way to get started on early literacy! But we’re not always able to sit with our kids and read all day. Playing with a variety of toys is great too. Traditional toys definitely teach great skills, including problem solving, turn-taking, fine motor development, and others. So what about those noisy, flashy toys that you already own and your child absolutely adores? Here are some suggestions for more interactive play:

  1. Turn taking: facilitate a back and forth play with a turn taking routine. You can use language, like “your turn!” and “my turn!” to start this concept early. Of course, with the little ones, it doesn’t have to be such a rigid back and forth; instead, be playful!
  2. Eye contact: wait for your child to look at you before turning the toy back on (most of them have an on/off switch that you can manipulate and control). Eye contact often indicates some form of communication and an awareness that you can give them what they want – another turn!
  3. Requesting: to work on early-developing sounds, you can practice “ah” (for “on!”) and “m” (for “more”).
  4. Problem solving: give your child wait time and see if they can figure out how to operate a button/switch or to pick something out (I’ve seen kids exhibit very nice fine motor skills this way).
  5. Narration: depending on the toy, you may be able to talk about an object. For example, in a toy that has different animals you might be able to say where they live, what sounds they make, what they look like, and other attributes.
  6. Increased utterance length: once your child has begun to use one word at a time, you can model phrases: “want more” “ball in” “go ball” “go in.” Typically, children begin to combine two words around 18 months.
  7. Prepositions: in, on, under – all these represent locations that are likely possible to talk about with any toy.

The aforementioned suggestions will take some degree of modeling. Don’t just expect your child to do it independently. Some cues include gestures (like pointing), verbal cues (like short, easy directions – “ball in”), and hand over hand assistance. You may need to work hard to make a cause and effect toy be more effective for language development, but the most important thing to remember is to have fun! They’ll only be this little for so long. Enjoy!

Too Many Toys!

As a parent, it is easy to fall into the trap of buying millions of toys for your precious little one. The market is filled with expensive toys with words like “educational” or “learning” on the packaging. Unless you have unlimited storage space (not to mention an unlimited budget), and children who miraculously put away their own toys in a perfectly organized manner, too many toys usually just leads to clutter! What if you could pare down to just 10 toys? Here is a list of 10 favorite essential toys that will stimulate your toddler’s language skills and keep them entertained:

  1. Ball Popper (or any cause and effect toy)

I usually gravitate toward the “low-tech” toys that do not make noise and do not require batteries; however there’s always an exception to the rule and for that we have the ball popper!  This toy teaches cause and effect, which is an early basic developmental skill. The music and vibrant colors keep this activity motivating for both babies and toddlers. A trusty “on-off” switch allows adults more control between turns!

ball popper

Recommended language uses: turn-taking (my turn/your turn), sequencing (take pictures of your child completing the activity, print them out, and have them put the pictures in order), targeting concepts (on/off, up/down, in/out), identifying colors, counting, expanding utterances (on…turn on…turn balls on, etc.), targeting sounds (ie. /g/ in “go”), and overall engagement.

*Hasbro.com

  1. Barn with Farm Animals

You can’t go wrong with farm animals. It is preferable to have animals and barns that do not make sounds so that the child and parent can do all the narrating (you can still buy one that makes sounds – just take out the batteries or never put them in!). Most kids love to play with animals and will delight in this activity. You can model actions with the animals and then follow your child’s lead.

barn with animals

Recommended language uses: learning prepositions (put the cow in/on/under + {place}), animal sounds, vocabulary (ie. barn, tractor, farmer, hay), responding to wh-questions (Who is it? Where does he go? What is he doing?), categories (all farm animals vs. sea animals, for example), and pretend play (a great time to role play, give voices to “characters,” and establish a story line).

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Stacking Blocks/Stacking Cups

stacking blocks

Most kids love building and will delight in the dramatic effect of a “crash” of the tower. Here’s where stacking blocks or cups can be both fun and educational. Have your child help you build a tower and anticipate as you say knock the tower down. Hide items under or in the cups to make a fun hide-and-seek game.

Recommended language uses: prepositions (in, on, off, out….), blocks and cups allow children to learn problem solving, collaborative play, sequencing and following directions

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Baby Doll and Accessories

baby dollGirls and boys alike enjoy playing with baby dolls. Dolls are a great way to teach pretend play as well as show your little one how to be affectionate and gentle. Caring for a baby doll also lends itself to using lots of functional vocabulary that will help your child talk about his own daily activities!  (eat, drink, wash, sleep, hug, brush, cup, etc)

Recommended language uses:  pretend play, vocabulary (both nouns and verbs), expanded utterances and word order (ie. baby eat, baby hungry, baby want eat)

*ToysRUs.com

  1. Play Kitchen/Food/Dishes

The possibilities are endless with a play kitchen and pretend food. Make dinner, have a tea party, throw a birthday bash, open a restaurant, or even concoct a magic potion! play kitchenPlaying with food and talking about food helps foster healthy eating habits. Children will learn many practical skills and, hey, they may even develop an interest in helping with the dishes!

Recommended language uses: sharing, following directions, symbolic play, sequencing (eg. recipes), role play, kitchen vocabulary, expanded categories (food vs. fruit/vegetables/drinks)

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Car Ramp/Cars

Fisher-Price-Little-People-City-SkywayReady…Set….GO!” Toddlers love making things go, and the sky is the limit with a simple car ramp and a few cars. I love using car ramps to teach

Recommended language uses: turn-taking, verbal requesting, vocalizing on command, expanded utterances (Go car!), articulation of k/g, cause and effect

*Fisher Price at Toys R Us

  1. Wooden Puzzles

wooden puzzleYou’d be surprised at how early young children will start showing an interest in puzzles. They love figuring out how to turn the pieces in order to get them to fit just right. I love puzzles for many reasons but one of my favorite aspects is the task completion! It is exciting for a child to learn to stick with a task until she gets the job done – a skill that will serve her well for the rest of her life!

Recommended language uses: task completion, basic problem solving, vocabulary (depending on the puzzle you choose – the sky’s the limit!)

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Toy Instruments

little tikes drumInstruments are such a fun way to encourage children to play together. Instruments foster imitation, following directions, and motor control. Music is also a great way to engage your brain. The possibilities are endless with instruments – you’ll never run out of songs!

Recommended language uses: following directions, engagement/participation, production of multi-syllabic words (tap out the syllables on a drum!), and even fluency (think of a slow movement on a drum to help the child feel the beat)

*LittleTikes.com

  1. Puppets

puppetsI love a good puppet! You can feed them play food, make them talk, make them dance, or even knock down that block tower you built! Kids love watching Daddy or Mommy get silly while making a puppet talk, and I find that puppets can be very motivating when trying to encourage a child to imitate.

Recommended language uses: role play, pretend play, articulation (eg. final /t/ in “eat”), expanded utterances, narration

*MelissaandDoug.com

  1. Potato Head

potato headThis toy is a classic for a reason. Mr. Potato Head’s features are the perfect size for little hands. Toddlers will learn to construct a face and label all the different parts. This is a perfect activity to work on following directions or requesting. Once Mr. Potato Head is built, he can have a tea party in your play kitchen with your baby doll and puppets! 🙂

Recommended language uses: body part labeling/vocabulary, following directions, requesting, pretend play

*Playskool at ToysRUs.com

Of course, this list is in no way all-encompassing, but if you are looking for a simpler approach to play, this is a good start. Remember, some of the best toys are non-toys! (Think cardboard boxes, pillows, wooden spoons, pots and pans, etc). The most important thing for your child to learn at this age is to try new things, and the best way to encourage that is to get out there and PLAY TOGETHER. Have fun!

 

-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP

Practice Makes Perfect!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERACold mornings, snow days, runny noses, high fevers, doctor appointments! These are just some of the challenges this time of year presents for families intending to bring their children to weekly therapy appointments – and even the best laid plans can go awry. However, consistent attendance is crucial to the progress children make in therapy. What’s a parent to do…?

1. Home practice!  Did you know that a child’s time in therapy can be reduced by up to half if they practice on a regular basis? If homework is not provided to you, please ask your therapist what you can do at home to practice skills learned in therapy. Many fun, multi-modal activities can be recommended, including iPad apps, games, and movement break ideas. Your therapist can help you brainstorm ideas to build practice opportunities into your daily routine; homework does not necessarily need to occur sitting down at the kitchen table. Children learn best when they are emotionally invested and having fun. Working on /s/ blends? Try a “splash” game in the tub! Need to work on balance? How about building an indoor obstacle course!  Visit our Pinterest page for additional home practice ideas. And check out these great homework tips from Tactus Therapy.

2. Makeups.  Makeups offer your child the opportunity to catch up on their missed lessons. Should your therapist be unavailable when you need a makeup, consider a makeup with a different therapist. A substitute therapist can often suggest novel activities for your regular therapist to try, as well as provide a second set of eyes and ears on your child’s development. Establishing an ongoing relationship with at least one sub can be helpful, especially for young children who may be shy around new people.

3. Teamwork. Foster collaboration between your therapist and your child’s classroom teacher. Teachers are often eager to help generalize therapy skills, but may want to touch base with your therapist before doing so. This is an important piece of therapy, as it is a time for your child to demonstrate and carryover learned speech, language, and OT skills. When everyone is consistent and on the same page, your child has the opportunity to progress quicker.

Stay warm and happy practicing!