This past school year, I got a new job. I work for a pediatric therapy company that has both a clinic and contracts with local schools to provide physical, occupational, and speech therapy. So I split my time between the clinic and several schools, and I love it! I feel like I get the best of both worlds.
I mentioned in my LAST POST that I love including the other supports in my clients’ and students’ lives, their families and teachers, as much as possible in therapy. As much as we work hard for progress in therapy, the majority of our students’ and clients’ time is spent away from us! As I thought about this topic, I felt like there’s some differences between how I communicate with parents in the clinic setting versus the school setting, so I thought I would break this up into two parts. Today, I’ll be talking about parent communication in the clinic.
So, how am I trying to get parents involved the remaining 166-167 hours of the week their child isn’t with me?
1. Invite them into therapy!
This is my favorite way! I am a huge fan of parents sitting in on therapy sessions. I had a professor in grad school who sang this from the rooftops–if the parents don’t actually know and participate with what’s going on in a therapy session, how can they know how to support their child at home? Even if they’re observing from one-way glass, I think being in the room is better. Because if they’re in the room, I include them in therapy! If I’m modeling a sign, overemphasizing a sound, or demonstrating a tactile cue, I’ll show Mom, Dad, or Grandma how to do it, and let them try it. They will become the model, cheerleader, and “therapist” at the dinner table, during bath time, when helping with homework, or in the hours in the car playing taxi driver. Getting to practice first in the session when I’m there can give them confidence to carry through at home. Which brings me to…
Ok, so I know this word has a bad reputation, but hang with me for a second! I’m not talking a stack of worksheets that take hours and hours. Homework can be as simple as a post-it note with a handful of words to incorporate into play during the week. Or if I have a client working on the /s/ sound, I might show the parents the tactile cue of running a finger down the arm to draaaag out that sound, and have them practice it at home. I try to keep homework simple, specific, and straightforward. Basically, it’s 1-2 action steps based on what was practiced in the speech therapy session. When introducing sign language with my little ones, I like to send my Teaching Sign Language freebie home as a reminder of how to model and teach signs at home. I love Jenna Rayburn Kirk’s Learning Through Play handouts, which have ideas for both language and articulation activities at home and are great for little ones.
3. Communicate However is Possible
It’s not always possible for a parent to join me in the therapy room. Some parents are wrangling younger siblings and don’t feel comfortable bringing the whole gang into therapy without causing a distraction. Sometimes work schedules prevent a parent from even bringing his or her child to therapy, and a babysitter is doing drop-off. Whatever the reason, I try to be as flexible as possible in how I need to communicate with parents. I’ll frequently email parents summaries of our therapy sessions, or update with phone calls. If possible, I like to video part of the session and pass that along to Mom or Dad. This can be a great way to demonstrate things like cueing incorrect sounds during articulation practice. Obviously make sure you know your company’s policy on videos and have proper release forms signed, but if it’s something you can do, it’s one of my favorite ways to contact parents. (FYI, if you didn’t already know, the Articulation Station app lets you email audio recordings straight from the app. At $59, it’s an investment, but it’s such a great one, and this feature is one of my favorite things about it!)
4. Tell them the things their child is doing well
This one has resonated the most with me since I’ve become a mom. It’s hard to see your child struggling, it’s hard when it feels like they’re behind, and it’s hard when these issues go on for months or years. Whenever I’m talking to a parent, I always try to mention what their child did well, strengths he or she has, or improvements I’ve seen. Oh, and celebrate the small victories like crazy!
If I expect parents to actively work with their child when I’m not around, there needs to be a buy-in. They need to see my job as important, as well as value the influence they have with their child at home. This starts with education–education about an SLP’s scope of practice, their child’s speech or language difficulty, and how speech and language is embedded in all areas of life.
I would LOVE to know how you communicate with parents of the kiddos you work with! This is an area I’m always trying to get better in! Let me know your ideas in the comments!