Speech therapy or speech pathology, is a technique used to treat disorders of speech among toddlers, children and adults. The affected areas within speech may be their language, their voice, or their understanding of various speech sounds. For instance, a person may be unable to pronounce certain sounds right, may have a stammering or stuttering problem, or may have overall difficulty with clear speech. As such, various treatment methods combined with a number of speech therapy activities are used to treat the different types of speech disorders.
A problem with speech may develop in toddlers, and go up to adulthood. Before implementing any techniques of speech therapy on children, it is important to identify the speech disorder that the child has. The best thing about speech therapy is that it can be applied subtly and not openly. A child does not have to know that you are specially undertaking speech therapy activities for her. It can be done in the course of daily activities. Take a look at the activities and exercises that can be implemented to enhance the speech quality of different age groups.
The application of speech therapy for toddlers may be slightly tricky because they have just begun to speak. Thus, first identifying that there is a problem, and then getting to the root of it may be a bit challenging. However, the sooner it is identified, the better it is for the child to overcome the speech problem.
- Make a Choice: Give your child an option to choose between two toys. For instance, you may ask her, 'which one do you want? The doll or the blocks?'. Normally a child with a speech problem will avoid speaking, and will just point out or reach out to what she wants. It is at this time, that you will have to hold back the toy until she verbally specifies her choice. Over time, it will become easier for her to speak. Choose different toys every time so that she is exposed to different words and sounds.
- Imitation and Repetition: The repetition of simple words that your toddler may have difficulty pronouncing, is the best way to get her to overcome her speech problems. Show her how a word is pronounced, and break it up into a number of syllables if it is difficult. For instance, to pronounce the letter 'b', the lips need to be pressed together. Show her this action, and have her imitate and repeat it. This will take a certain amount of time, but will surely be beneficial in the long run.
Before heading to school, if your child's speech problems are cleared, it is good for her self-esteem and confidence. Often, not every child understands that a problem with speech is genuine, and then makes fun of those with such a problem. This can really affect your child's behavior, and her approach towards school. You may use any of the following games and activities for your little one.
- Art: Art is extremely helpful while applying speech therapy for preschoolers. Ask your child to draw anything she pleases. However, each step in the drawing process must be associated with a verbal description of what she is doing. For instance, if she is drawing a girl, then she should say, 'I am drawing her hands now', or 'I am drawing her eyes now'. Of course, she may find it difficult to say the whole statement. This is where you aid her, and ask her what she is doing at each step, so that she can initiate some kind of speech.
- Toys: If your child has a problem with a particular sound, such as 'm', then introduce her to toys, the names of which begin only with the letter 'm'; for instance, a monkey, a figurine of a man, a mirror, a marble, etc. Then ask her to repeat the name of each toy after you. This way, she will slowly get more comfortable while pronouncing these letters and sounds.
- Pictures: Speech therapy through visual aids has always been found very useful. Collect a set of pictures that contain the sounds your little one is having trouble with. Flash each picture, and ask her to name the object in the picture. In an effort to say the name, she will slowly master the difficulty she is facing.
Any of these activities mentioned above also prove effective for autistic children to a certain extent. However, their level of comprehension may be slightly lower, along with no willingness to speak whatsoever. In order to make these activities work, one trick you could apply is to imitate an action while saying a word. For instance, if you are teaching the word 'jump', jump along while saying it, for better comprehension. While an autistic child will definitely require professional speech therapy, her treatment procedure can be supplemented with any of the activities mentioned here.
For those kids who already go to school, a different set of activities and articulation exercises (those that help articulate specific sounds and words) may be implemented.
- Reading Aloud: The most basic one would be reading aloud. A child may refrain from doing so, because by this age, she may be aware that she has some problem with her speech. In such a case, some encouragement and support is required from your side. Do not make her perform these activities in front of others, until she develops a little confidence.
- Dialog: Another good speech therapy activity for school-going kids is to have them encourage conversation or a dialog with their friend. Friends are usually more understanding, so your child will feel more secure talking to her friend. Have them talk about anything they wish to. Then ask her to repeat to you what they spoke about. This way you will have her get over her fear and insecurities about her speech.
- Special Subjects: Initiate conversation with your child about something that is close to her heart. This way, she will not have any inhibitions about talking, and will in fact, make an effort to overcome her speech problems, just to be able to express what she wishes to.
- Tongue Twisters: Tongue twisters are among the most effective ways of helping children overcome their speech problems. These, however, should be implemented at later stages, when their speech problems have been fairly treated. Also, start with simpler tongue twisters and then move on to more difficult ones. Suddenly introducing tongue twisters will overwhelm them, and probably reduce their receptiveness to any kind of speech therapy activities.
Important points to remember while undertaking the aforementioned activities include refraining from blatantly pointing out mistakes. This means, never tell your child 'you're wrong, that's not how it's done'. This will crush her self-esteem and willingness to learn and overcome her speech problem. Always go slow; treatment through such methods always takes a long amount of time. If you lose your patience mid-way, all your efforts until then will be wasted. If you find it challenging, team up with your partner, your child's teacher, or your therapist, so that you have a good amount of support in helping your child with her problem. With your combined support and implementation of the aforementioned exercises, your child will definitely be able to overcome all those speech problems that have affected her. You will also notice a drastic change in her confidence levels once this problem has been dealt with.