Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

Archive for the ‘Speech Therapy’ Category

March 6, 2017

Trick of the Trade from Tracy Magee, MS, CCC-SLP


This object is in everyone’s house, but it is not usually considered a great tool for learning – a blanket! Surprisingly, this item can provide lots of opportunities for language and movement. Here are a few ways we use a blanket at Spectrum Pediatrics:

1. Regulation – We all have our own unique ways to help ourselves cope with the sensory information that we are receiving in our daily lives. Swinging in a blanket is a great way to help calm a child that might be overwhelmed. The blanket creates a safe cocoon and the linear movement is very beneficial in helping a child overcome too much sensory input.

2. Movement – Kids can make the blanket into a parachute-type game with holding the corners and moving it up and down. Kids can have the blanket “pop” balls out the top or kids can go under the blanket when it rises up.

3. Language – A blanket can provide hours of entertainment for receptive (listening/comprehension) and expressive (speaking) language.

  • Receptive: Practice prepositions with a doll or other object. For example, “Hide the dog under to blanket, Put the doll on top of the blanket.” You can also work on following directions to play the parachute game (“Make the blanket go UP! Make the blanket go DOWN!”)
  • Expressive: Have your child hop on the blanket for a ride, and he/she must tell you where to go. (“Take a right, Go left, Take me to the kitchen!”) Try to work on the concepts of “fast” and “slow” while going for a ride.

These ideas are just the beginning! Talk to your therapist about other ways to use this simple object to create some wonderful learning opportunities!


February 22, 2017

Tips for Improving Your Child’s Communication

At Spectrum Pediatrics, we often find ourselves talking to parents about small changes they can make during their daily routines to help build their child’s communication skills. Two of our speech therapists are sharing four of their all-time favorite tips for parents. Check out the video below to hear Jamie and Krystina discuss these tips and explain what makes them so important and how to build them into your everyday routine!

Stay posted for more helpful videos on tummy time and feeding behaviors at mealtimes!

February 21, 2017

Screen Time: What are the new guidelines?

By: Tracy Magee, MS, CCC-SLP

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidelines on their website regarding screen time and young children. Previously, it was suggested that children should not be exposed to any type of screen – TV, smart phone, or tablet – until a child was at least 2 years of age. Nevertheless, with technology becoming more and more a part of our daily lives, it is almost impossible to completely avoid screens until a child is 2 years old. Here are some highlights from the newly released guidelines…

1. It is best to continue to limit screen exposure for all kids under 18 months. There is one exception – video chat. Feel free to let your little one interact with Grandma and Grandpa each day! Research shows that babies may not be able to participate in the conversational part of a video chat, but they will be able to benefit from playing peek-a-boo with their relative on the screen.

2. With children from 15 months to 2 years old, it is best to sit and watch an educational program with them. It has been found that a child can actually learn some new vocabulary if the parent is participating in watching the program and talking about it.

3. Children between ages 2 and 5 are able to process at least some of the information that is shown in a television program, yet of course, the screen time should still be kept in moderation. Programs and apps developed by the Sesame Street Workshop and PBS have the most research to prove their highly educational value.

Despite these new educational videos and apps, it is important to remember that kids learn best through human interaction! Keep playing and talking with your child each day!

The organization, Common Sense Media, provides great guidance to parents about age-appropriate television, movies, and smart phone apps. You can access information from them at this website or download their free app here!




February 14, 2017

Cup Drinking: Where to start?

By: Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP

As a feeding therapist, I often have parents ask me about where to go next when transitioning to a cup. Finding the appropriate cup for your child can be a difficult task. Although there are a variety of sippy cups on the market today, the most important transition for your child is eventually to either an open cup or a straw cup. If your child has a specific reason for a certain cup, your feeding therapist will help you with this transition. We often recommend practicing with open cup drinking or a straw cup once your child is around 6 months old or sitting independently. This depends on where your child is developmentally and it is important to keep in mind if your baby has any difficulty with swallowing. Although these two versions of drinking may be a little messier than the sippy cup, try practicing outside or in an easy-to-clean environment so that your child can learn.

Many parents view sippy cups as a developmental milestone, but drinking from a sippy cup is not a specific milestone a child must reach. When focusing on the developmental milestones, we look at a child’s ability to transition from the breast or a bottle to an open cup or straw drinking. As a child’s oral motor skills develop, they gain more control over their lips, tongue, and swallow. As feeding therapists, we notice that children are typically most interested in the cups they see their caregivers use. At around 9 months, your child may be able to start to drink from a straw or at least start to practice. There are certain cups that can be helpful when “teaching” straw drinking, although many kids learn through practice as their oral motor skills develop. We would not expect your child to be able to pick up an open cup without assistance and drink from it, there are a few great transition open cups that we often recommend to families.

Here are a few tips when looking for a cup for your child:

Handles: Handles are important when introducing a new cup since this allows your child to easily grasp onto the cup and start to learn how to independently bring the cup towards their mouth. When a cup is hard to hold, it is difficult for a child to focus on holding the cup, bringing it to their mouth, and learning how to drink from the cup.

Focus on the “top” of the cup: The transition open cup allows for the child to learn the motor pattern of drinking from an open cup. We often recommend the Miracle 360 cup for a transitional open cup. Since the top of the cup is mainly closed, the liquid comes out at a slower pace and allows the child to have better oral motor control. This cup has a lip on the top where your child learns how to position their top and bottom lip while drinking. There are also straw cups that have “weighted” straws, which means that the straws hold liquid even when the cup is tipped up, allowing the child to be successful even if they attempt to tip the cup up. Parents have recommended the Zoli cup for a first weighted straw cup.

Allow your child to explore: It is important when introducing a new cup that you give your child the time they may need to explore the cup. This means that when you are first starting, take the time to put the cup out while your child is playing with their toys. Although they may not drink from the cup yet, they will become comfortable with how to hold the cup and bringing it to their mouth. Your child will learn best from what they see you do, therefore mealtimes are a GREAT time to model drinking from either a straw or an open cup!


February 6, 2017

Trick of the Trade from Tracy Magee, MS, CCC-SLP


Lately, I have been doing yoga with many of my clients, and I have found that it has many benefits for speech and language. Here are a few reasons you should try with your kids today!

1. Attention and Imitation – These skills are necessary to develop verbal speech skills. A child needs to be able to look at someone and copy movements in order to copy lip movements and words.

2. Comprehension – A child must focus on the verbal instructions being given to follow along with the yoga “flow” and assume the correct positioning. This skill helps with processing language and learning new words.

3. Breath Control – Yoga focuses on breath. The deep breaths in and out that are required help a child learn how to control his/her breathing. This is important for controlling breath when producing sounds, too. Deep breaths are also a great way to help kids learn how to stay calm and “regulate” their bodies and emotions.

Some yoga resources that are great for kids are:

  • GoNoodle – available for FREE on their website or on the AppleTV app
  • Yoga Kids by Kirsten Hall
  • Once Upon a Mat… Starring Jessie Forston
  • The Kids’ Yoga Deck: 50 Poses and Games by Annie Buckley


January 17, 2017

Trick of the Trade from Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP


As a speech therapist I am often working on articulation or development of speech sounds with children between the ages of 5-8. After this holiday season, I noticed that so many of the children I see received some form of technology for Christmas, whether it was an iPad or a different type of tablet. Although it is important to set boundaries on the amount of technology your child uses, it actually can be helpful when working on articulation and home practice. This provides a motivating and fun way for children to want to participate in articulation therapy, which is not always the most fun.

Lately, I have started to use the video or camera feature on the tablet to have the child record how they are producing the sounds. This provides the opportunity for the parents to see how therapy is going if they are unable to be home. It also gives the child a chance to see how they produce each sound and “rate” their sounds. If a child is able to hear the difference in their sound production it often helps them to fix their errors and accurately produce the sound. Another way to have this video feature used in therapy is to record activities so the child can continue to practice throughout the week. The most important part of articulation therapy is the carryover while at home.


December 18, 2016

Trick of the Trade from Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP

Coloring Books

As a speech therapist, I often find myself working on various activities with children such as puzzles, reading books, or building blocks. Recently, I have been using coloring books in my therapy sessions and I have found that it is a great way to incorporate language and other goals! I start with having the child choose which page from the coloring book if this is a new activity for them. Once the child chooses a page, I will tape the coloring page to the table to eliminate the distraction of picking up the paper off of the table. Choosing one page also allows you to target attention as this will help the child focus on the one task that they are supposed to be working on. I will target receptive language skills by giving verbal or visual directions, depending on the child’s developmental level. For example, “Color the airplane blue and the little girl’s eyes brown”. If you have a younger child you can keep the directions more simple such as “Pick the purple crayon”. If you are working on expressive language goals, have your child comment on what they see in the picture or expand on their phrases when they label. For example if your child points and says “airplane”, expand with “Wow that airplane is in the sky”.

Our occupational therapists also love to use coloring books within therapy since this is a fun and simple way to target pencil/crayon grips for children of all ages. Although this is technically a fine motor task, if your child has trouble sitting in a chair or attending to one activity, use this in a visual schedule or have a timer available. This way, your child can complete the task, but also see what might be next or how much time is left. We often use large coloring pages, but a blank piece of paper is also fine to help build your child’s creativity!


December 12, 2016

Nonverbal Language: What is it and why is it important?

By: Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP
  • Nonverbal language starts from the moment a child is born.
  • There are many different forms of nonverbal communication including eye contact, gestures, body language, and facial expressions.
  • Young babies respond to nonverbal communication from their parents starting at a young age.

We have talked about receptive and expressive language, but nonverbal language often gets mixed in with that conversation. As a speech therapist with young children, I often find myself speaking with parents about the way their 2-month old is attempting to communicate. Many parents are confused by this and often ask “How is my child communicating without words?”. When talking about a newborn baby, a recent study found that there are two forms of nonverbal cues for infants and toddlers: engagement and disengagement cues. Engagement cues often include eye contact towards the caregiver, smiling, reaching for the caregiver, or eyes wide open. Disengagement cues could include crawling away, lack of eye contact, or hands over eyes. Eye contact is often included in this conversation, since this is a very powerful way for a child to communicate with their caregivers from the time they are born. As this child grows, eye contact is expected to continue to grow and develop into an effective form of communication.

As your child develops, their nonverbal language may become more obvious. This is the stage prior to developing words, but the need to communicate their wants and needs is important. Fore example, a baby sitting in their highchair may wipe their hands on the tray or throw their food to communicate that they are all done. When their parent takes the food away or gives more, that child is starting to learn how to effectively communicate. As your child enters their toddler years, they may start to link these nonverbal communication skills with words. We know that it is easier for toddlers to learn large motor movements (reaching, pointing) than more fine motor skills such as making sounds or words. With this in mind, toddlers may rely on nonverbal language to communicate their basic wants and needs. Some of these skills may be obvious such as a child pointing to an object that they want such as a food item. This may come before the child can use the word to specifically request that food. Another common form on nonverbal language I see is when a child pulls their parent over to the kitchen to show them that they are hungry.

Throughout my therapy sessions, I work with families on a variety of different strategies to help build nonverbal language before expecting the child to use their words. We typically see this nonverbal communication continue throughout toddler years, into elementary school, and even into adolescence/adulthood. While working with children 0-3, I encourage parents to give choices to encourage their child to use their nonverbal skill of pointing or reaching. This is teaching the child that they must do something in order to get something. I often coach the parents on ways to link these nonverbal language skills with words/sounds. For example, as your child is pointing to their preferred food item, label the item that they are pointing to.

For more information on expressive and receptive language check out our post here!

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December 2, 2016

Breaking Down Language: Part 3 “Tips and Tricks”

By: Brianna Craite, MS, CCC-SLP
  • We have reviewed the basics of expressive and receptive language and now it’s time for some tips and tricks!
  • Here are my three favorite strategies for building language.
  • You can use these tips and tricks to help you think of new ways to stimulate your little one’s language!

Narrating: Talking to your child as you go about your day, naming the objects and actions as they happen in real time. I like to think of this as a “sports commentator”, but instead of talking about a sports game you’re talking about your life. As your child gets older, your narrating can get more advanced. For example; at meal times you would name the food for your child “banana”. Eventually this narrating could advance to sentences “I want a banana, Mom”. This strategy provides language stimulation for both expressive and receptive skills. Your child first needs to listen to words before starting to use them independently. Don’t forget to add quiet times too! Narrating is great for language development, but quiet times provide your child with opportunities to try to use what they are hearing on their own.

Book Reading: Research supports the idea that early reading exposure leads to better language and literacy skills. Reading to your baby from an early age sets the routine around books, which eventually expands as your child gains attention and interest. If you’re having trouble getting your child interested in books try picture only books or books with interactive features like flaps to open. While your child interacts with books you can use the above tip of narrating to enhance book time. You can talk about the pictures or actions like “turn the page” or “the end”. Eventually, as your child gains more attention to books, you can ask them to find things in the pictures to work on their understanding of vocabulary. Once they can identify a picture by pointing or patting the picture, try adding a question “What is it?” to have them name the picture with a sound or word.

Check out this resource for more information on HOW and WHY books are an important part of a child’s development.

Novelty: New experiences, objects, and interactions can help to naturally build on language. Novelty provides you, as the caregiver, the opportunity to teach new skills that may be more interesting for your child to learn or provide additional challenge for them. Many of my families report success with their child developing new language skills while on family vacations, visits with new family members, or trying out a new playground. While routine proves to be one of the best ways children learn, it is also important for these new skills to be tested out in new ways and environments. Teaching vocabulary with a new toy (expressive), practicing familiar directions (receptive) in a new place (“Go get the ball” or “Throw this in the trash” allows practice for generalization of skills) , or working on greeting new people are some of my favorite activities (expressive).

If you missed part 1 or part 2 of our Breaking Down Language series see those posts here!


November 29, 2016

Feeding Friday: Building a Medical Team

No one plans to have a child who NEEDS a Medical Team, so it isn’t a process that many people are prepared for.  Even for parents who have advance knowledge that there might be some health issues to deal with after their child’s birth, the actual process of walking through the healthcare system can be more exhausting and frustrating than it should be.  Here are a few reminders that may help you navigate your way.

  1. Most healthcare providers and institutions mean well, even if they don’t align with your expectations and needs.   However, they all have their own guidelines and training that shapes their view of your child and his or her situation.  Looking at the situation from their perspective and considering their values may help you determine the best way to proceed in creating an alliance.
  2. Don’t assume that institutions and providers have access to all the information.  On-line medical records can be helpful, but HIPPA guidelines and heavy caseloads sometimes prevent people and places from sharing information, especially once you are outside of the hospital environment.   Keep a binder or electronic copy of records handy for all hospital visits.
  3. Assume the role as team leader as soon as you can.  During a crisis, a doctor may be the most appropriate person to head up the team for making decisions that require specialty knowledge.  Remember that you always have a role on the team, and that you should become a leader of that team as soon as you can.  Asking questions until you understand all the explanations and options is OK and will help you feel more comfortable with making decisions as your child matures.
  4. Find a pediatrician (or primary care doctor) who suits your needs.  In complex medical cases, there may always be a need for informed medical advice.  Some pediatricians defer to specialists to make many of the decisions and take a sideline role.  Others feel more comfortable making decisions and refer to specialists only as needed. Remember that they are here to help, and you need to be able to work as a team.
  5. Working with specialists.  We are fortunate in many areas of the country to have specialists who can provide exceptional care for very focused needs.  For this reason, they can become experts in that area.  However, they are NOT necessarily experts in your child.  YOU are!  Although you are likely to have fewer choices in specialty providers, there are ways to work with providers whose goals differ from yours when it comes to your child’s treatments.


Stay tuned for our next post on what to do when you feel the medical recommendations don’t align with your own goals for your child.

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