As local governments loosen quarantine restrictions and begin to reopen their economies, many parents are left wondering when therapeutic services will restart. Whether it be speech-language, feeding, or occupational therapy, many families have either temporarily lost or had to reduce the amount of therapeutic services that their children rely on. As a mom and speech pathologist, I understand the anxiety that comes with not having access to necessary services for your child. For those wondering: What can I do in the meantime? How can I help my child at home while waiting to go back to therapy full-time? Here are some useful strategies you can implement at home while we restlessly count the days until we get back to some semblance of normalcy.
1. Check with your insurance company.
If you’re fortunate, you have access to services through telehealth, and your child is actively participating. I know for some kids, especially young ones, web-based meetings are challenging over an extended period. I have a 5-year-old son who is struggling to participate in his Zoom class meetings because he’s just so over it. So, you need to keep the communication with your therapist fluid. Ask for a home program with specific ideas for each activity and goal. Also, keep in mind that while telehealth may not have previously been covered under your health insurance plan, those plans are starting to be more accommodating to this service due to the pandemic. Over the past eight weeks, there’s been lots of change on the insurance side, including CMS. So check in periodically with your insurance company or your rehab provider to see if these changes benefit your family.
2. Practice what you’ve observed.
If you were an active participant or even an observer of your child’s therapy sessions, you have a head start. Being part of the therapy session is critical, and in moments like this, it will help you carry over the activities into your home. You should put into practice everything you’ve seen the therapist do. If you’re unsure, review your child’s plan of care, EIP, or progress notes. These should contain information on what your child was working on and how the therapist was addressing these skills.
3. Be creative!
You might not have the same materials or games at home, and that’s okay. There are tons of websites full of language and speech materials ready to print at home. From articulation words, vocabulary words, to games at little to no cost. My favorite is www.TeachersPayTeachers.com. And no, you do not have to be a teacher or therapist to have access to this site. Once on the site, you can choose your child’s age range and target activities (targeting therapy goals), and it will give you a variety of activities and materials. Some are free, others cost just a few bucks. The good thing about these activities, besides the price, they all come with directions, so they are foolproof.
4. Books are your friend.
Books can be used to teach more than just reading. For toddlers, books provide an opportunity to listen and discuss what they are seeing on the pages. For older kids, books can be used to answer comprehension questions. Memory can be addressed by asking for details overheard in the story. Sensory can be stimulated through arts and crafts about the book. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is my favorite for sensory activities. You can cut up fruits mentioned in the book, talk about and even taste them (a big one for those picky eaters in your home).
5. Trust your instincts.
No one knows your child better than you! You know what your child likes and gravitates towards. My son is obsessed with dinosaurs, so we use dinosaurs to work on math problems. Listen to your child’s interests and use that to engage in language-rich activities. Sneak in language activities into everyday routines and events like mealtime, bath time, playtime, and even car rides. Use animals during bath time to work on animal sounds and labeling. I found foam letters at Target that stick to the wall when wet. While bathing, you can use these to practice sight words or spelling.
6. Get up and move!
You don’t have to do all activities sitting down. My 5-year-old does not like to sit down for long periods of time. So, I created a letter-sound scavenger hunt. From A to Z, it kept him busy for a few hours. If you’re working on location phrases (inside, under, behind), you can use real objects. My daughter has a play kitchen she loves. I practice with her by picking a food or kitchen item and asking her to place it in a specific place like, “Put the apple in the fridge.” And it’s no secret that kids engage better when they are physically moving.
7. Keep a log of what you have worked on.
Therapists do it during therapy to, among other things, assess your child’s progress. You should do the same. Over time, it will provide you with a valuable outline of all that you have done. However, most importantly, your therapist will thank you because it’ll provide her/him with important information about what you have been working on and how you are addressing these. You will be surprised how many times my best games and/or activities actually came from parents trying new things at home.
8. Schedule a private consultation.
If you don’t have access to your therapist and feel lost, you could look for an SLP who will do a private consultation. Most of these consultations are unfortunately not covered by insurance and therefore come with a cost. Also, keep in mind that these consultations are not a replacement for therapy. They can, however, provide you with guidance and feedback while you wait on services to be reinstated. Make sure you find someone who is certified (SLPs should all be certified by ASHA) – check ewww.asha.org to verify their certification.
These are uncertain times in which we all are doing our best, and that’s what matters. Hang in there and know that we are here to support you. If you have questions or other great ideas for activities you use as part of home-based therapy, please don’t be shy and share with us in the comments below!