Occupational therapy may be the missing link to catapult your child’s speech development, let me explain. When parents bring their child in for an initial speech evaluation, the first question I always ask is what they hope their child will achieve in therapy. The answer may vary from client to client, but the most common and expected response is, “I want my child to be able to communicate successfully.” My priority as an SLP is to teach my clients the skills to accomplish just that–strong communication, but there is SO much more below the surface of “communication,” beyond what words may come out of a child’s mouth that we must consider.
I take a holistic approach when performing a speech evaluation and throughout therapy sessions— not only do I listen to the words the child produces, I look at their eyes, their movements and posture, I watch their hands and how they use them— I observe the child’s body completely. As an SLP, I remain aware of these areas, but my focus is on speech and language acquisition. When I notice an area that may need observation beyond my scope, I open a line of communication with the parents to discuss my concerns and I provide a referral to a specialist that supports that area. Many times I will refer to an Occupational Therapist (OT). An OT is a licensed specialist who assists individuals in learning the skills needed to participate in everyday activities.
My favorite metaphor to use is “a child is like an iceberg”— at the tip, we have communication, what they say, how they say it, and what it sounds like. Beneath the surface, we find all the foundational skills that make communication possible: self-regulation, visual attention, posture and core control, and sensory processing. An occupational therapist will provide the specialized guidance needed to build strong foundational skills.
You might ask, “how do these foundational skills affect communication?”, great question! When our bodies feel regulated, calm, and ready we have the capacity to learn MORE. If we are focused and our eyes are able to look at our teacher/therapist/family member/friend, we have more successful communication exchanges. Maintaining good posture and core control allows our bodies to sit in a chair and engage in a speech or language activity. Finally, when we avoid sensory activities, we miss out on valuable social experiences with family and friends. By addressing any irregularities in these skills, we are able to create engaging, meaningful, and connected communication in the long run.
When we pair occupational therapy and speech therapy, we have found a greater capacity for learning in all areas of our clients’ development. As a speech therapist at LKS & Associates, I will often pull our occupational therapist, Taryn Erickson, into the treatment room with my client for immediate observations and recommendations. She is able to quickly provide supplemental tips to help realign a client who might be experiencing difficulties. For example, one of my clients was having difficulties staying engaged throughout a language assessment, his body was laying on the table, his eyes were focused up at the ceiling, and his responses had nothing to do with what I was asking. Taryn, who is familiar with the child, was able to provide skill modifications (e.g. posture and visual attention) which allowed the client to attend and complete the assessment with appropriate answers and feel good about what they had accomplished.
When we provide children with the knowledge and tools to understand their bodies, we will see an increase in the child’s awareness of what they need to successfully participate in any activity, not just speech and language.