Archive for 2011

December 20th, 2011

Blocks, a Ball and a Book-a Christmas Story

At this time of year many of us are extra generous.  We contribute more to the local food bank or drop coins in the kettle when we pass the Santa ringing bells.  Sometimes it’s hard to decide which charities to support.  This year the decision was easy. I work with children under the age of 6. Earlier this month I had arranged to assess a child at his home.  In the city where I work many families struggle to make ends meet, especially single parents and new immigrants.  This family was from another country-both parents going to English classes so they could get eventually get good jobs. At my visit to their modest basement suite I discovered they had children ages 5, 3 and 2 years.  The 3 year-old  I was there to see is blind. I asked the Dad to bring out their  toys.  (I always want to demonstrate therapy techniques by using the toys they have on hand.)

He brought out a broken jeep, a very small ball and a shape sorter with no shapes to be found. I had to think a little harder this time. Eventually we talked about singing and music and telling stories-activities that they were already having fun with-no toys required.

After I left I thought of other ideas-isn’t that always the way?   Many household objects make good toys. Here are some ideas for different ages and stages:

  • The banging stage:  pots and pans and wooden spoons
  • The putting in and dumping stage: the laundry basket
  • Creative play stage:  dress-ups using old hats, shoes etc.;  build a fort using chairs and sheets

Toys don’t have to be fancy, electronic or costs hundreds of dollars to be entertaining and educational. I wanted to give this family what I thought would be the toy basics, so I came up with the list in the title. There are essays and books written about the importance of these kind of toys, but here’s my 2 cents worth -the condensed version:

Blocks:  Good for fine motor, visual motor coordination, creative thinking. Can be used to teach colours, counting and concepts like “up”and “tall”.  Good for teaching words like “mine”, “fall down”.

Ball:  Good for gross motor (kicking) , fine motor(throwing) , turn taking and social interaction.  Good for teaching words like “my turn”, “catch” and my favourite “ready, set, throw!”

Book: Research has shown that one of the the number of books in the house relates to how well a child does with reading .  What more can I say?  Even the child who is blind will benefit, because he will eventually be exposed to braille.  The book for him is a touchy-feeling one, so he’ll be able to learn concepts like “soft” and “rough”.  He’ll also learn about turning pages.

It’s a good time of year to think about what’s important-sometimes keeping it simple is better.

November 28th, 2011

Speech Sound Problems-Why Me?

Parents often wonder why their child has a speech sound problem.  Some parents say their child is lazy.  I want to make it very clear that this is never the case.  When it comes to children with a few speech sound errors we don’t usually know why they are delayed, but we know they can learn the correct sounds.

Other children may be born with motor problems.  They may have cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome or other developmental difficulties. For those children we know the cause is the motor problem that is affecting the muscles of  the tongue and lips.   Speech therapy can also help these children, but they may continue to have some difficulty even when they’re older.

Some children have a disorder called apraxia.  It’s sometimes called verbal apraxia or childhood apraxia of speech. These children have difficulty planning and coordinating the tongue, lips and jaw.  They are often very difficult to understand. Speech therapy and daily practice is extremely important and progress can often be slow but they do improve.  Some children with apraxia are so difficult to understand that they get good at acting out what they want to say.  Speech-language pathologists often recommend teaching  signs and gestures to help them communicate until their speech sounds improve.   This video is an example of a child with apraxia who is difficult to understand.


As with all communication difficulties getting help early is important.  I still hear parents tell me that another health professional or family member told them- “He’s just a late talker”, “He’ll grow out of it”or “Einstein didn’t talk until he was 5.”  If you think your child has any kind of speech or language problem don’t wait.  Find a speech-language pathologist and get a professional opinion.  Check out these sites for more information;

October 24th, 2011

Stuttering Awareness Day-October 22

Better late than never!  Did you know…….

  • More than 68 million people world wide stutter
  • 4 times as many males than females stutter
  • Stuttering can be treated
  • Famous people who have had this difficulty include;  Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, Carly Simon, Winston Churchill, King George VI of England.

These facts and much more information is on the website of the Stuttering Foundation of America.  They can be found at:

Stuttering is a communication disorder where sounds and words are repeated, for example;  “I wwwwent to the the store”.  Sometimes no words come out.  There may be some unusual behaviours such as facial movements associated with the effort to speak.  I recommend the movie The King’s Speech to get an idea of what it’s like to stutter, but keep in mind-not all people who stutter sound the same.

Parents are sometimes worried when their child repeats sounds or words.  Many young children between the ages of 3 and 5 will display this behaviour for a period of time but the majority recover by late childhood.  This is referred to as normal nonfluency.  It’s important to find out if it’s stuttering or normal nonfluency.  Early intervention is important so find a speech-language pathologist if you have any concerns about stuttering.


October 5th, 2011

Linking Language and Literacy

The development of speech and language skills is closely linked to the development of reading and writing.  Good communication  is one of the best predictors of success in school. Most children start talking at about age 1 and they start becoming interested in books even before that. The road to reading starts at a very young age.  Many 2 year olds  get excited when they see the McDonald’s logo.   They have already learned that letters have meaning.

Some parents think you have to wait until a child is 2 years or more before introducing books, but even babies can look at books with simple photos.  They learn to turn the pages and pat the pictures.  It’s a good idea to use board books, though because they also like to chew the pages!  This is an excellent website with information about the development of literacy starting with simple skills.

Books are a good way to help speech, language and literacy skills. There are many ways to help a child develop language skills while looking at a book.  Here are some of the tips I try to pass along:

  • Choose a book at the child’s level.  For example;  for a child 2  and under use a board book with simple photographs-one or two to a page.
  • Make books part of your daily routine even if it’s only for 5 minutes.
  • Don’t just read the story.  Look at the pictures and talk about them.
  • Ask some questions like “What is that?” or “What is she doing?”.  Describe the objects, people and actions.  For example;  “He looks mad”.  Wait for your child to take a turn.
  • The goal isn’t for your child to learn to read at an early age.  Flashcards for 1 year olds isn’t recommended.  As an aside I know someone who spent a lot of time with word flashcards with her toddler and I’m pretty sure she’s not a rocket scientist now that she’s in her twentiesno smarter or happier than her peers.
  • By enjoying and looking at books with your child you will set the scene for life long learning.
  • Visit the library-you don’t have to spend a lot of money on books.
  • Read to your older child too.  Don’t stop just because they can read too.
  • Don’t be snobbish about it-if your older child loves reading comics, encourage it. It’s all good practice.
  • When my teens didn’t want to go to the library, I continued to bring books home for them.
  • Most important-have fun and show that you love reading.