By Sarah Michaels, Heather Miller, Phyllis Norwood, Heather Petrusa, and Amy Samuels, Speech-Language Pathologists in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
Say WHAT?! This time of year we get referrals for speech evaluations, but some kids are simply saying the wrong word. It is far better for parents and teachers to kindly correct a child than to ask a speech-language pathologist to do it for the first time. Speech referrals are better saved for when a child is unable to imitate correct productions of words.
There are only SO many times you can say, “My ears are old, could you repeat that sweetie?” Here are ten tips for helping maintain the confidence of your VERY unintelligible student. If you don’t understand the child’s response or question…..
- Ask them to say it ‘another way: Say, “Can you use some other words to help me understand?”
- Ask them to “show you” by pointing to something in the classroom or in a book.
- Have the child use a gesture to help you understand. Encourage them to use speech along with a gesture or sign.
- Think about the type of questions you are asking your student. If a child is highly unintelligible, it is better to ask a choice question in which you are giving them a choice between two answers. (e.g., Did you stay at home for your birthday or go somewhere special?) Unless you know the context, avoid open ended questions.
- Have parents share a “talk-about” after the weekend regarding important personal experiences (e.g., Grandma came to visit) so that you can converse and better understand the child’s spontaneous speech. Items parents send can include visuals from the weekend (e.g., photos, artifacts in a bag).
- Check with parents ahead of time about questions you may ask at circle time or during thematic units so that you can anticipate and understand children’s responses.
- Learn common words that students will use frequently in their speech including people (e.g., siblings, grandparents), places, pets, toys, and characters.
- Write down phonetically what it sounded like the child said and the context and check with parents. Parents, siblings, and other children are good at decoding the child’s speech.
- Work with the family and school team to rehearse phrases/sentences prior to a “sharing activity.” Rehearsals may include reducing language to manageable chunks so that they can be understood (e.g., “I saw the Sponge Bob Square Pants movie.” reduced to “Watched Sponge Bob movie”)
- Ask another child or sibling (e.g. if in the same class) what child said. Children are adept at deciphering the meaning of what child is trying to say ; )