One of the tenets of family-centered intervention is this: Intervention that supports a family system is associated with positive reactions from parents, which in turn relates to positive gains in their child’s development.1
Speech-language pathologists can provide parents with useful tools in five strategy categories. These tools can then be incorporated into everyday routines. These five types of strategies, as summarized by Roberts, Hensle, and Brooks, are as follows:2
1. Quantity-Based Strategies
Parents can be taught to be intentional in not just the amount of language they use with their child, but the diversity of vocabulary and complexity of input. Being conscious of these factors can facilitate the child’s acquisition of new vocabulary and longer, more complex utterances.
Example: Increasing complexity can be done by adding words or word endings, which provide additional grammar or meaning, perhaps by changing a statement like “Eat a sandwich” to “I am eating a sandwich.”
2. Responsive Strategies
This group of strategies emphasizes the child’s interests and use of language along with how the adult’s language might vary in response. General responsiveness to the child’s communication efforts is important. Additional strategies in this category include imitation, expansions, extensions, and recasts.
Example: Extension can be accomplished by maintaining the topic but adding information. If the child says, “My kitty,” the adult can respond with, “He likes to play with the string toy.”
3. Directive Strategies
These strategies involve giving instructions or eliciting a response with various levels of support. Follow-in directives are instructions related to the child’s focus of attention. Other directives may result in change in focus of attention, including open-ended questions, choice prompts, or “say” prompts.
Example: Choice prompts give the child options, expecting them to respond in some way, perhaps verbally or with a gesture. This can be accomplished by asking a question like, “Do you want to play with the ball or the spinning toy?”
4. Multimodal Strategies
These strategies augment verbal communication by adding non-linguistic information in the form of tactile or visual cues. Tactile cues could include touching a child when you call their name to elicit attention or using a touch cue on their face in association with a target sound or word. Visual cues could include the use of gestures or signs in conjunction with verbal information.
Example: A visual strategy could be pointing to a picture or using the sign for “cat” when looking at a picture book about cats.
5. Engagement-Based Strategies
These strategies take advantage of the research showing an association between engagement and language learning. Strategies include use of positive affect, joint book reading, contingent play, and environmental arrangement.
Example: Contingent play is child-directed interaction without much direction from the adult. If the child enjoys racing cars down a ramp, the adult can follow the child’s lead, helping to race the cars or retrieving them at the bottom of the ramp as directed by the child.
Every child is different, and we don’t know which strategies or types of activities will be most effective for any one child in a particular family. But we do have evidence from a variety of studies that using these kinds of strategies can help improve a child’s communication skills.3 Interactions occurring around the child’s interests in daily activities have the potential to make a difference and don’t have to look like “therapy.”
- Trivette, C. M., Dunst, C. J., & Hamby, D. W. (2010). Influences of Family-Systems Intervention Practices on Parent-Child Interactions and Child Development. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 30(1), 3–19.
- Roberts, M. Y., Hensle, T., & Brooks, M. K. (2016). More than “try this at home”—including parents in early intervention. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 1(1), 130–143.
- Roberts, M. Y. & Kaiser, A. P. (2011). The effectiveness of parent-implemented language interventions: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20(3), 180–199.