Throwback (2017): Not just more talk, but Toy Talk

We know that the language input children receive matters. But telling parents to “talk more” might not cut it, especially as you approach the twos and threes! So how can we instead make sure the input supports the child’s grammatical growth?

Consider Toy Talk. It’s a strategy parents are taught to use (in this study, via three parent coaching sessions right before the child’s second birthday), where they’re told to respond to the child’s interests in play, and importantly:

“Talk about the toys” and “Give the object its name” 

Simple, huh? But the effects are substantial. It will basically: force adults’ use of nouns instead of pronouns in the subject position, which pulls the subject and verb away from one another, rather than allowing contractions that may be learned by the child as one unit instead of two morphemes. So it looks like this:

Without toy talk:

It’s soft.

He’s running. 

With toy talk:

The kitten is soft.

The horse is running.

It also makes learning verb tense and agreement easier by forcing marking and helping kids notice these morphemes in the parents’ input:

Without toy talk:

Hop onto the horse.

Drink some water. 

With toy talk:

The cowboy hops onto the horse.

The horse drinks water. 

Toy Talk has been found to be fairly easy for adults to learn and use, and improves the growth trajectories of the children’s unique combinations of subjects and verbs and tense-agreement morphemes.

We don’t yet know how big of an impact strategies like this could make for kids with DLD, but so far it looks promising, and certainly worth trying! Learn more, and grab a parent-friendly handout here.

 

Hadley, P.A., Rispoli, M., Holt, J.K. (2017). Input Subject Diversity Accelerates the Growth of Tense and Agreement: Indirect Benefits From a Parent-Implemented Intervention. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi: 10.1044/2017_JSLHR-L-17-0008

Hadley, P.A., Rispoli, M., Holt, J.K., Papastratakos, T., Hsu, N., Kubalanza, M., McKenna, M.M. (2017). Input Subject Diversity Enhances Early Grammatical Growth: Evidence from a Parent-Implemented Intervention. Language Learning and Development. doi: 10.1080/15475441.2016.1193020.

Infant Directed Speech: Not just for play!

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How often do you coach parents of the infants and toddlers on your caseload to incorporate language elicitation strategies into play? Probably a lot. And for good reason—infant directed speech (the spontaneous changes in a caregiver’s language and speech that support language development, commonly called “motherese”) is often automatic for parents when playing hide-and-seek or exploring those new birthday toys.

But how often do you coach parents to address communication development during feeding?  If this is already a part of your practice, pat yourself on the back!  Currently, the majority of research on infant directed speech is within the context of play, but this study found promising results when examining changes in mothers’ speech and language with their infants and young toddlers across play, milk feeding and solid feeding routines. See the full article for a handy graphic about specific differences across these conditions and a detailed explanation of what we know about infant directed speech so far, but here are some key take-aways when it comes to feeding routines and capitalizing on infant directed speech:

  1. Caregivers naturally make more attention-directing statements during solid feeding compared to their adult-directed speech baselines.

  2. Caregivers’ type-token ratios are higher during feeding than even in play. (And that skill can be really difficult to teach!)

  3. Feeding happens at least three times a day, every single day.

  4. You can address feeding and language goals simultaneously.

Admittedly, this study has some significant limitations. The sample size was fairly small and consisted of a very heterogenous group of mother–child dyads without any significant medical diagnoses or feeding difficulties. This study is also one of just a few to take an in-depth look at infant directed speech during feeding, and the authors have several suggestions for further investigation in this area. But if you are already inclined to work language development into all parts of a toddler’s day (and let’s face it—of course you are, you’re an SLP), this study should be a great excuse to have a snack with your next client and their caregiver!

  

Zimmerman, E., Connaghan, K., Hoover, J., Alu, D., & Peters, J. (2019) Is feeding the new play? Examination of the maternal language and prosody used during infant-directed speech. Infant Behavior and Development. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2019.01.005

Additional commentary:

  • The first author of this paper was interviewed in a podcast episode discussing this paper. Check it out!

  • In the United States, is seems like we’ve put a lot of value on parent–child play; however, this hasn’t always been the case. This opinion piece is an interesting commentary parent–child play interactions.

“Try this at home” isn’t enough

The effects of coaching on teaching parents reciprocal imitation training

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There is an ever-growing research base for parent-implemented interventions for children with ASD, and for good reason! We know that in order for children with autism to make progress, they need high treatment intensity. The most cost-effective, naturalistic way of reaching that treatment intensity is by teaching their parents how to use intervention strategies with their children on a daily basis. The other side of this coin, however, is that we also know that treatment fidelity is an important factor in child outcomes; how closely parents adhere to the intervention will impact their child’s progress.  

This study looked at how one-on-one coaching affected parents’ ability to implement an evidence-based intervention for their child with ASD, and how their use of the strategies impacted their child’s outcomes. The intervention taught to parents was reciprocal imitation training (RIT). RIT is a naturalistic developmental behavioral intervention (NDBI; Schreibman et al., 2015) that teaches young children with ASD to spontaneously imitate within a social interaction. It uses naturalistic behavioral strategies such as following the child’s lead, modeling, prompting, and reinforcement.  

Three parents and their children with ASD participated in this study. The parents attended a training where they learned all of the ins and outs of how to do the intervention. Then they went home and video recorded their attempts to use the strategies once per day. After a few weeks, a clinician came to their home and provided coaching on the strategies once per week for 6-7 weeks. The researchers then went through the recordings and measured both the parents’ use of the strategies over time and the children’s growth in imitation skills. They found that parents were able to implement RIT with high accuracy (yay!), but only after individualized coaching support. While some of the parents improved significantly after the initial training, they all needed a therapist to come to their house and coach them in order to master the strategies. The children in the study all increased their spontaneous imitation, but only after their parents became consistent and accurate with at least some of the components of the intervention.

This study extends our understanding of the importance of coaching parents on strategies rather than relying solely on verbal instruction or suggestions. Here we have data to show how these parents needed more than just verbal instruction; they needed live feedback and training in order to use the strategies accurately and consistently, and only then did child outcomes improve. Providing parents with active coaching provides parents with the tools needed in order to support their children’s social communication. 

Note: If you are interested in learning more about RIT, you can check out this article. And here is the measure that the researchers used to evaluate the parents’ use of the strategies.

 

Penney, A. & Schwartz, I. (2018). Effects of coaching on the fidelity of parent implementation of reciprocal imitation training. Autism. doi: 10.1177/1362361318816688.

Long-term outcomes of Hanen’s Target Word program

How much of a long-term impact does parent-implemented speech–language therapy have on late talkers? That’s an important question. Most studies have focused on short- or medium-term outcomes and have not looked into long-term follow-up results.

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These researchers wanted to know the medium- and long-term effects of a low-dosage parent program for late talkers. To do this, they provided the Hanen’s Target Word program to 30 parents of 24-month-old late talkers, and followed a different set of 30 parents–child pairs that did not receive the program. The program included five group sessions and two individual video-feedback sessions over the span of three months. They then tested parents’ use of the strategies at 36 months, and language skills at 36 and 48 months.

They found that the program accelerated the vocabulary growth for the late talkers, but by age 4, there were no longer any differences between the two groups’ expressive vocabularies and both had reached age-appropriate scores. Both groups, however, continued to fall behind their peers in syntax and grammar.

The parents who participated in the study followed their child’s lead more and put less communicative pressure on their child; however, the parents did not significantly improve in how often they responded to their child’s communication or in how much linguistic stimulation they provided their child. Through analysis, the researchers found the strategy of reducing communicative pressure to be specifically associated with children’s language growth.

Here are some important considerations and takeaways from the study:

  • Null long-term results don’t mean that the intervention wasn’t worthwhile. As we know, increasing two year olds’ vocabularies can help ease the frustration of not being able to communicate which is an important goal of early intervention.

  • Dosage and coaching style play an important role in treatment outcomes. The authors discuss how the parent results of this study differed sharply from the Roberts and Kaiser (2015) study in which the researchers taught parents Enhanced Milieu Teaching (EMT) strategies, and parents were able to learn all of them. One of the reasons why is that the intervention dosage was much higher for the EMT study (four workshops and 24 hour-long sessions, compared to two), giving parents more opportunity for practice and feedback. Adjusting the dosage or coaching style of the Target Word program may be one option for increasing its long-term effectiveness.

  • Reducing communicative pressure may be an especially important strategy for parents. This is a simple strategy to teach parents, and these results demonstrate how powerful it can be for supporting language growth in toddlers.

  • Ongoing monitoring is important for late-talkers. Nearly one third of the children who participated still had language scores below the normal range at four years of age, but fewer than half of those children received speech–language therapy after the study. Monitoring is important to ensure that these children don’t fall through the cracks when language demands as they grow older.

One final note: this isn’t a replication study of Hanen’s Target Word program, but rather it’s a study that tested its effectiveness in real-world contexts. That’s awesome for two reasons: (1) authors aren’t tied to Hanen, which helps eliminate bias, and (2) real-world contexts = more like what we SLPs face = more clinically applicable! 

Want more? These authors also published a study of Hanen’s Target Word program (so popular!) This retrospective study (looking back at client charts) similarly showed gains in communicative participation and vocabulary for children who participated in the program.

 

Kruythoff-Broekman, A., Wiefferink, C., Rieffe, C., Uilenburg, N. (2019). Parent-implemented early language intervention programme for late talkers: parental communicative behaviour change and child language outcomes at 3 and 4 years of age. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders. doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12451

And more...

  • Do you find the coaching model challenging? You’re not alone! Sometimes it can feel like scientists are telling us what to do without considering how challenging it is to implement their interventions in the real world. That’s why articles like this one are so exciting for practicing SLPs. These researchers interviewed early intervention SLPs about their experiences attempting to implement the coaching model. They gleaned insight from SLPs about their barriers, benefits, and experiences, and perspective. The bottom line? SLPs see the value in the coaching model, but need more and better training and ongoing support in order to be confident and competent in using it.

  •  Did you know that onomatopoeia (words that represent sounds, like “buzz”) are especially common in infant’s speech? Liang discovered that onomatopoeia are phonologically easier to recall, plan, and produce, which explains why infants acquire them at such a young age. The easiest forms for infants to produce are CV words like “moo”, and words with consonant harmony like “pop.”

  • When it comes to diagnosing autism, we all have two goals—to do it as early as possible, and to do it as quickly as possible, because both factors lead to the child receiving early intervention services sooner, and this is key. Mayes’ study showed that using the condensed version of a commercially available interview and checklist—the Short Form of the Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder—was just as effective at identifying toddlers and preschoolers with ASD as the full Checklist. I don’t know about you, but the idea of being able to reliably and accurately identify young children with ASD using 6 instead of 30 items is pretty encouraging news!

  • Reisinger et al. examined data on the vocalizations of 11 young boys with a diagnosis of Fragile X and their caregivers compared to peers matched by chronological age and developmental age.  They found that caregivers of children with Fragile X vocalized less often and took fewer conversational turns than caregivers of typically developing children, possibly contributing to a cycle of poor language development and a less than ideal language environment.

  • As EI providers, we’re always looking for new ways to support children with ASD through collaboration and coaching. Shire and colleagues’ recent study looked at training teaching assistants (TAs) to provide the play-based intervention, JASPER—Joint Attention, Symbolic Play, Engagement, and Regulation—to toddlers with ASD in an early intervention classroom. Through extensive coaching and support from a supervisor during the first year and assistance from group leaders during the second year, the TAs were able to effectively implement the JASPER program. And, the children showed the same level of improvement in joint attention during the first and second year of the study. But, play skills only significantly improved during year one, when the TAs were receiving the highest level of support. These results suggest that training TAs and other support staff to provide language intervention with children with ASD can be effective, but if we want long lasting effects, we may need to provide a high level of consistent support.

  

Douglas, S., Meadan, H., Kammes, R. (2019). Early interventionists’ caregiver coaching: A mixed methods approach exploring experiences and practices. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. doi:10.1177/0271121419829899.

Liang, C.E. (2019). Phonological motivation for the acquisition of onomatopoeia: An analysis of early words. Language and Learning Development. doi:10.1177%2F0142723714550110.

Mayes, S. D. (2019). Assessing toddlers and preschool children using the checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Infants & Young Children. doi:10.1097/IYC.0000000000000136.

Shire, S. Y., Shih, W., Ya-Chih, C., Bracaglis, S., Kodjoe, M., & Kasari, C. (2019). Sustained community implementation of JASPER intervention with toddlers with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi: 10.1007/s10803-018-03875-0.

Reisinger, D. L., Shaffer, R. C., Pedapati, E. V., Dominick, K. C., & Erickson, C. A. (2019). A pilot quantitative evaluation of early life language development in Fragile X syndrome. Brain Sciences. doi:10.3390/brainsci9020027 

Imitation: a simple and powerful strategy for parents of toddlers at-risk for ASD

While we all know that involving parents in early intervention for toddlers with ASD is important, knowing where to start can be another matter altogether. What if there was one simple and effective strategy that we could teach parents right off the bat--one they could master easily with a big impact? Imitation might fit that bill.

Imitation is a strategy you already have in your toolbox: it’s as simple as copying what a child says or does. It’s been researched in different forms for decades, and it belongs to a family of strategies called “responsive” language strategies. Other responsive strategies include following the child’s interests, avoiding questions and directions, and responding to his communication attempts.

The great thing about imitation as a strategy is that it naturally incorporates many components of other responsive strategies. If a parent is imitating his child, then he is probably following his child’s interests, reducing the number of questions he asks, and paying more attention to how his child is communicating. If we teach parents to imitate, maybe we won’t need to explicitly teach the other responsive strategies!

These researchers did a small study in which they taught three parents of toddlers with ASD* to imitate their children’s actions, gestures, and words (the format of the sessions is fully described in the article!) Generally speaking, the sessions had these components:

  1. The therapist reviewed the parent’s questions or concerns that had come up since the previous session.

  2. The therapist explicitly taught the parent about why imitation is important and how to use it.

  3. The therapist played with the child and pointed out when she imitated the child.

  4. The parent played with the child while the therapist provided the parent with constructive coaching and feedback.

  5. The therapist summarized the session and answered the parent’s questions.

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The results showed that all three of the parents were able to master the imitation strategy, and all three children made improvements in their social eye gaze. An extra cool bonus? As parents started imitating their children, the number of questions and directions they gave naturally decreased without the therapist explicitly instructing them to do so. Talk about getting some great bang for your buck! Imitation shows promise of being a simple and efficient “first strategy” to teach parents. 

*or suspected ASD

 

Killmeyer, S., Kaczmarek, L., Kostewicz, D., & Yelich, A. (2018). Contingent Imitation and Young Children At-Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Early Intervention. doi:10.1177/1053815118819230.

Parent-delivered communication intervention for infants and toddlers who are DHH

If you’re an early intervention SLP, you’ve probably had a child who is deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) on your caseload at one time or another. Why? Well, advances in hearing aid and cochlear implant technology have certainly improved the speech and language outcomes of children who are DHH, but aided hearing isn’t the same as typical hearing. And even with early amplification, these children often still miss out on language stimulation pre-amplification, which can lead to delays.

In this study, they taught the parents of nine 6 to 24-month-olds with hearing loss to use four different strategies to promote and reinforce their communicative attempts. This included visual strategies such as moving toys in the child’s line of sight, and interactive strategies such as following the child’s lead and modeling target language to their actions. Parents were also taught responsive strategies like balancing the number of conversational turns that they took when communicating with their child, and linguistically stimulating strategies like expanding on their child’s spontaneous utterances.

The parents who participated in the training and delivered the intervention used more strategies that support communication compared to the parents in the control group. And, by the end of the study, the infants and toddlers who received the intervention demonstrated more prelinguistic communication skills compared to the children in the control group.  

The beauty of this study is twofold: 

First, the strategies that were included in the intervention are all things that we as EI providers are already well-versed in. {That’s because we’re all pretty darn familiar with enhanced milieu teaching (Hemmeter & Kaiser, 1993), prelinguistic milieu teaching (Yoder & Warren, 2002), and The Hanen Program (Girolametto, Pearce, & Weitzman, 1996)}. Second, if you’re an EI therapist, a big part of your job already involves parent training and coaching. This article provides a very simple, clear description of the key strategies that you can teach parents of infants and toddlers on your caseload who are DHH. Definitely the kind of article that you can read and then immediately apply to your practice, which is the best kind of article, am I right?!

 

Roberts, M. (2018). Parent-Implemented Communication Treatment for Infants and Toddlers With Hearing Loss: A Randomized Pilot Trial. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-18-0079

Language delay and behavior problems: How can we help?

It’s not much of a surprise to EI SLPs that language problems and behavior problems can be pretty intertwined (e.g., here), and parenting style can be associated with both behavior and language outcomes. We also know that well-designed parent-implemented interventions can be wonderfully effective (they had better be if entire states are re-vamping their early intervention programs to promote the coaching model). So—can we support these things simultaneously?

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Garcia et al. implemented the Infant Behavior Program (IBP) with a group of mother–child pairs. The Infant Behavior Program was adapted from the Child-Directed Interaction (CDI) component of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). Programs like PCIT and Triple P- Positive Parenting Program have been shown to help children reduce negative behaviors, but no one has really studied what how (or if) those parent implemented behavior interventions affect language development. While PCIT training and certification is geared toward mental health professionals, the components of CDI and IBP will sound familiar to EI SLPs. The intervention guides parents to interact with their children using positive parenting skills, avoiding negative parenting skills, and ignoring unwanted behavior, and consisted of 5–7 weekly visits of 60–90 minutes. Parents were then asked to continue using the taught parenting skills in 5-minute increments throughout the day.

“Do” (Positive parenting skills)

  • Imitating

  • Describing

  • Reflecting

“Don’t” (Negative parenting skills)

  • Negative talk

  • Questions

  • Commands

Researchers found that change in parenting style was associated with an increase in the children’s total number of utterances. (Note: this effect was seen at six months after the intervention ended; the kids didn’t show a difference in total number of utterances at three months, or number of different utterances at either time they were tested). But the authors cautioned that presence of negative parenting skills did not change the toddlers’ number of utterances for better or for worse, so definitely don’t interpret this to mean we should throw out questions and commands.

So if an EI SLP is called in on a case where both language and behavior are concerns, but parent priority is behavior, maybe we start with those “positive” responsive techniques (labeling, imitating, and reflecting) before we jump in with questions and commands, because it looks like these positive behavior strategies can also help with language development!

 

Garcia, D., Hungerford, G. M., Hills, R. M., Barroso, N. E., & Bagner, D. M. (2019). Infant language production and parenting skills: A randomized controlled trial. Behavior Therapy. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2018.09.003

Supporting toddlers in foster care

This review is a mash-up of a few different articles, because we have a mini-theme going on this month! Many of us have served children who are in foster care. It’s already known that children who have experienced some sort of abuse or neglect are at a higher risk for having language, social, and behavior difficulties (e.g., Chow & Wehby, 2018; Hoff, 2006; Stock & Fisher, 2006; also, see our discussion on trauma here). So not only are these kids in foster care battling a history of instability (whether in location, security, basic needs, family members, name it), but that history puts them at risk for difficulties in early development that have implications for social, behavioral, and academic impact later on in life. That doesn’t sound like a great start for a toddler, does it? Hopefully, we can do something to help. The following studies looked at children’s receptive language development in relation to foster placement and intervention options.  

Zajac et al. studied a group of children involved with Child Protective Services to see if receptive language scores on the PPVT-3 were related to whether children were placed in foster care or remained with their parents. PPVT-3 scores significantly correlated with things like marital status, income, and level of caregiver education, and foster parents were significantly more likely to have those things going for them than the birth parents in this study. There were differences in receptive language scores between groups (children placed in foster care vs those with biological parents), with children in foster care having better scores on average. Once Zajac and friends controlled for factors such as parent level of education and income, differences between groups were not significant. The takeaway is that the ‘whole picture’ is important: not just placement, but the factors associated with the characteristics of the caregivers in the placement. We need more information to really delve into the “why” here. But a prediction is that when parents feel more secure in their basic and emotional needs, they may be more likely to have energy to spend on addressing kids’ development (and the authors comment on making support available to families whose financial, emotional, and educational resources are stressed).

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At the same time, Raby et al. (some of the same authors were involved in both of these studies) looked at how the intervention Attachment and Behavioral Catch-up for Toddlers (ABC-T) affected foster parents’ sensitivity and responsiveness to their toddlers and whether the intervention affected receptive language development. Compared to families who received the Developmental Education for Families (DEF) intervention, which focused on motor and cognitive skills, families who received the ABC-T intervention were more sensitive and responsive to their toddlers, and toddlers whose foster families received the ABC-T training had better receptive language skills when tested with the PPVT-3. Not bad for 10 weeks’ worth of one-hour sessions!

If you’re not ready to add a new intervention training like the ABC-T to your workload but are thinking, “Wow, this is in line with what I’m seeing clinically, so how do I get and keep these kids on my caseload?” check out the Adrihan et al. review on a collaborative effort between a county’s EI and child welfare departments. They highlight systemic changes to screening, evaluation, and teaming processes that could increase access to EI services for these children who are at risk for social–emotional delays.

Adrihan, S. A., Winchell, B. N., & Greene, S. J. (2018). Transforming early intervention screening, evaluation, assessment, and collaboration practices: Increasing eligibility for children impacted by trauma. Topics In Early Childhood Special Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0271121418791288

Raby, K. L., Freedman, E., Yarger, H. A., Lind, T., & Dozier, M. (2018). Enhancing the language development of toddlers in foster care by promoting foster parents’ sensitivity: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Developmental Science. Advance online publication. doi:  10.1111/desc.12753.

Zajac, L., Raby, K. L., & Dozier, M. (2018). Receptive vocabulary development of children placed in foster care and children who remained with birth parents after involvement with child protective services. Child Maltreatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1077559518808224

Coordination Station: Combining verbal & nonverbal skills for infants with ASD

As early interventionists, we work on joint attention and early vocalizations with children all the time. However, do you ever target joint attention & vocalization together?

Heymann et al. studied the coordination of joint attention and vocalization in infants at high risk for autism. Infants in this study already had an older sibling with a diagnosis of ASD. Researchers followed these infants from 5 months to 36 months to track development of joint attention, vocalization, and whether or not the infant was eventually diagnosed with ASD or a language delay.

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As expected, infants who later developed ASD demonstrated lower joint attention and vocalization compared to their high-risk peers, and their communicative behaviors were less advanced. Interestingly, infants with ASD vocalized significantly less during joint attention moments compared to their peers as well. These differences in communicative skills have a feedback-loop effect on the child’s environment. Caregivers are less likely to respond to communicative attempts that do not include vocalization, so they might not even notice that a child is making a non-verbal bid for communication. Also, parents have been shown to use lower quality responses with infants who don’t use advanced behaviors. As you can see, infants with impaired communication skills may incite small or minimal changes in their home environment, and that is not ideal for language development!

So how can we take this information and apply it to our everyday therapy? The authors suggest targeting both vocalization & joint attention behaviors together could lead to enhanced communication skills in infants with ASD as well as their high-risk siblings. We can also coach parents to respond to less advanced and less salient communication bids from their infants. This information is also great to keep at the back of your mind while monitoring younger siblings of children with ASD so that they can receive intervention as early as possible!  

 

Heymann, P., Northrup, J.B., West, K. L., Parladé, M. V., Leezebaum, N.B., & Iverson, J.M. (2018). Coordination is key: Joint attention and vocalization in infant siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 53(5), 1007–1020.