Friday, February 19, 2010

Helping Young Kids Speak Through Singing

My family has a joke that none of us can stay on tune while singing, but oh well, we still like to sing. But I have to admit, I don't sing as loud at church as I do in my car, because I don't really want people looking around and thinking "Who is that really off key singer?". Not that others would judge, I just play it safe.

My two kids and many of the infant/toddler clients I work with (in occupational therapy) enjoy singing. I actually don't mind singing loud around small children, especially since they don't expect me to be as good as if I were auditioning for American Idol! In fact, many kids I work with start to say simple words from a song before they speak to express their needs and desires. Singing is what "gets the ball rolling".

My son is now 20 months old and is speaking quite a bit. He has at least 50 spontaneous words and others that he will repeat when asked. But I think back to before his first birthday, and he loved for me to sing "Itsy Bitsy Spider". As he got older, he tried to imitate the hand motions and sing a word or two. But before he was saying some of the words, he would stop and really listen. Other times he would dance or sway and even try to hum. This let me know he was really into the singing. One technique I used with my son (and some clients) is sticking to just two or three of the same songs/verses and repeating them often. Then, I would intermittently pause to see if he would gesture me to sing more or even better yet to see if he would try to say the next word as if he was "filling in the blank". This is one of those techniques that takes a bit of patience, because it can be mundane to an adult to sing the same song day in and out. But small children need that, that is how they learn. When choosing a song, choose one with a simple repetitive rhythm such as "Twinkle Little Star" or "Wheels on the Bus". These two are also nice songs to teach because they have hand motions to go along, and some children may start by imitating the body action before saying a word. And that's okay, at least it is some sort of participation that lets you know they are absorbing the cognitive component of a song.

So often when a child has a speech and language delay, the family and caregivers can hardly wait for the child to start expressing his needs. I don't blame them, it can be frustrating when a tot throws a tantrum because you have no idea what he wants. For some kids, using some basic strategies to get them to talk works, and before you know it, they are letting you know they are hungry or want to go outside. But for other kids, strategies have to be a bit more sneaky and fun. Well, what can be more fun than singing and playing while doing it! I love to use "Ring Around the Rosie" with older toddlers because they love to run and "crash" onto the floor. One thing I do is to just sing it normal for 1-2 rounds, and then after that I don't crash or have them crash to the floor until they say "down" during the last part of the song that goes "we all fall down!" For a child with a severe speech delay, they may only grunt for the word down and for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder they may simply give me a glance, but it is a start. A glance is a form of communication that can be shaped eventually into words or higher forms of communication...and to think, something as simple as a song can be that powerful!

Some days at work I feel like I have sang the same song WAY too many times. Other days I am so glad to be singing those wonderful toddler tunes. Maybe that is why I am guilty of listening to toddler CDs in my car even when the children have been dropped off at school and the babysitter's home! The slightly funny thing is that I have more of my children's music CDs in my car than I do of my own! At least my iPod has absolutely no toddler tunes...that might be kind of taking it too far if I did!

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