Helping Children Improve Language Skills in Social Situations

Ask the Experts by Michelle Harr and Amy McIntyre

Q: My son does well when he is with his speech therapist, but doesn't seem to be able to manage his communication disability in social situations. How can I help him?

A: This can be frustrating but hang in there! Children first need to master goals in an individual setting and then begin to transfer these skills into other environments. Often children need some assistance in transferring these skills into social situations, as well as a number of opportunities to practice these skills in their activities of daily living.

The Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and parent(s) can both work on helping children practice the skills learned during individual therapy in several ways:

  • The SLP can utilize the immediate area outside the therapy room, such as a waiting room or main office, for a child to practice making eye contact and taking conversational turns with other children, parents or office staff.
  • The SLP can work directly with the parent to outline and demonstrate specific strategies that a child has learned within individual therapy so that the parent can help the child practice use of these strategies in other environments. For example, a parent can set up a structured situation where a child has to practice making eye contact with one person while speaking to him or her. Once the child has practiced this successfully several times another person can be added, making it a group situation where conversational turn taking and eye contact are practiced. This way the child can build on small successful interchanges and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Social pragmatic therapy groups are a great way for children to practice social skills with their peers under the direction of an SLP. Parents can inquire if a group of peers working on similar goals is available for their child. It is important to reiterate that children need time and a number of opportunities to practice specific strategies outside of traditional therapy before they become habitual.

Working together, SLPs, parents and children can really help improve functional social skills!

Michelle Harr, M.A., CCC-SLP and Amy McIntyre, M.A., CCC-SLP together have 35+ years experience in the field of speech pathology. They are local speech-language pathologists and partners in opening SPARC Speech and Language Services. Amy and Michelle provide individual therapy and social communication skills groups for kids 18 months through young adults. Amy and Michelle can be reached via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Visit the SPARC website at www.sparcgp.com. SPARC Speech-Language Services is a member of The Family Center's Association of Professionals.

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