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Q&A with Kimberley Griffith: Speech Language Pathologist

Today we chat with Kim Griffith: licensed Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), provider of early intervention services for children with special needs for over 10 years, and parent to three grown children. Kim was hugely instrumental in helping our son overcome many of his greatest eating barriers attributed to his diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder–thanks to her, Simon won’t be the only college freshman with nothing but Greek yogurt on his cafeteria tray.

I’ve talked to so many parents who had questions, like me, about healthy child development and how to spot a developmental “red flag.”  Here, Kim clearly explains her role in helping children with developmental delays and what to do if you’re worried (even if those worries turn out to be unfounded!).

Welcome, Kim!  Could you please give us a brief snapshot of your professional life–where have you worked, and what does your work entail?

Since graduating with my Master of Science degree in the late 1980s, I have been employed as an SLP in many settings, including private practice, hospitals, a rehabilitation center, schools, and early intervention agencies. SLPs (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat and help to prevent disorders related to speech, language, cognitive-communication, voice, swallowing and fluency in individuals of all ages, from infancy to the elderly. SLPs work with young children, adolescents and adults who cannot produce speech sounds or cannot produce them clearly; those with speech rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering; people with voice disorders, such as inappropriate pitch or harsh voice; those with problems understanding and producing spoken and written language; and those with cognitive communication impairments, such as attention, memory and problem solving disorders. SLPs also work with children and adults who have feeding and swallowing difficulties.

I provide developmental support to children ages birth to three years who have disabilities or developmental differences. The best part of this professional setting is that I work directly with the parents and caregivers of the children I see to build their knowledge base about their child’s development and increase their capacity to support their child in natural learning environments. As an early interventionist, I know that infants and toddlers learn best through everyday experiences and interactions with familiar people in familiar contexts–and that all families, with the necessary supports and resources, can enhance their children’s learning and development. As an SLP providing early intervention services, I wear many hats while keeping within the scope of my practice. I have core knowledge about typical development in all developmental domains for young children, including social-emotional, gross and fine motor skills, cognitive and communication skills, self-help and adaptive skills. This core knowledge helps me help a family address their concerns for their child in all areas of development, and recognize when more support from another specialist, like a physical therapist or social worker, is needed. I am a primary service provider to children on my caseload, with a team of specialists available to me and to the families I serve as support.

What are some of the common reasons that families pursue early intervention services? What general advice can you give to parents who think that their child might need intervention and support?

If any parent or caregiver has a concern about their child’s development, they can call their local early intervention (EI) program for support and referral information. Parents should also discuss their concerns with their child’s pediatrician. Common reasons for families to pursue EI services include: general concerns about their child’s motor and speech development, including a child not walking or not walking with good balance and control; or, a child not using words to communicate, or not speaking clearly. Early intervention services will provide support for children who are demonstrating delayed or different development in any area of development when compared to their same aged peers.

Parents might be surprised to learn that a speech pathologist also addresses behavioral issues. Can you please talk about that part of your work? What are some recommended resources for the most common issues that you address?

As an SLP working in early intervention, I need to be familiar with the developmental course of social and emotional skills that support and impact a child’s behavior. I can help develop a parent’s understanding and capacity to support their child form close and secure adult and peer relationships to build trust. I can support a parent in assisting their child experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways to develop self-awareness. I can help a parent show their child how to explore the environment and learn, to develop autonomy.

Social emotional skills impact all areas of a child’s development, and they reflect a child’s ability to function in relationships with caregivers and peers. For example, a child showing difficulty with attention, attachment or regulation may display secondary delays in his ability to communicate effectively. This child may become frustrated and act out when he can’t effectively use words to say what he wants or needs or is feeling. Consideration of a child’s social emotional skills is made in supporting them develop positive relationships, learn new skills, and use appropriate behaviors to get their needs met. My go-to resources for information on social emotional development in young children are: www.zerotothree.org; www.csefel/vanderbilt.edu; and www.challengingbehaviors.org.

Can you share some tips for parents as they promote language skills in their young babies and toddlers?

Read, read and read some more to your child! Infants and toddlers learn best through interactions with familiar people engaging in familiar activities and routines. Talk to your child and tell her what you’re doing as you make a batch of muffins, load laundry into the washing machine, get dressed, or pack your workbag for the day. Ask your child to help you unload groceries from the shopping bags and say the names of the food items as you unpack together. Look at your child and maintain eye contact when you give her a direction or ask her a question. Sing to your child. If you don’t know any songs, just add a melody or rhythm to what you’re saying to your child as you’re helping him brush his teeth or comb his hair. Songs, rhymes and finger plays, like the Itsy Bitsy Spider or Wheels on the Bus, can be motivating for young children to engage and participate with you. One of my favorite resources for fun activities to promote speech and language development in young children is a blog by licensed speech language pathologist Kimberly Scanlon: “My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development.” Check it out!

How can the parents of a child with a speech and language impairment best prepare themselves and their child for successfully entering the public school system (i.e. pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten)?

Early identification and intervention is the key to later success in school. Knowing your child’s strengths and challenges prior to entering the public school system is the first way to be a good advocate for them. Parents also need to know what supports are available for their child at the school they will attend, and how to access those supports. Establishing positive relationships with school professionals will yield appropriate responsiveness from them to support your child. If a child has an active Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) on file, be familiar with your child’s goals and progress, and use the IEP outcomes as a framework for discussion about how your child is functioning in his classroom and developing strategies for improvement. If your child has a speech and language impairment and does not have an IEP but receives supports from resources outside the school system, such as working with a tutor or private speech language pathologist, help all professionals involved communicate with one another. Collaboration among professionals and parents involved in supporting a child is another key to success in school.

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