Working With Disadvantaged Families
Is the socioeconomic status of the parents of a child receiving speech therapy important information to know as an educator/interventionist?
I believe it is not just important, but that it is vital.
Whether you come out and ask those questions directly or not, there are some subtle signs from a parent in experiencing financial difficulty that can indicate considerations and flexibility on our part as providers.
For example, as an assessor, I come in with all of these fancy toys like puzzles, stacking cups, and spinning tops. When I use these in my assessment and therapy, I always follow up with the questions about whether the child uses these types of toys on a daily basis.
We cannot assume, however, that just because a child can't complete a puzzle that this is a sign of a cognitive delay, however. What about when the parent says we don't have any of those things because we cannot afford them, so I have never taught him to use a puzzle before.
Very quickly, the parent starts to blame themselves for their child's delays, because they have not provided them with these toys.
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Sometimes, I feel like there is a double-edged sword about being a therapist that brings in "fancy toys" that the family cannot afford. For a family like this, we need to be open to using a combination of new toys for exposure purposes, but also remembering to make the most of what the family has or can acquire.
Instead of fancy toy microphones to elicit imitation, try using a plastic cup in the family’s kitchen. Instead of toy musical instruments, teach the parent and child to use a wooden spoon and a pot instead. Even books are extremely costly, so how about finding the parent a way to get the high priced books for free or on loan, perpas even from the local library?
We have to be extremely careful with the message we send to parents when we bring our "fancy toys" into therapy. We don't want to leave the parent with the notion that such things are going to make their child speak or learn faster. The message we need to send or consider sending would be that they, the parent, should become and be the toy for their child.
Fancy toys are not a necessity for progressing a child’s speech or other skills. It is the parent, i.e., how open they are to play, and how willing, fun creative they can be with toys or objects already in the home so the child has daily practice which matters.
Fancy toys do not make for fancier speech skills.