Challenges in affordability and availability of healthcare have resulted in a shift toward preventative medicine. The field of speech-language pathology is not immune to barriers of cost and lack of qualified therapists. Like other professionals, many speech-language pathologists have found tremendous value in focusing on preventative practices in addition to more traditional service methods.
While not all communication disorders are avoidable, certain practices can mitigate, or head off, preventable communication deficits and delays.
For this reason, I focus on parent/caregiver training and family-centered treatment—a means of empowering families to facilitate speech and language interventions in meaningful, everyday contexts. It is equally important for parents and caregivers to be equipped with the knowledge needed to prevent communication disorders.
As part of their position statement on prevention, ASHA (American Speech & Language Association) divides prevention into three categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention (1).
The purpose of primary prevention is to eliminate communication disorders by reducing risk and providing the optimal environment for growth (as opposed to secondary and tertiary prevention which attempt to detect issues early and then rehabilitate, respectively).
Here are some ways for parents to engage in primary prevention with their children:
- Take safety precautions. Have children wear helmets while biking or skating and avoid activities that can lead to head injuries. In addition to deficits with other cognitive skills such as executive function, traumatic brain injuries can be responsible for a number of communication difficulties and disorders.
- Get your child’s hearing checked. Birth to 3 is a critical period for language acquisition. Frequent ear infections can cause conductive hearing loss, thereby negatively impacting language acquisition.
- Read to your child—daily! Early literacy and language development are interrelated. Among other things, reading offers an opportunity to build joint attention, vocabulary, and world knowledge.
- Talk to your child regardless of age. Research indicates that caregivers who are highly responsive during interactions with infants and young children positively impact language development (2). Get face to face with your infant and respond to cooing and babbling as if you were having a conversation. If your child is a toddler, give him time to communicate, then listen and respond consistently. Use parallel talk by describing what you or your child is doing in the moment; for example, “Daddy is washing the soap off!”
While not all communication disorders are preventable, these simple practices benefit all children. Please contact me with questions.
2. Dunst, C. J., & Trivette, C. M. (2003, November). Piecing together research-based early childhood intervention practices. Presentation made at the National Office of Special Education Programs Early Childhood Conference, Washington, DC.