Pointing out a Toddler’s Strengths

Today I received this email from a mom in response to the report she received from her daughter’s evaluation with me last week.

“Thank you so much…You were the first SLP to take time to learn our daughter and provide us with new ideas to help increase her weaknesses as well as point out her strengths which no one else has done. Thank you so much. We are so glad we made the trip to see you and Johnny.”

I am the 4th speech-language pathologist to see this little girl who is just 2 years old, and according to her mother, no one else has taken the time to discuss her strengths during an assessment.

Well… how shall I say this?

That’s just SHOCKING to me!

That could have explained her mom’s tears during the visit as I talked about how well I thought her little girl was doing based on her complex medical history…

Even though families come to us to hear what’s “wrong” with their child, we never need to miss an opportunity to point out all that’s “right,” particularly when a child has a significant background.

If you’re not doing that already, during visits with families as well as on paper in a written assessment, I’d encourage you to change your practice today.

Here are some things I said about this little girl that her mom had never heard before:

EXCELLENT social interaction skills! When a child is responsive and engaged with you during the session, note this foundational strength and how important it is for the development of early communication skills.

OUTSTANDING receptive language skills! It’s a big deal to me when a toddler understands language at an age-appropriate level. Point this out! A child who doesn’t understand very many words is at a huge disadvantage when it comes to learning to talk. On the flip side, a child who does comprehend words and can form associations is much further along developmentally. Parents don’t always appreciate this ability in a child who is not yet talking or talking as well as she should be.

A REPERTOIRE of gestures! Facial expressions, early gestures like pointing, waving, clapping, and even games like giving “High 5” are precursors to expressive communication. Make sure parents understand how important these skills are!

GREAT play and motor skill development! Cognitive and fine motor skills are evident in children who understand how to play. Sequencing actions and appropriately using a variety of toys with an adequate attention span are skills we shouldn’t overlook in toddlers. Explain these strengths to parents.

STRONG compensatory strategies! When a child is trying on her own to supplement what she says when an adult doesn’t understand her, we should be praising her efforts! Self-monitoring and then adjusting your message are phenomenal abilities for a very young child!

AMAZING family support! When a family prioritizes services and it’s evident mom and dad are doing everything they can to help their child learn how to communicate, they need a big pat on the back too! It’s HARD hearing how far your child has to go to catch up when you’re doing all you know to do. Let’s celebrate that effort and help parents recognize their own strengths and contributions to their child’s progress. Feeling good about the ability to help a child can motivate a parent to keep trying, even when it’s not instinctive and especially when it’s not immediately evident that a child is improving.

While we don’t want to ignore any deficit and certainly don’t want to be so positive that a parent misses or minimizes the severity of a child’s communication delay/disorder, we do want to present a balanced picture of the entire child and help a worried mom and dad feel better about what they may perceive as a pretty bleak outlook.

The truth is… many of our little friends in early intervention make progress and do go on to develop and cope with any challenges, in spite of their rough starts. That’s one of the reasons I love specializing in early intervention! With the right services in place and great follow up at home, we can see remarkable gains!

Even when communication delays persist and a child may never truly catch up, we still want to look for any strengths, use those positives to develop solid treatment plans, and most importantly, help parents appreciate their young children for who they are right in this very moment.

In addition to all I can do to help a child improve during the course of therapy, one of the best things I can do is point out what’s going well, even from the beginning. This may be the very thing that sets the stage for success and for a positive outcome.

I hope you love to do this too!

For more ideas and ways to celebrate a child’s strengths, listen to the podcast about this topic! I have lots more to share!!

Check Out Parents Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Teach Me To Talk on BlogTalkRadio
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