Language development is one of the most adorable parts of watching a child grow. However, not every kid develops communication skills at the same rate. We talked to speech language pathologist Jennifer Lisberger about encouraging language and supporting children with special needs.
What is your professional background?
I am a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) specializing in Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC). I currently work at CADES (Child Adult Disability Education Services; https://cades.org/) a school for students with special needs outside Philadelphia. Many of my students are nonverbal and medically fragile.
What do you look for when shopping for kids with special needs?
There are many different types of play that I keep in mind when purchasing a toy. If it's independent play/leisure then access is key. Any toy that involves sharing and turn taking is helpful for social language development, which can help them transition from parallel play to more interactive play. Other students need to focus on developing imaginative play skills so finding toys that encourage this skill are great. Board games for example, work on joint play, social interaction, and rule following.
What are some of your favorite Momo’s Tree House items?
I have purchased so many great toys from Momo's. Momo's introduced me to [teething jewelry] which has been a game changer for many of my students who are oral motor sensory seekers. Designed for moms of teething babies, these necklaces and bracelets are a "typical" looking accessory that provides the feedback my students need to focus on the task at hand.
Fat Brain Toy is another excellent company that Momo's carries. Squigz are great for color identification, hand strengthening and bilateral coordination (using both hands together). My students also really love SpinAgain!
Some of the more complex games from Blue Orange Games like Dr. Eureka and Go Go Gelato help my students who are working on sequencing and turn taking. I love that Momo's has a variety of Poppers as well!
Any tips for parents who want to work on language development?
Exposure is key! The more you talk to your kids during play time the more opportunities they will have to learn new vocabulary in different contexts. Language is complex but don't feel like you need to always focus on "drill work" or overcorrecting your child. Model appropriate language and play with your child. Repetition can be a useful strategy when working on developing language. Multi-modal approaches where you use different senses help make concepts more salient. For example, reading a book and then taking the theme of the book to do a craft, cooking activity, sensory activity, a game, will help develop a child's language skills even further.