International Adoption and Speech-Language Development

According to the U.S. Department of State, approximately 11,059 children were adopted internationally in 2010.  Over 88% of these children were likely raised in an orphanage prior to their adoption (Johnson & Dole, 1999).  Research has well-documented that children raised in orphanage care are at a Baby Reaching Out Handhigh risk for language and developmental delays (Johnson, 2000).  For expecting parents, this may sound overwhelming and even intimidating.  However, research also says that adoption can often counteract the effects of orphanage care.  Understanding what the research says can be a liberating guide for parents as they support their child through the adoption process.  Knowing what to expect can reduce anxiety and empower parents to plan and prepare with confidence.

What Language Skills Can Adopting Parents Expect?

  • Children who have spent time in orphanage care often show delayed language skills.  It’s important to know that delays are not just in the new language, but in their birth language as well.  These children may vocalize or babble less frequently, have limited vocabulary and use of phrases or sentences, show difficulty understanding spoken language, and have poor speech clarity.
  • Most children raised in orphanage care have strong non-verbal social interaction skills.  This includes skills such as making eye-contact, using facial expressions, smiling at others, showing toys to adults, pointed to or reaching for desired toys, and pushing items away that they don’t want.
  • In most cases, language delays are a direct result of limited one-on-one interactions with adults while in orphanage care.  As children learn to speak, their sounds and words are reinforced by caregivers who model, respond and encourage language.  Without this individualized care, children’s communicative attempts become stalled.  Even in caring and well-equipped environments, less available adults per child will likely result in language delays.
  • It’s important to keep in mind that there are always exceptions.  While most language delays are a result of limited interaction with caregivers, some children might have underlying developmental disorders that are not a result of a orphanage care.  It’s important to seek guidance from a licensed speech-language pathologist to determine if your child needs intervention.
  • After adoption, children will likely loose their birth language quickly (unless their adoptive parents speak their native language).  The child’s birth language is likely to be lost before their new language is fully acquired.  During this period of time when language is temporarily arrested, a child might feel more frustrated when they can’t communicate effectively.
  • After adoption, children will quickly begin to acquire their new language.  In fact, research suggests that children adopted under the age of 2, often develop language skills that are within normal limits one year after adoption (Glennen, 2007).  Skills will continue to progress after the first year, although, the majority of language acquisition occurs during the initial year following adoption.

How Can Parents Help Their Child Develop Language Skills?

One of the most effective ways to counteract the effects of orphanage care is adoption.  Parents and caregivers play a critical role in helping their child develop communication skills.  Create a language-rich environment for your child, and enjoy one-on-one time together.  Here are specific ways to promote speech and language development in your toddler:

  • Play with your child!  Come down to their level, and sit face-to-face while you play.  Model, encourage and reinforce their communication while you play.
  • Encourage your child to imitate your actions, gestures and sounds. Make animal sounds or environmental noises (e.g. beep beep, moo moo, etc) or sing songs with gestures (e.g. Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, etc).
  • Label various objects and actions. Describe objects or actions in the environment, or read picture books while pointing to different pictures.
  • Narrate what is happening in the environment.  Use simple language to describe what you see or what people are doing (e.g. Bear is sleeping! Mommy is jumping!).
  • Play turn-taking games, such as passing a ball a ball back and forth or sharing a toy.
  • Reinforce your child’s communicative attempts by responding to and repeating what they say.

For more tips to encourage language development in toddlers, visit the blog “Encouraging Your Infant to Communicate“.

Encouraging Siblings to Help With Speech & Language Practice

Save Time By Getting The Whole Family Involved

One of the most important contributors to progress in speech-language therapy is consistent practice at home. I often compare therapy to working-out at the gym: once a week is unlikely to make a big impact. In order to master new speech and language skills, Young Sisters Reading To Each Otherchildren should practice several times during the week, which is no easy task for the average family that juggles sibling activities and busy schedules. Parents frequently share their challenge to find time for one-on-one practice with their child, especially with competing sibling demands. With a little creativity, however, this task is not impossible! Here are a few tips to practice your child’s speech and language goals while incorporating siblings.

Tips to encourage positive speech-language skills among siblings

  • Create an atmosphere of support and encouragement among siblings. Talk to your kids about “kind” things to say to each other. Give them specific examples of phrases to encourage their sibling’s speech and language, such as “I like when you share your idea”, or “You’re really good at saying your S-sound!”. Praise your kids every time you hear encouraging words (e.g. “Wow, that was a kind thing to say. You’re a really good big brother.”)
  • Minimize interrupting between siblings by encouraging “talking turns”. Competing for a turn to talk can exacerbate speech and language difficulties. Foster a safe environment to talk and share, by explaining “talking turns” to your kids (e.g. “It’s Ava’s talking turn right now. You’re talking turn is next!”). If needed, use a tangible object (e.g. a ball, a pretend microphone, a teddy bear) to pass back and forth during each talking turn.
  • Encourage siblings to be “active listeners”. Explain what active listening is (e.g. “We listen with our ears, our eyes are looking at the person talking, our mouth is not talking, our body is still, our hands are quiet,” etc.) Praise active listening skills as you observe them (e.g. “Wow Alex! You are such a good listener! Your eyes are looking at Ava. I can tell you’re listening.”).
  • Incorporate siblings into practice games and activities. Ask your child’s speech therapist for specific activities that are hand-tailored to your child’s therapy goals. As you play together, include siblings in practicing target speech sounds or language structures. Encourage your kids to give one another positive feedback (e.g. “That was a really good S-sound!” or “That was a really good try!”). Listening to each other while practicing will build greater awareness and self-monitoring skills.

Fun activities to get siblings involved in speech and language practice

  • Practice following directions during “Simon Says”.
  • Read books together and take turns answering questions, labeling objects or retelling the story in your own words (depending on each child’s level).
  • Play turn-taking games while working on target speech sounds or language structures.
  • Create a fun recipe or craft together, and practice target speech sounds between each step.
  • Plan a scavenger hunt. Have siblings take turns giving each other clues where items are hidden.
  • Sing songs together and use hand-motions or gestures while you sing.
  • For more ideas to encourage speech and language skills, see a previous post “5 Fun & Easy Activities to Promote Speech & Language Skills During Summer


Encouraging Your Infant to Communicate

Promoting speech and language development from the start

Your infant may not be using words yet, but they are communicating in big ways! In fact, children begin to communicate long before they start talking. Eye gaze, crying, listening, facial expressions, gestures, turn-taking, and vocalizations are all foundations of speech and languageHappy Baby Talking To Mom. The first year of life is a critical time in language development as children learn the building blocks of communication. There are many things parents can do to help their child’s language skills blossom!

Tips to encourage your infant’s communication:

  1. Play with your baby! Face to face interaction with your child may be the most valuable tool you have. No high-priced toy or well-researched program can compare to the benefits your child will gain from face-to-face time with loved ones.
    For grown-ups, play is what we do after a long day of work. For children, however, play is their job! Play is the backdrop for child learning and developing. It provides opportunities to explore, problem- solve, learn cause -and -effect, and communicate. As you play with your child, follow their lead. Pause before jumping in to assist your child. Give them opportunities to ask for a favorite toy by placing it just out of reach. If something unexpected happens (e.g. a book falls off the table), pause to let your child react or communicate before fixing the problem.
  2. Reinforce your child’s communicative attempts by responding to and imitating their facial expressions, vocalizations and babbling. Maintain eye-contact as you imitate the sounds your child makes.
  3. Encourage your child to use different vowels and speech sounds such as “oo”, “ee”, “da”, “ba” or “ma”. Engage your child in sound play, pairing different sounds with silly actions. You might knock over a block and exclaim “uh oh!” or tickle your baby’s toes and say “do do!”
  4. Pair gestures with words to help convey meaning as you communicate with your child. For example, if your child wants to be picked up, you might reach your hands up high and say “up!’. Wave your hand as you say “bye bye!” Point to objects as you label them (e.g. “ball!” or “milk!”).
  5.  Encourage your child to imitate your actions. Play finger games such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Wheels on the Bus”, and “Pat-A-Cake”. You might also play “Peek-A-Boo”, clap your hands, or blow kisses.
  6. Make environmental noises during play (e.g. “car says beep beep!” or “cow says moo moo!”). Encourage your child to imitate various sounds as they explore and play.
  7. Sing to your child! Songs are an excellent way to engage your child in a meaningful and language-rich context. Add gestures to your songs, and create anticipation as you vary your facial expressions and intonation. The repetition of a familiar song will provide opportunities for your child to anticipate and even join in!
  8. Narrate what is happening in the environment. Use simple language to describe actions and events to your child as they are happening (e.g. “Mommy is putting shoes on!” or “Mommy is washing your hands!”).
  9. Read to your child! Choose books with large and engaging pictures that are not too detailed. Point to and label various pictures (e.g. “ball!” or “cow…moo moo!”). Ask your child “What’s this?” and encourage them to name pictures. A young child may not be able to attend to a book for very long- that’s okay! Follow your child’s lead and don’t feel pressured to finish a whole book. Instead, focus on keeping literacy activities fun and engaging, and enjoy the few pages that your child reads.

Click here for even more tips to encourage speech and language development in your child.

Tackling Trouble With R: Exercises to Practice “R” Pronunciation With Your Child

The /r/ phoneme is one of the most commonly mis-articulated sounds, and it can be one of the most challenging sounds to correct. Many of the sounds we produce are visual, which is very helpful for school-age children. 

One of the reasons /r/ is so hard to teach is because the child is unable to see what their tongue looks like or where it is inside the mouth. In addition, the way in which the tongue is positioned in the mouth for an accurate production of /r/ varies from person-to-person.

How the “R” sound is formed:

  • The front part of the tongue may be “retroflexed”, which means that the tongue tip is pointing slightly up and back, behind the teeth.
  • The tongue may be “bunched”, which means that the middle of the tongue is bunched in the middle area of the mouth. The sides of the tongue must press against the back teeth or molars for both the “bunched”and “retroflexed” tongue positions.

The /r/ phoneme is even more complicated because the pronunciation depends on where the sound falls in a word. The /r/ can be prevocalic (comes before a vowel, “rabbit”), intervocalic (between two vowels, “cherry”) or postvocalic (after a vowel, “butter”). The prevocalic /r/ is the only case where /r/ is considered a consonant. The other /r/ sounds are known as “r-colored vowels”.

Elicitation techniques for /r/:

Using hand gestures – Hold one hand horizontally to symbolize the tongue, and hold the other hand underneath. Using the hand on top, show the tongue movement necessary to produce /r/. By cupping the hand, you’re showing the tongue tip is up and slightly back.

Shaping /r/ from /l/ – Tell your child to make an /l/ sound. From there, they should slide their tongue along the top of their mouth (hard palate), and this will inevitably turn into the retroflexed tongue position.

Shaping /r/ from /oo/ – Have the child say “oo” as in the word “look.” While saying the “oo” sound, tell the child to move his tongue back and up slowly – Using your hand to show this movement can be helpful!

Shaping /r/ from /z/ – Have the child prolong the “z” sound. Then tell the child to move his/her tongue back slowly while opening the jaw slightly. Remind the child to keep the back sides of the tongue up against the upper teeth.

Using animal sounds (Always model these sounds for the child first.)

  • Rooster crowing in the morning, “rrr rrr rrr rrrrrrrrrr”
  • Cat purring, “purrrrrr”
  • Tiger growl, “grrrrrrr”

Using a silent /k/ – Have the child open their mouth and make a silent /k/. Then have him attempt the growling sound.

Changing jaw position with /l/ – Have the child produce the /l/ sound, and while saying this sound, pull the lower jaw down slowly until he reaches the correct position for /r/ –  An adult can pull the jaw down gently if the child is having a difficult time lowering it down slowly.

Eliminating the /w/ – If the child is using a /w/ sound for /r/- Tell the child to smile – you can’t make a /w/ sound when you smile!

Other ways to help:

  • Be a good model – Restate what your child said and say the /r/ correctly.
  • Work on discrimination – Say an /r/ word correctly or incorrectly and see if your child can recognize the difference between a “good” /r/ sound and a “could be better” /r/ sound.
  • Talk to a certified speech language pathologist (SLP)

When to consult a speech language pathologist:

The age range for mastery of the /r/ sound is quite large. Many children master the sound by age five and a half, while others don’t produce it correctly until age 7. A general rule of thumb is that if they aren’t pronouncing it correctly by the first grade, seek advice from a licensed speech language pathologist.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!


5 Fun And Easy Activities to Promote Speech And Language Development During Summer

Three Happy Children Coloring On Construction PaperSchool’s out, which means you have extra time to spend with your child. As you plan activities to fill the day, you might find yourself needing a few “tricks” to tie in learning with fun. Here’s a list of my top five activities to encourage speech and language development while still having a good time.

1. Create a summer scrapbook.

Take digital pictures or save ticket stubs and brochures from special summer outings, and glue them in a construction paper book after special events throughout the summer. Help your child write a sentence about each page. Where did you go? Who was there? What did you see there? Afterwards, encourage your child to share their book with family and friends.

2. Have fun with sidewalk chalk!

Winter is finally behind us and the sidewalks are snow-free, so enjoy being outdoors with sidewalk chalk. Draw pictures of summer words or different shapes. Play a listening game by encouraging your child to step on the pictures as you name them: “Hop to the sunglasses”, “Bear crawl to the sun!” or “Skip to the beach ball!” Read more

Boost Your Child’s Language Through 9 Easy Summer Activities

Summertime holds great opportunities to enhance your child’s language skills. Take advantage of extra time at home and summertime activities to give your child a boost using language with the following tips:

9 Tips To Get Your Child Talking This SummerMom Reading With Daughter

  1. Introduce a new vocabulary word each week. Discuss the word with your children, use it in conversations with them, and praise them for using it.
  2. Ask your child to tell you at least 3 things about their day. This can include someone they talked to, an event that took place, or even what they ate for lunch. Allow them to start off with simple descriptions, and then begin to include more details as they are discussing their day.
  3. Include your child in planning for trips. Have them list items that will need to be packed, sequence events that will occur, and describe what will happen on the trip.
  4. Encourage your child to talk about an event that just happened. If you spent the day at the park, have your child talk about what games they played and who they saw as you are leaving.
  5. Help your child tell a story by asking “who,” “what,” “when,” and “where” questions to make sure important details are included and understood.
  6. Read books with your children. Have them re-tell what happened in the story.
  7. Act out stories or movies. Put on a short play or re-enactment of a book that was just read, or even have children make up their own story for the play. Make it a day long project by having them create puppets to use in the show.
  8. Play “Twenty Questions” or “I-Spy” while in the car. They can put different twists on the games by finding things by category, creating their own categories, or finding objects based on a letter in the alphabet (e.g. “S…I see the Sears Tower and the skyline!”).
  9. Involve your kids in social activities, whether it is through structured programs like a summer camp or spending times with their peers.

If you feel concerned about your child’s language development, consult a Licensed Speech and Language Pathologist for further assessment and guidance.

Encouraging Your Child To Talk About Their Day

Why won’t my child share more Information? mom and daughter talking

One of the most common things I hear from parents is the desire to hear about their child’s day. Whether at camp, a play-date, or a day at school, we’re anxious to hear all about it!

“So how was school today?” It seems simple enough. For children with language difficulties, however, sharing events from the day can be quite a challenge for several reasons.

Telling others about our day requires integrating several complex skills, such as remembering the details from the day, sequencing the events in the correct order, and forming sentences to describe each event in the past tense. For children with speech and language difficulties, these are no small tasks. When I ask kids what they did at school today, I am often met with responses such as “good”, or “I don’t remember” or, most commonly, “nothing”.

Tips to help your child talk about their day:

Avoid asking challenging questions during transitions. For children with speech and language difficulties (or anyone for that matter), it’s far more difficult to talk during transitions or while multitasking (e.g. walking in the Read more

Using iPad and iPhone Apps to Promote Speech and Language Development

As we all know, technology has become a part of our daily lives.  iPad and iPhone application developers have createdChild with iPad both motivating and meaningful applications that target many of the areas within the speech and language discipline.  The apps are multisensory; they tap into the senses of sight, sound and touch. The high resolution graphics used in the apps are visually appealing to all children. While there are TONS of applications out there, here are a few apps that can be used to improve and/or maintain vocabulary, articulation, pragmatic and language skills.  

iPhone and iPad Apps To Help Develop Vocabulary:

App Name

Appropriate Age

Description Benefits of the App
Clean Up: Category Sorting (free)



Helps children make associations and strengthen categories and sorting skills

Preschool memory match (free)


3 different levels (easy, medium, hard) and 5 categories to choose from including: Transportation, Musical Instruments, Animals/Bugs, Food, and Objects

Good for very basic vocabulary. Just a basic memory game.

Mini reward follows the end of each game.

ABA Flashcards (free)


Flash cards are specifically created to stimulate learning and provide tools and strategies for creative, effective language building.

Benefits to both visual and auditory learners. There is classical music with visual reinforcement built in to the app. Great tool for promoting the mastery of new words, building vocabulary and conveying new concepts.

Animal Fun (free)


Animal learning program. Children learn about animals by seeing and hearing the sounds an animal makes. Help builds vocabulary


iPhone and iPad Apps To Help Develop Articulation: Read more

Helping Your Child With Articulation Difficulties

What To Do When You Can’t Understand Your Child’s Speech:

As children develop speech and language, it’s critical to reinforce their communicative attempts. This presents a challenge for children who often have unintelligible speech utterances. How do we respond to our child when we can’t understand what they’re saying? Here are a few strategies I use during moments when I can’t understand a child’s speech:

4 Tips For Understanding Your Child’s Speech:

• Work with what you can understand, and request for more information. “Wow! I can tell you are really excited. You and daddy went where?”

• Gently request that your child repeat his utterance. You might say, “Uh oh, I didn’t quite hear you. Can you tell me again?” Try to read nonverbal cues from your child, such as gestures, emotion and eye-gaze.

• If possible, use cues from the environment. “Hmm, can you show me what you’re thinking about?”

• As much as possible, take advantage of moments to use visual support. For example, if you’re talking about a recent family vacation, print out a few pictures to show while you talk. Refer to the pictures to clarify specific people, places and ideas.

Should You Correct Your Child’s Speech Errors?

Children with articulation errors often feel self-conscious about talking, and I find that constantly correcting their errors often increases their reluctance to talk. Here a few tips for helping children with articulation errors:

• First and foremost, consult with your child’s speech therapist about how to practice speech at home. This will determine when, how and how often you should practice with your child. Your therapist will likely have specific suggestions for when and how to correct your child’s errors. Read more

9 Tips For Practicing Speech With Your Child

Constant practice is very important when children are acquiring new speech sounds. Having your child progress in their speech skills requires practice, just as practicing piano or sports skills is necessary for improvement. Many parents do a great job in helping their child to practice speech sounds, but it’s important to switch up the routine so that the child doesn’t become resistant or bored.

Here Are 9 Fun & Easy Tips To Practice With And Encourage Speech In Your Child:

  1. Make practice a routine. To get into the habit of consistent practice, set a certain time each day (e.g. during breakfast, before bedtime) to go over speech.
  2. On the Go? Play I-spy in the car, at a restaurant, or at the park to find different items with the targeted speech sound.
  3. Play family board games. Include speech practice before each turn of the game. If other children are playing, have them practice a different skill before their turn (e.g. read a page of a book or do three math problems).
  4. Think of silly sentences. Try to come up with silly sentences using the speech sound multiple times in the sentence (e.g. Cindy went swimming in ice-skates).
  5. Sing songs. Find fun songs that have the targeted sound, and sing with your child.
  6. Use a sound while discussing the day. Once the child can successfully say his sound in words and sentences, help him practice using it in conversation by setting aside time each day to have him tell you a story while discussing his speech sound. Dropping a bean or a marble into a cup each time you hear his sound helps the child to visually see how many times he is correctly using it. Read more