Toddlers and younger children are in a key developmental stage, making their first strides towards confidence with speech and language. And what an exciting time. But it can be frightening for parents who are noticing their child’s language skills aren’t progressing according to certain benchmarks, opening the door for panic. With children so young, another response could be to put it off and wait a while, perhaps until the child is in school or until the family’s schedule can better accommodate sessions with a professional. After all, each child grows at their own pace and perhaps they will “grow into” their voice.
However, when assessments show a child could benefit from treatment, it’s time to step in as a clinician and help those parents and caregivers embrace the journey they are about to begin. Patients, or in this case their caregivers, who are informed and empowered about their treatment plan, are more likely to succeed. So, let’s dive into some ways you can set the stage for successful speech therapy for toddlers.
Prepare the Parents (or Other Caregivers)
Before your initial evaluation appointment with the patient, make sure their caregivers are prepared for a successful session. Consider creating a checklist of to-dos to take care of before they meet with you. This can include items like preparing insurance information, reflecting on their concerns, writing down their questions, or listing observations. This can not only help you collect more information for your evaluation, it can soothe caregivers by giving them a task to accomplish.
Explain the Benchmarks
Caregivers, especially first-time parents or parents whose other children have developed speech and language capabilities without delay, may likely be unfamiliar with the nuances of steppingstones for healthy progress. With a crowd of friends and family or even the internet telling them what *should* be happening, they may need some clarity as to what is fact and what is fiction.
Educate caregivers about the benchmarks their children should be meeting. Provide resources, like helpful .pdfs or video links you can share through your patient portal for parents to take with them.
Explain the Assessments
Now that your patient’s support understands where their child should be, help them understand where the child may be falling behind. It may seem obvious to you as a practitioner, but take the time to give some background about the assessments you chose, why you chose them, and your results. Present the data you uncovered and couple it with context to bring the situation to light. Proceed with sensitivity, assuring parents there is nothing *wrong* with their child and soothing worries they may have.
Explain the Treatment Plan
An obvious next step, explaining the treatment plan is critical. Help caregivers understand what you will be putting into action and your reasoning. Paint a picture of what the short-term and long-term goals are, and everyone will be better positioned as a team to get there together. Take the time to lay out what the time commitments and at-home responsibilities are. Prepare documents or share this information with them to refer to so they are not relying on their memory. Remember, paper notes can get lost, so utilize the technology at hand to create a place where all this information can easily be accessed in the future.
Add Value with Updates
When any aspect of their young child’s life is out of their control, the family can feel helpless and may need reassurance. As the journey progresses, provide frequent updates. “It’s working,” is simply not enough information. Include them in the process by relating your observations and thoughts. Show them data from your records to illustrate progress and trends.
You are a therapist, not a miracle worker. Make sure everyone is aware of the limitations of speech therapy and, more importantly, caregivers know what is expected of them for treatment to be successful. Does everyone understand the payment policy? Are we on the same page about appointment commitments and cancellations? Ask questions to make sure there is no confusion or misunderstanding.
Conversations about expectations can also bring to light issues that could disrupt treatment down the way like insurance coverage or the cost of treatment, scheduling issues and the like.
Give out Homework
We’ve touched on this throughout our list, but providing parents with further reading as well as tasks for home can be therapeutic for parents, productive for your treatment, and healthy for your patient.
How Your EMR Can Help
A lot goes into preparing a patient and their caregivers for the journey of SLP therapy, but you’re not alone. Utilize your EMR to relieve you and your staff from these burdens. With a practice management system like Fusion Web Clinic’s EMR, setting families up for success has never been easier. Schedule in-person and teletherapy sessions with ease, share information via the patient portal, handle billing, and even gather insights from an EMR specifically designed for pediatric speech therapy. Schedule a demo today to get started.