50th Anniversary Archive Series Image

Published on January 28th, 2015

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Involving Parents: An Innovative Collaborative Program for Language and Social-Emotional Growth in School-Aged Children

From the SAC Archives: A Year-Long Retrospective Series

Publication: Hear Here, Volume III, Number 8
Original publication date: December 1979
Author: Beth Thompson

Introduction by: Maureen Penko, S-LP(C) and Sharon Halldorson, S-LP(C)

Children acquire oral language through social interaction, primarily with their parents or other early caregivers. The Hanen Centre, founded in 1977 by Ayala Hanen Manolson, envisioned the need for involving parents of children with significant language delays in speech therapy programs. Beth Thompson, a school-based speech-language pathologist (S-LP) in Winnipeg, extended this idea to the school setting in 1979 with her “Mother-Child Language Intervention Group”. Thompson’s article summarizes a program for five- and six-year-old children with language delays who also had unmet social and emotional needs, highlighted by separation anxiety and extreme shyness. Her highly innovative program involved both home- and school-based intervention, with the mothers attending and participating in the S-LP-run school-based language group every second week. Collaborating with the school social worker allowed the S-LP to work on the children’s social and emotional goals at the same time that their language needs were being met. The results were very positive and confirm the importance of involving parents in early language intervention.


In January 1979, an intervention program was designed to enrich the interaction patterns between a mother and her language ­delayed child. Children identified for this program were between the ages of 5 years 3 months and 6 years 10 months. All of the children attended the same elementary school in grades kindergarten, pre-primary, and one.

The six children identified for the initial group (2 girls and 4 boys) demonstrated mild delays in receptive language (four to twelve months) and moderate delays in expressive language (twelve to twenty-four months). The children’s teachers reported that they were withdrawn in class, did not interact well with their peers, and displayed poor beginning reading and printing skills.

Interviews were held with each of the children’s mothers. Each reported that her child exhibited both separation anxieties and extreme shyness with strangers. Each mother also noted that her child acted less mature than his peers, and did not maintain friendships.

Because of the similarities in the mothers’ concerns, a program of intervention was designed through the cooperative efforts of the Speech and Language Clinician and the mothers. Goals were identified to be worked on within both the group setting and individually within the home. Each other was made aware of her child’s language intervention needs and was helped to incorporate a program into the home to reinforce therapy done in the school.

The children were seen as a group for ninety minutes every Friday morning. In this time, specific concepts and vocabulary were introduced by the clinician. Games, songs, and experiences, such as cooking, were used as learning tools within these sessions.

The mothers contracted to be directly involved in this group every second week. They were responsible to interact with not only their own child but also the mothers. This was done to help the child disengage from his mother and to learn to use other sources for information gathering. The mothers took turns planning the coming mother-child group meeting and assumed financial responsibility if required.

Following the mother-child session, the mothers met with the Speech and language Clinician to share feedback and new information. Through discussion they were able to identify problem areas in their children. Important areas studied were:

  1. listening habits;
  2. topic acknowledgement;
  3. separation;
  4. creating quality interaction times in the home;
  5. siblings; and
  6. helping the child maintain positive feelings towards learning.

Some of these areas were covered in consultation with the School Social worker.

Through the use of audiovisual equipment, the mothers were able to observe their interactions with their child, and introduce new strategies to improve then. The teaching of new interactive patterns was done by clinician demonstration. These methods included ways to get the child to offer maximum information and to initiate conversation.

Through the mothers’ involvement and the use of familiar experiences, the child was able to carry over many new interaction skills to the classroom and community. Mothers reported that they gained personal satisfaction from being directly involved in the therapeutic process. They noted that they felt closer to their child’s problem, and were more capable of having sane impact in remediating it. Generally, a mother received support from other mothers in a similar situation, and was able to share her concerns and problems on parenting a language-delayed child.

This group ran from February to June 1979. It met fifteen times, seven times with the mothers present. Informal post-testing was done with the children in June 1979. Results indicated that the children had made significant improvement in the areas of oral vocabulary use and spontaneous verbal language. They appeared more sociable and were able to actively maintain a conversation with the clinician.

Teachers reported that the children demonstrated more mature play skills, and interacted more appropriately with their classmates. These children were more willing to share personal experiences and did not seem as hesitant to try new things. Five of the children were referred for further follow up in the language areas in September 1979, and one case was closed.

This program was formally discontinued in this school division in June 1979 because the Speech and language Clinician relocated to another city.

Future clinical plans are to further identify specific interaction patterns between the mother and her language-delayed child and provide more intensive intervention at the earlier stages of child development. It is hoped that the father and siblings will be involved and a complete family dynamic intervention plan can be developed and used as a preventative tool before learning problems related to language-delay develop.

About this retrospective series:

To commemorate SAC’s 50th anniversary, we will be republishing articles from SAC’s early newsletters and magazines throughout 2014. We will republish the articles in their entirety and will not be editing them for style or grammar. Sharon Halldorson, S-LP(C); Maureen Penko, S-LP(C); Andrea Richardson-Lipon, AuD, Aud(C) and Jessica Bedford, SAC Director of Communications and Marketing, are the editors of this year-long retrospective series.




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