With social distancing (or more accurately, physical distancing) a new way of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, people of all ages are challenged to find different ways to connect socially. However, for children with language disorders—who have difficulties with social interactions in the best of times—the physical distance mandated to prevent the pandemic’s spread can be especially challenging.
Sheltering-in-place is encouraging people to find resourceful and creative ways to extend and strengthen their social bonds. Children and adults are using video platforms for play dates, happy hours, and meetings; sharing relatable memes and jokes through email, social media, and texting; attending streamed worship services, fitness classes, and art and music lessons; and more.
However, children with language disorders may not be able to adapt as quickly as others. Parents can help their children interact socially during this time in the following ways:
Screen time. Realistically, screen usage will increase while people are sheltering at home. Some research shows that screen time can lead to speech and language delays in children. But TV shows, movies, and social media can be viewed in a way that optimizes social interaction. When possible, use these technologies interactively: Watch shows/movies together, and discuss them (e.g., Who was your favorite character? What do you think will happen next? Why did the show end that way?). Ask kids to introduce you to their favorite video game or TikTok personality.
Conversation opportunities. Although families may be together more than usual, parents may be focused on financial, medical, work, and other significant responsibilities and concerns. But conversation-rich opportunities can occur in everyday tasks that are already occurring, such as cooking/dinner prep or traditional activities that families are rediscovering, e.g., board games.
Reading. This time of relative isolation can lend more time for reading. But this doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. Families can read to each other and find different types of book online. Young children can play rhyming and word games. Parents can ask older children questions to guide their understanding (e.g., What happened at the beginning, middle, and end of the story? What was the main plot? What motivated each character?)
Being with friends and family. The importance of communicating with friends and extended family during this time cannot be understated. Children with language disorders may find phone and FaceTime/Zoom communication more challenging than others. Parents can practice conversations in advance and can suggest topics and related responses (e.g., making comparisons between the weather in different cities; talking about home school experiences). They can involve siblings and discuss ways that they can help their sibling who has a language disorder.
Understanding changes. The changes in daily routines may be particularly hard for children with language comprehension and production problems. They may hear alarming news reports or sense the tension of their parent(s)—but they may not have the ability to ask their questions, express their feelings, or speak about this confusing time. Parents can define new vocabulary words (e.g., coronavirus, COVID-19, social distancing, quarantine, sheltering at home) and can explain changes in routine.
Excerpted from “Ten Ways Children With Language Disorders Can Maintain Both Physical Distance and Social Connection During the Coronavirus Pandemic” published on the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) website.
Read the full post online to learn how you can use creativity, physical activity, humor, organizing, and augmentive and alternative communication (AAC) to help children interact socially.