Play To Talk: A Practical Guide to Help Your Late-Talking Child Join the Conversation. Book Review by Michelle Harmon. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2008 Michelle Harmon. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Dr. James MacDonald has worked tirelessly for many years teaching parents to be their children's most effective communication partners and has trained over 1500 therapists and teachers to work with language delayed children. "Dr. Jim" was a professor of Speech and Language pathology and Developmental disabilities at the Ohio State University from 1971 -1995. He directed the Parent Child Communication Clinic at the Nisonger Center during those years. In 1995, he took early retirement to devote his time to building parent-based programs and to direct the Communicating Partners Center.
Communicating Partners (CP) has provided information and hope to families and the children they love for many years. With the release of his latest book Play To Talk: A Practical Guide to Help Your Late-Talking Child Join the Conversation (Perfect Paperback), Dr. Jim has brought his strategies and practical ideas to life in an easy-to-read, practical guide format.
The book uses real-life stories and lots of photographs to teach the methods he espouses, and that have worked so well for the families he has devoted his life to helping.
The book is both a Home Coaching Model, rife with day to day suggestions and ideas to make communication with children playful and interactive, and a Professional Model, a clinically-proven model for Speech and Language therapy that has been tested for over 30 years.
CP meets the needs of parents and professionals alike, because it is child-focused and responsive to the child's strengths and innate abilities. Rather than focusing on a lack of speech, the program reminds its users to focus on what the child can do, and to meet them at their level through play and gentle interaction. This approach allows "Speech Therapy" to occur even with the youngest of infants, as it builds on sounds and behaviors all children make, with turn-taking, imitation, and humor.
All children have stages of Communicative Development, but without practice and a clear understanding of the role a partner in that communication plays, they can get "stuck" at certain intervals and stop trying to communicate. What adults can do to create communicative children is:
-Increase the child's social interactions by using any behaviors the child can already do.
-Help the child learn social play, turn-taking, imitating and vocalizing. As these skills grow, CP urges more intentional, focused communication, with an early emphasis on non-verbal communication prior to words. With the groundwork laid, a Communicating Partner moves on to
-Help the child use language for a variety of reasons, especially social reasons.
-Refine conversations skills.
-Help the child learn how to be social and communicative in civil, empathetic and socially productive ways.
The second chapter of this amazing book deals with the real reasons why CP is so effective. It clearly shows the different ways children and adults see their world, and how to bridge the gap between them by teaching the adult how to enter the child's world. Children live mainly in a world of sensation and action. Adults live mainly in a world of thought and language. "When adults only talk with children they often miss the child's world of experiences and fail to connect. The more connections you share, the more development happens." Those connections are generally through play and imitation, rather than through words. The book gives terrific ideas of how exactly to enter a child's world and how to be balanced, responsive, playful and affirming.
One of the key differences in the CP method versus that of other Speech Therapy methods is Balance. Rather than see the adult as the provider and the child as the consumer, the program addresses the need for "balanced communication".
"In many years of research and clinical practice, we have found that a majority of interactions with children with developmental delays are out of balance. Partners often dominate the child with talk and action, often unwittingly forcing the child into a passive role. He listens and watches more than he communicates or acts. ....Balance is a strategy that parents can use to help the child play a more active role in interactions. When partners learn to allow the child time to do or say what he can, they often discover that he can do much more than they realized."
Another vital point CP makes is that an adult must be responsive to the needs of the child.
"A common concern with children is that they often make more sounds when they are alone than when they are with people. They seem to not have learned that sounds can be powerful ways to communicate. When parents begin responding to a child's sounds, even unclear ones or just playful ones, the child learns that sounds are for communicating: a critical step toward talking. Your child can begin to communicate with absolutely any physical or vocal behavior that you respond to regularly. If you sensitively respond to a behavior as if it were a meaningful communication, it will become a meaningful communication over time."
Play to Talk teaches the important skill of matching.
"Matching is about being 'developmentally possible' for your child. Matching involves doing actions your child can do and using sounds and words you child can say. To help your child learn new actions, sounds and words, try 'progressive matching'— do what he is doing or make sounds like the ones he is making then show a next possible step. Add another step or a new idea to an action sequence. Expand language in small steps by translating sounds into words or by expanding a one-word statement into two words. Add to whatever your child is currently doing in order to help him take a next step."
With the methods explained in language that makes perfect sense, the book moves on to creating a practice plan. The chapter provides step-by-step guidance for creating a practice plan, a straightforward, written plan of action that details how and when partners will practice the responsive strategies with a child. The chapter helps a parent evaluate where a child currently is and what the immediate and long-term goals will be. It evaluates the parent, the child, even the environment, with questions meant to really delve into a plan of action. Examples of plans are given, and Dr. Jim gives advice on how to record progress.
Chapter 4 explores the nitty gritty, how to create activities and possibilities to practice the CP methods you have learned about. It explains People Play, and the necessity of teaching a child to enjoy playing with people rather than objects early on. It uses the obvious infancy games of peek-a-boo, tickling, etc to learn turn-taking and interaction with people for fun. But CP reminds its users that the games are done with the intention of fostering communication and give-and-take that is so vital to speech later on.
In Chapter 5, clear examples of how to make CP work in daily life are given, as well as insights into things that can affect communication negatively, such as sensory issues and behaviors. CP focuses on natural partner responses as the primary reward or reinforcer. The key to natural reinforcement is to continue to do socially whatever keeps the child interacting in desirable ways. Dr. Jim offers insight into possible causes of problem behaviors, and really explains why a depressed, bored, or over-stimulated child will act out. He gives great suggestions for reconnecting with the child and returning to a good balanced relationship.
The book goes on to discuss daily activities that promote communication and speech, and how learning to be a communicator has profound effects on the entire life of the child and the family.
As a long-time user of CP and a mother of a child with Down syndrome, I can personally attest to the methods and theories Dr. Jim espouses. When my daughter was 2 years old, I found his program. From that day forward, I began to change how I interacted with her, and learned to be a much better communicating partner for her so she could be one for me, and she has blossomed into a child who is quite capable of holding her own in a conversation. I especially like that Dr. Jim recognizes the power of parents in their children's lives, it is a position far more powerful and capable than that of any speech and language professional. His methods of mutual respect, humor, and kindness really work. I like to say that what we are looking for is not really "Speech", it is communication, and there really is a difference. Communicating Partners gets that, and this new book brings real life context to the ideas, and makes them easy to understand and pursue. I would recommend this book, and Communicating Partners in general to any parent of a child with Down syndrome, from infancy to adulthood, who worries that their child will not be able to communicate their wants and needs to them. Not all children will have a full language, but with Dr. Jim's suggestions, virtually all of them will be able to communicate their wants and needs well and to be able to feel heard by the people who love them. I highly recommend this book.