R achel: This homework is much more realistic.

Mr. Friedman: It seems oversimplified for such a complex issue, but I like the fact that there’s a plan and that it addresses more than one error at a time.

Teacher: All the kids — not just Yossi — picked up the wave immediately. They love it and it’s helping everyone!

“I did it.” Rachel exhales. “I talked to Yossi’s therapists about which goals take priority. We decided verbal expression, specifically syntax. The school therapists say he’s not responding to their usual approach, and my husband and I feel like we’d all function better if he could express himself.”

Based on Yossi’s evaluation, we list some of his consistent syntax errors: 

  • No plural “S”  
  • No possessive “S”  
  • Doesn’t use “is”  
  • No “ing” at the end of verbs 
  • No “ed” at the end of verbs  
  • Confuses “I” and “me” 
  • Confuses pronouns 

“They’ve been working on “ing” at school since September,” Rachel shares.

I explain that we’ll use a “cycle approach” (adapted from the treatment approach for phonological awareness created by Hodson and Paden). We’ll pick four errors and focus on each for two weeks at a time, two sessions a week. After eight weeks, we’ll reevaluate. Any goal corrected to 90 percent accuracy will be replaced with a new goal for the next eight-week cycle.

“The school’s working for seven months, and you’re going to fix it in four sessions?!”

“We’re introducing and teaching new targets and giving him time to integrate them into his speech. This works because the goals are cumulative over the eight-week period. Plus, we’re ALL — family, school, and therapy — using the same approach for the same goals at the same time.”

We start with “ING.” There are two stages: bombardment — expose the child to the proper use over and over, and practice — cue the child to use the proper expression.

At Yossi’s first session, we spend the entire time on “bombardment.” First, we read a book.

“The doorbell is ringING.” I emphasize the ING. “Dina is lookING to see who is comING.” Every time I say ING, I twirl and wave my hand. I want Yossi to associate that gesture with ING.

We take out Playmobil. “My menschie is walkING. Where is he goING?”

We sing songs. “It’s rainING, it’s pourING…”

During the session, I stress the ING, along with a wave, at least 60 times.

When Rachel leaves, I hand her a card. It reads ING in bold, with an illustration of the gesture. “Keep it on the fridge,” I suggest. “Stress ING whenever you can, along with the wave.”

She rolls her eyes. “Incorporate these techniques 500 times a day and do two hours of practice every morning and evening, or else don’t complain that he’s not progressing.”

I laugh. “Right, exactly. But seriously, we’re finding opportunities that already exist in your schedule. You’re talking to him anyway, so just stress the ING. Consider it built-in therapy.” I hand her another copy. “Give this to the school, so we’re working together.”

Rachel looks calmer. “It’s hard to parent a kid with ‘extra needs,’” I acknowledge, “but there’s one thing Yossi needs most in order to grow, something only you can provide. You’re not his therapist; you’re his mother. More than any therapy or practice, Yossi needs a calm and loving relationship with his mother. It’s the most important thing you can give him.”

• Syntax refers to the rules of how sentences are structured — what comes first and last — to create a complete thought.

• The problem with addressing each error separately is that it takes too long to progress. 

• Sometimes a new skill needs time to integrate. After two weeks of work, the improvement may only become clearly apparent a few weeks later.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 577. D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in private practice for over 15 years. She is the creator of the Link-It reading comprehension and writing curriculum for elementary school students and directs continuing education programs for speech-language pathologists and educators.