Preventing Screen Addiction

A recent article in The Telegraph describes a very scary trend: “Children as young as four are becoming so addicted to smartphones and iPads that they require psychological treatment.”  Popular and professional literature are full of such warnings, yet parents continue to use digital devices to keep their babies, toddlers, and young children occupied.  One in seven parents polled in a study admitted their children used digital gadgets for four or more hours a day!  Although 81% of the parents surveyed expressed a concern that their children were spending too much time with digital devices, this hasn’t stopped them from allowing their children to have this access.  Indeed, the article states that according to psychiatrists, “digital dependency” in  adults and children has grown 30% in recent years. This addiction in young children is evident by obsession with devices and uncontrollable tantrums when the devices are removed, and leads to difficulties with social interaction as the children get older.

With so many warnings about the potential detriments of excessive screen time, why do parents still allow their infants, toddlers, and even older children have so much access to digital devices?  One reason might be that parents are discounting these warnings as an overblown extension of warnings in the past about letting children watch too much TV.  After all, generations of kids dating back to the 1950s watched hours of TV each day and they didn’t grow up to be TV addicts, right?  While it’s a fact that when people are home, the TV is more likely to be on than off, most people don’t go through withdrawal when the electricity goes out or the TV is on the fritz and they are unable to watch TV for any length of time.  But have digital devices go dark and there is very clearly a visceral reaction. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I’m guessing that the major difference is the way we engage with digital gadgets vs. TV screens.  Unless we are binge-watching the latest Netflix series, engagement with the TV is much less intense.  We move around, get something to eat, page through a magazine, cook dinner, fold laundry, knit, and engage with others while the TV is on;  the TV does not capture and hold our undivided attention.  In many cases, it is simply background noise to other activities in the home.  Engagement with handheld devices is much more intense;  it is the primary focus of attention, often to the exclusion of all other activities and interactions. This releases endorphins that excite the pleasure centers in our brains, which feeds the addiction.

Another reason for parents to rely on digital devices to occupy their children — and this one horrifies me — is that parents themselves are hooked into devices, so keeping the kids quiet with device use allows the parents uninterrupted time on their own handheld screens.  As an article in Huffington Post states, over 70% of children surveyed feel their parents spend too much time on mobile devices.  Remember, parents of infants and young children are themselves “digital natives,” meaning they grew up with technology and don’t know life without it.

As SLPs, we see the effects on language and pragmatic skill development caused by  overexposure to screens, be it smartphones, tablets, or video games — not to mention the effects on attention, executive functioning, fine and gross motors skills, imagination, and higher level thinking.  The question is: how can we help parents understand the critical importance of hands-on experiences and interpersonal engagement and how to incorporate these experiences and engagement in everyday life?  Ironically enough, there’s an app for that!

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 5.11.48 AMJoinvroom.org is a website, app, and e-newsletter that encourages parents to be “brain builders” through simple activities already occurring in the home:  mealtime, bath time, daily errands and chores, etc.  Downloadable activity cards and daily videos teach parents how to engage their infants and children using eye contact, chatting, taking the child’s lead, expanding on the child’s language, and turn-taking, all in the context of daily living.  No special equipment or skills are needed.  Joinvroom.org is really all about being a fully present, hands-on parent.  I heartily recommend this resource to all parents of infants and young children. Although geared toward children ages 5 and younger, parents of older children who have special needs will be able to use many of these ideas to stimulate growth and engagement in their children, too.

The kind of parenting encouraged by Joinvroom.org will seem intuitive to most SLPs and reflects the kind of parenting that was common before the digital age.  I encourage every SLP working in early intervention and preschool to share this with parents on their caseload. And, for the rest of us, consider recommending this site to all new parents and others who would benefit from these back-to-basics parenting tips.  Share this post on your social media for May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.   Keeping parents and children engaged in these hands-on and interactive activities just might prevent the need for “digital detox” in their future.

My Brain’s on Fire!

logo_dog_fkaDon’t you just love when you find something while browsing the Internet that just lights up your whole brain??  I stumbled across a post from SmartMouthSLP.com that did just that!  It’s all about a website, PlayPosit, that lets you create lessons – free! — using video from YouTube and other sources.   I started exploring and my head just about exploded!

There are premade lessons for every subject imaginable that you can use, and you can make your own.  In addition to social skills, as described in the SmartMouthSLP.com post, you can use this for predicting, inferencing, comprehension, narrative, answering questions — the possibilities for speech/language therapy are endless.  There is built-in data collection, a bypass for school filters that block YouTube, and the ability to share your “bulbs” (video lessons) with others.

But then I got thinking….could this be used with AAC users to help them learn their systems, engage in conversation, comment and offer opinions, build core and fringe vocabulary, AND work on predicting, inferencing, comprehension, narrative, and answering questions?  Oh, yes, it can!  In just a short time, I was able to create a little video activity that works on all of those skills:  Click HERE to view.  How engaging is that??! Guess what my AAC users will be doing tomorrow?

Thank you, SmartMouthSLP, for alerting me to this amazing, stupendous, totally awesome resource!

Tools for That Pesky “R”: Some Old, Some New

Ah, that pesky vocalic /r/!  Why is it so difficult for some kids to produce?

image_20813I can’t honestly say that I learned a lot of good artic therapy techniques in college coursework.  However, I was fortunate to do my student teaching with a seasoned SLP who had good success with “old school” methods:  lots of drill with a flashlight and a mirror.  Auditory and visual models, hand gestures, coarticulation, and word cards and lists rounded out her bag of tricks.  Nothing cute or fancy;  this was long before TeachersPayTeachers.  But “old school” worked:  her students mastered /r/, and that is the definition of evidenced-based practice.

Fast-forward 20 years, and you’ll find that I still employ a lot of “old school” methods in my practice because they work.  Of course, I’ve added some quick and easy games to keep the students engaged and motivated;  you can read about this in my post, “Drill, Baby, Drill.”  For some tactile support, I occasionally need to resort to the “speech gizmo,” known to the rest of the world as a dental flosser.  And my best “new school” tool:  the VowelViz app from CompleteSpeech.  I can tell a student until I’m blue in the face that his tongue is too low, but when he sees the spaceship drop like a rock on the iPad screen, he gets it.  He may not be able to immediately lift his tongue into a good /r/ position (oh, if only!), but he starts to be aware that he needs to do something different with his tongue to get that spaceship up to Saturn with a good /er/, and those adjustments will be reflected on the screen, providing immediate visual feedback. My sessions often involve moving back and forth between the mirror and flashlight and the VowelViz app.  See it, feel it, listen to it, watch the effect on the screen.

The lesson here is simple. While we should always be open to new techniques, we shouldn’t forget those old tried-and-true methods.  A blend of both works for me!

Therapy Tools for iPad

I love my iPad.  Of course, if you have an iPad, you know that goes without saying!  And there’s no question that my students love it, too.  The challenge is using it effectively in therapy, so that it is a useful tool and not a distraction or time vacuum. With that in mind, I am always on the hunt for apps that make my professional life easier and provide the students with appropriate, goal-oriented therapy.   It is impossible to keep up with the explosion of apps, but I hope to keep you informed as to my new favorite apps in this blog.  There are many blogs and websites that list apps for special education, to the point of being overwhelming.  That’s why I thought listing a few new apps with each entry, and explaining how I use them, would be much more manageable.  A great place to make suggestions and ask questions about apps for therapy is on my Apps and Technology message board.

Here are just a few of my gazillion favorite apps.  All can be found at the App Store.  Most are free or really cheap.

Age Calculator from Super Duper — love it.  Just plug in the child’s birthdate and you immediately get the chronological age.

QuickVoice Recorder — a super simple way to record, play back, and store a student’s speech.

Board Game Tools — this great app has up to six dice, a countdown timer, a loud buzzer for wrong answers or “time’s up!”, and pad for recording scores, and indicator for whose turn it is.

Make Dice — create large customized dice that look and sound realistic!  I’ve created dice with “wh” question words, pronouns, verb tense phrases, regular and irregular verbs, regular and irregular plurals, specific speech sounds, etc.  You can roll more than 2 dice at a time, then have the student generate sentences using those words/phrases. Quick, easy, and no dice to chase on the floor!

Bugs and Buttons — fantastic graphics and sound effects in this app that, while developed for teaching concepts (counting, patterns, sorting, etc.), is very useful in assessing a student’s ability to point, touch, scan, and move.  I use this when I consult for students who are being considered for dynamic display AAC devices.

Cat Fishing  — OK, this one isn’t for therapy, but if you have visited my site and clicked on Meet the Staff, you’ll understand that Ms. Parks pressured me into including it.  Not only can she open the cover to my iPad and start the program (after I bring up the app — she’s not THAT good!), she can score 10 points in a flash.