Let me start off with a brief story. I have two cats at my house. One recent weekend, I kept hearing these strange scraping noises from the steps. I got up and looked briefly- one cat was pushing his water dish around and blocking the steps. Now that I had the noise figured out, I went back to my book. Well, five minutes later, I hear the noise again! This pattern continued for about an hour, at which point the second cat became involved. He decided the best way to gain my attention was to jump on the kitchen counter! First he went for a glass of water, then he went for the faucet. So I get up and scold him. Then I start wondering, “What are these behaviors trying to convey?” So I began reflecting about what had happened. First the water dish was moved repeatedly, then going for water glasses, then faucets… the common factor? You guessed it- the cats wanted their water dish filled!
Now, you may ask, how does this relate to speech and language therapy? Well, it is so important to identify the function of a behavior so that we can best help that child. For instance, consider the child who enters a room with his mother, then begins playing with a toy. His mother slips away while he’s distracted. Right after you give the child a crayon, he begins crying, throwing toys, and hitting the wall with his hands. What is the behavior telling us? Well, probably not that he hates crayons, but most likely that the child did not realize his mother left, and he is uncomfortable in this new environment.
Now the bigger question: how can we help this child use a new behavior? In certain situations, a child may just need to increase his familiarity with the new situation. One way we can do this is by having his mother stay in the room, then gradually leave while saying good-bye. We can also use simple schedules to help the child predict what is going to happen and what comes next. This creates a routine for the child, which again often helps increase familiarity. For other children, the behavior may not be as simple, at which point speech and language therapy can help by teaching the child gestures and words they can use to convey their wants and needs.