Toys for Expanding Language

As SLPs, we are frequently asked by parents, “what can I do at home to help foster my child’s speech and language development?” There are numerous ways to help expand speech and language development in young children, and toys are definitely one of them. Children typically learn best during play, as it is the most natural context for them. The best toys are those that provide opportunities for open-ended play and meaningful language learning. Here is a list of the top 10 toys to encourage your child’s speech and language development while you interact in play:

  1. Mirror – Babies naturally love looking at their reflection. This is a great opportunity to narrate what/who they see, explore their senses, model appropriate speech sound production, and model joint attention.
  2. blocksBuilding Blocks – Try to find a set with blocks of different shapes, colors, letters, and sizes, as this provides the most opportunities for language development. Use basic block building to target prepositions, size concepts, colors, counting, cooperative play (e.g. when building with friends), and problem solving skills (e.g. how to keep the tower from toppling over).
  3. Toy Phone – This is an obvious favorite as it provides numerous opportunities to explore pretend play, social turn-taking (e.g. I talk and then you talk), social greetings (i.e. hello, goodbye), and language practice in general.
  4. potato headPotato Head – This is staple for nearly all pediatric SLPs because it provides opportunities for body part identification, color identification, and review of basic concepts (i.e. 5 senses).
  5. Farm-SetFarm – This simple toy provides opportunities to learn animal names, animal sounds, basic preposition (i.e. in, on, under, next to), and how to respond to wh-questions (e.g. “Which animal says oink-oink?).
  6. Doll House – When playing with a doll house, you can target all vocabulary related to the home, furniture, family member, and pets. You can also expand on prepositions, sizes, shapes (e.g. of windows vs. doors), and verbs (e.g. sit, stand, run, walk, eat, sleep, play, etc.). This toy is also perfect for following directions (e.g. put the girl on the small couch) and answering wh-questions (e.g. why is the baby sleeping?).Doll-Houses-650x224
  7. Puzzles – Puzzles are excellent for fostering cognitive skills such as visual special awareness, problem solving, and reasoning, as well as fine motor skills. Each puzzle provides its own set of vocabulary. Most importantly, puzzles promote part/whole relationships as the pieces are used to make the puzzle complee.
  8. carsCars/Trucks/Trains – Using these toys, you can target numerous basic concepts suc as colors, counting, fast/slow, and big/small. These portable toys are also great for action words and describing words such as go, stop, fast, slow, etc.
  9. Play Dough – Play dough promotes speech and language, fine motor, and problem solving skills. Play dough is completely versatile and can be used to target prepositions, vocabulary (e.g. scissors, knife, shapers, etc.), verbs (e.g. cut, push, roll, etc.), following directions, and pragmatic language skills (e.g. eye contact, topic maintenance, turn-taking).
  10. Role Play Kits – This is the epitome of pretend play, which provides endless exposure to new vocabulary and jargon. A doctor kit, for example, provides opportunity to develop a “doctor visit” scenario, which includes the names of the doctor’s tools (i.e. thermometer, stethoscope, shot, band aids, etc.) and corresponding describing words (e.g. sick, tired, coughing, fever, etc.).

Jessica Eberhardt M.S. CF-SLP, TSSLD


Fun with Sensory Play

Sensory 1

It is commonly known that children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and/or sensory integration dysfunction disorder have difficulty processing incoming sensory stimuli. However, the truth is that all children need guidance about how to explore their senses. From the time of birth, children begin to discover the world around them via their senses by putting toys in their mouth, making silly sounds with their articulators, and experimenting with sound by covering their ears.

Sensory play involves more than just tactile input and touch. It also involves exploring scents, color combinations, sounds, and tastes. Here are some of the various benefits:

  • shaving-cream-sensory-playSensory play builds language skills by providing children new ways of talking about the world. Experimenting with different tastes, textures, scents, and colors provides children with new ways to explain their environment, wants, and needs. For example, a child may refuse to eat dinner because they do not want the chicken that you served. By exploring tastes, your child will be able to communicate their wants for something potentially salty, crunchy, sweet, or spicy. Increases in communication skills can result in decreases in frustration.
  • Sensory play regulates the internal sensory system and as a result is calming for the child. Exploring physical abilities while spinning in circles, jumping from couch to couch, or swinging on a playground can help your child suppress any feelings of uneasiness that he/she may have been experiencing. This uneasiness could have stemmed from excitement, anxiety, restlessness, or even boredom; but sensory play is sure to do the trick.
  • Using-Lucky-Charms-Cereal-for-Sensory-Play-at-B-Inspired-MamaSensory play improves fine motor skills. There are two types of motor skills acquired during development: fine motor skills and gross motor skills. Gross motor skills involve the large muscle groups needed for walking and running while fine motor skills involve the small muscle groups needed for writing, tying shoes, and self dressing. During sensory play, children foster fine motor skill development by pinching, pouring, grasping, folding, and so much more.

Be sure to incorporate sensory play into your child’s next activity!

Jessica Eberhardt M.S. CF-SLP, TSSLD

Dysphagia: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing, derived from the Greek word “phagein” meaning “to eat.” One in every 17 people will develop a form of dysphagia at some point in their life. It can be caused by the following: stroke/acquired brain injury, spinal cord injury, degenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, head/neck injury, decayed/missing teeth, and poorly fit dentures. Dysphagia can occur at different stages in the swallowing process:


  • 1 Oral Phase – Chewing food and moving food/liquid into the throat
  • 2 Pharyngeal Phase – Initiating the swallow reflex via closing the airway while food is squeezed down the throat
  • 3 Esophageal Phase – Passing food through the esophagus to the stomach

Aspiration is a symptom of dysphagia that occurs when food, saliva, or liquid enters the trachea below the level of the vocal cords (a.k.a. “goes down the wrong pipe”). A typical reaction to aspiration is a strong cough; however, aspiration can be silent following brain injury. When the individual’s cough is weak or absent (silent), it increases the risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. Other signs of dysphagia include:

dysphagia 2

  • Coughing/throat clearing during or following eating/drinking
  • Wet (gurgly) vocal quality during or following eating/drinking
  • Extra effort or prolonged time chewing/swallowing
  • Food or liquid spilling from the lips or getting stuck in the mouth/throat
  • Recurrent pneumonia or chest congestion following meals
  • Weight loss and dehydration

Therapeutic intervention for Dysphagia includes diet modifications (e.g. thickened liquids, altered food consistencies) or alterations to food presentation (e.g. feeding tube, nasogastric tube, etc.). Here are general tips for safe eating:

  • Sit upright during mealtime and 30-minutes post mealtime
  • Minimize distractions (e.g. turn off the TV, hide phone, eliminate background noise/distractions)
  • Chew carefully
  • Decrease bite and sip size while eating
  • Avoid talking when eating/drinking
  • Eat slowly

Jessica Eberhardt M.S. CF-SLP TSSLD

What is Aphasia?


Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder resulting from an injury to the brain, primarily to the left hemisphere. Aphasia affects 1 in every 250 Americans. Aphasia is most commonly caused by stroke; however, it can also result from disease or damage to the language centers of the brain including: traumatic brain injury, brain tumor, or progressive neurological disease. The severity of Aphasia can range from mild, where the individual experiences some difficulty formulating/comprehending language, to severe, where the individual experiences little to no ability to speak/comprehend language.

AphasiaUnfortunately, Aphasia is not an isolated disorder affecting only one skill; Aphasia is a family of disorders that involves varying degrees of impairment in four major areas including: expression of spoken language, comprehension of spoken language, written expressive language, and reading comprehension. Deficits in these areas affects an individual’s ability to communicate with their friends, their family, medical professionals involved in their care, and the larger community.

If you or someone in your family/community is effected by Aphasia, here is a list of tips for creating “Aphasia Friendly” discussions.

  1. Identify the topic of the discussion Aphasia 2
  2. Maintain eye contact
  3. Summarize information into short, simple phrases
  4. Be cautious not to “talk down” to the individual
  5. Use a reduced rate of speech
  6. Use writing to facilitate comprehension (i.e. write down key information and writing in large, clear format)
  7. Avoid use of open ended wh-questions
  8. Use direct yes/no questions
  9. Provide choices when applicable
  10. Maximize use of non-verbal language (e.g. gestures, facial expression, tone of voice, pictures, maps, graphs, etc.)
  11. Explain/Interpret non-verbal language
  12. Avoid abstract language, jargon, abbreviations, and ambiguous terms
  13. Focus on 1 topic at a time
  14. Distinguish a change in topic via a cue or statement

Remember that Aphasia alone does not impact a person’s intellectual ability, only their ability to communicate. For more information about this acquired language disorder, check out this link from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: