I think my child needs help with speech and language – What should I do?

May is Speech and Hearing month and there’s no better way to celebrate than to offer $20 screenings! S.L. Hunter SpeechWorks is offering $20 speech and language screenings for the entire month of May. You can call us today to book yours now!


Speech and language development is important for learning, literacy, and communicating with others. Early assessment and treatment of speech and language difficulties makes a big difference in a child’s prognosis for improvement.

Speech and Language screenings are a helpful tool used to determine if a child is developing within the “average” range when compared to other children his or her age. Screening tests identify areas that may need further assessment and are an important part of increasing your awareness of your child’s needs, strengths, and weaknesses.


At Speechworks, our speech and language screenings will look at the following areas of your child’s language:

  • Comprehension
  • Verbal expression
  • Articulation and Phonology (speech sounds and processing of speech sound patterns)
  • Early Literacy
  • Voice
  • Resonance
  • Social Language Skills
  • Fluency (stuttering)

Screenings are performed through play activities; discussion with parents, and observations made during the session. Screenings are completed in approximately 15-20 minutes.

What Happens If My Child Does Not Pass the Screening?

Depending on the difficulties noted by the SLP, you may be provided with strategies and tips to work on at home with your child, with follow up recommended in a month or so. If your child has notable difficulties that are not developmental in nature, then further assessment and evaluation will be recommended to develop a plan for treatment.

Visit our website for more details about our services or call us to book your child’s speech and language screening today!

Linda Saarenvirta is a speech-language pathologist who has been practicing for over 20 years in the healthcare field.  She has worked with a variety of communication disorders and clients of all ages.  She is extremely passionate about voice therapy and enjoys helping clients achieve their vocal needs.  Her client centered approach to therapy ensures all clients maximize their potential and achieve their goals.


Difficulties with Social Skills and Autism

Throughout my career as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I have always had an interest in the role that social skills play in the social, emotional and academic successes of children and teens.  Over time, I started seeing more and more people who struggled with social confidence and social skills. Most of these children and teens had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and some simply felt or been told that they didn’t do well in social situations. This is definitely a common challenge faced by all people with autism no matter what their language or cognitive skills. No two people will share the exact same pattern of difficulties with social skills. This is why autism is now commonly referred to as a spectrum disorder which represents a large range of abilities and difficulties found with those who have autism.

Difficulties with Social Skills Across the Ages


Most social difficulties for many children with autism can be identified in early childhood or even infancy. Some of the earliest signs are:

  • Limited eye contact
  • Responding to their name
  • Sharing attention
  • Difficulties with imitating

These above signs can become worse and children might shy away from social situations or avoid them all together. On the other hand, some signs may go undetected because they are similar to the behaviours seen in typically developing children going through the regular tantrums or being defiant.


For children who are unable to access early social intervention, the problems tend to develop as their social demands increase. They often have limited play skills and show little interest in playing with friends. Or, if there is an interest in engaging with other children, they may not have the appropriate skills to:

  • Initiate play
  • Respond to the play invitations to other children
  • Or to learn play through observations of other children
  • Attempts at social interaction is immature

When they do have friends, their friends tend to be very accommodating children who adjust to their need to control play. Difficulties with social skills and maintaining friendships as they get older can be very challenging given that typical children become less accepting of the one-sided nature of these friendships.


As children with autism age and move into high school, they continue to have difficulties with social skills and are likely to feel isolated from their peers. Schools often try to create an environment for acceptance and inclusion to help increase the potential for friendships. Often those who have high language abilities may have great self-awareness of their differences and a greater motivation to want to fit in. But, that being said, teens by this point may have faced social rejection and are more comfortable communicating with adults who encourage them in their specific interests or spend more time on their own.

What can you do to help someone with difficulties with social skills?

There are many different social skills interventions out there such as, video modeling, social stories and activity-based intervention to name a few. Cognitive Behavioural Training (CBT) can be used in teaching social skills, which involves increasing knowledge about the social world and at the same time increasing awareness of thoughts and feelings. One specific type of CBT is Social Thinking!

What is Social Thinking?

Social Thinking is what we do when we interact with people.  The Social Thinking approach (based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner) focusses on helping individuals think strategically in social situations. It helps them to observe and consider their own and others’ thoughts and feelings.  It bridges the connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviours, paving the way for social skills that can apply to many situations.

Social Thinking also sheds light on academics; children who struggle in conversation, struggle to understand literature – not due to a lack of core skills in reading fluency and decoding – but rather, in perspective taking. Its main focus is on teaching individuals to think about how others perceive them.

When individuals are unable to interpret others’ perspectives, they may struggle with developing meaningful relationships. Social Thinking breaks down social concepts so that we can convey them in ways that are practical and logical.

Social Thinking is a language-based approach for individuals with social learning disabilities, not just specific to individuals with autism but anyone that may have ADD, ADHD, Nonverbal Learning Disabilities and/or Language Disabilities, ages 4 years through to adulthood.

For more information on Social Thinking or if you are interested in programming using Social Thinking contact us today about our March Break/Summer Camps or individual sessions!

AmyWebAmy Grossi is a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, practicing for over 10 years. Amy enjoys the area of early language, literacy development, apraxia and fluency. She has a passion for working with children with multiple developmental needs and implementing creative and interactive treatment sessions.

I’ve had voice loss for 2 weeks! What Can I do?

Losing your voice can be a scary thing.  Voice loss or laryngitis happens when your vocal cords become inflamed from overuse, infection, or irritation.  If you’re wondering about the severity of your voice loss, the Mayo Clinic has excellent information on symptoms and causes.

If you experience voice loss (laryngitis) for 2 weeks or longer, you should seek medical advice from an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor (ENT) to examine the cause of the persistent voice loss.

Short-Term Tips for Managing Your Voice Loss

Below are some tips to help reduce the strain associated with voice loss while awaiting your appointment with the ENT:

  • Vocal rest- try not to use your voice as much as you typically do, however, do not whisper as that can be more harmful than shouting.
  • Avoid calling out and yelling- walk to the person who you are talking to
  • Drink lots of water- keep hydrated
  • Manuka honey and ginger are great for the voice and soothing to have when the voice is not at its best.
  • Avoid singing and throat clearing as they can be harmful to the voice when it is already in a weakened state.

What if the ENT recommends speech therapy for the voice loss?

If speech therapy is recommended for the voice loss, you will be referred directly to a qualified speech pathologist with experience in voice disorders.  The speech pathologist will complete an assessment and set goals to get your voice back on track.

Exercises may focus on the following areas depending on your specific type of voice loss:

  • Reduction of tension in the larynx (area where the vocal cords are housed)
  • Improving the tone of the voice (may sound rough, raspy, hoarse when you are experiencing voice loss)
  • Improving the pitch of the voice (how high or low the voice is)
  • Altering diet to reduce symptoms of acid reflux
  • Reducing hard contacts of the vocal cords when voicing, so that the voice starts easily and gently
  • Relaxation exercises to help alleviate stress and strain

How long will it take to improve my voice loss?

Everyone is different with respect to their vocal use and musculature, so it is tricky to put an exact time frame to the therapy.  Typically you will see vocal improvements in 6-10 sessions; you may need some maintenance sessions to keep up with the new strategies and improved way of using your voice.

At SpeechWorks, we have a fully equipped voice lab with videostrobscopy analysis to view your vocal cords when you are speaking and computer equipment that allows us to track your progress in therapy.  Call us or check out our voice lab for more information! We would be happy to help you with your vocal needs.

LindaSaarenvirta-220Linda Saarenvirta is a speech-language pathologist who has been practicing for over 20 years in the healthcare field.  She has worked with a variety of communication disorders and clients of all ages.  She is extremely passionate about voice therapy and enjoys helping clients achieve their vocal needs.  Her client centered approach to therapy ensures all clients maximize their potential and achieve their goals.

A student’s experience of our Aphasia Group

As an intern at S.L. Hunter SpeechWorks, I participated in the weekly aphasia group. Each week, I saw members given countless opportunities to participate in meaningful conversation. Within the two-hour group, members discuss current events, their families, past travels, work experience, and any other personal interests.  Communication is not limited to spoken words in this group. Instead, the use of all forms of communication are used to help members express their thoughts. I admire the work being done in this group and I hope the following blog will provide you with a glimpse into this weekly aphasia group.

The Aphasia Group Experience

As the members of S.L. Hunter’s SpeechWorks’ aphasia group gather around the table for weekly group therapy, I see Sandy, the group’s Communication Disorders Assistant (CDA) turn to a new member and say, “Congratulations on your new grandchild! Was it a girl or a boy?” The new member smiles and announces, “girl!” Each individual in the group begins to congratulate the new member. Some members offer a congratulations through spoken words and others through the exchange of a smile.  As the conversation continues with questions such as, “how many grandchildren do you have now?” I am filled with admiration for the personal and meaningful conversation that occurs in the group. I think to myself, “It is conversation that matters. This is what any person with or without aphasia would want to discuss.”

Discussion using all modes of communication

Next, a discussion regarding the week’s current events begins. Sandy begins a discussion on the CN Tower Edge Walk. She picks up a black sharpie and begins to write key words that will be used in the discussion. “The CN tower,” she says while pointing to the word “CN tower” on the sheet in front of her, “is allowing visitors to walk around the building’s very top edge.” Sandy pauses again and draws a simple sketch of the building. Next, she draws an arrow pointing to the top of her drawing to indicate the EdgeWalk occurs at the very top. Some of the members begin to chuckle. As I watch Sandy continue to unravel the discussion, I am struck by both Sandy and the group’s volunteers’ use of every mode of communication to aid each member’s understanding of the topic.

Once the summary is complete, Sandy and the volunteers begin to lead the group through discussion questions. “Would you want to participate in the CN Tower’s EdgeWalk?” the volunteer asks. She then writes the key words of the question to help each member better understand. Each member of the aphasia group is given a turn to answer. One member verbally answers “no”, another shakes her head no, and another points to the word “yes” on the answer sheet created by the volunteer. I notice how Sandy and the group’s volunteers create opportunities for each of the members to express their opinions in their preferred mode of communication.

Providing everyone with an opportunity to contribute

The final half hour of the aphasia group is spent playing a game. I notice how the game “Headbanz” is adapted to provide each member with an opportunity to play. Verbal, written, and visual support is provided to help each member take a turn in the game. For example, a volunteer writes the words “person, place, and thing” on a piece of paper. Members are provided with the opportunity to form a verbal answer or to point to one of the three words written down. Again, I notice how members are provided with the individual support they need to actively participate.

I am very privileged to have been given the opportunity to participate in this aphasia group. The members seemed to enjoy themselves and keep coming back week after week.

Grad PictureRebecca is a recent graduate from the Speech-Language Pathology Program at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Through her internships, she has gained experience working with toddlers, school aged children, and adults with a variety of communication disorders. While Rebecca enjoys working with kids and adults, she has a special interest in working with kids who have language disorders.

Expressing Emotions following ABI

In our blog earlier this week, the use of a feeling pie chart was described briefly. In most of the groups for ABI that I am currently running, we start with a feeling “check-in”. This is really important in a group setting as it helps for others to know what emotions other members are coming with. This can help establish rapport and cohesion in the group as members can support one another through challenging times and celebrate each other’s’ victories.

Expressing emotions following ABI can be a challenge due to survivors having trouble with word-finding and self-evaluation. These types of difficulties can lead to miscommunications. Sometimes, a survivor may not be able to identify what emotion he or she is feeling. Furthermore, if an idea of what emotion is being experienced is determined, one might have difficulty finding the word to express it.

The Feeling Wheel for Expressing Emotions Following ABI

I have found that use of specific tools that outline general feeling words (i.e. fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise) can help the survivor identify the “area” that his or her feeling lives.  Once the “area” is figured out, the survivor can then use the tool to determine the more specific emotion that is underlying the general one (e.g. happy à proud à confident). I have found that there are many of these sorts of tools available. The one that works best for me is the feeling wheel.  Though intended for writers, I find that clients with word-finding difficulty benefit immensely from using this for expressing emotions following ABI.

Other Applications for the Emotions Check-in Wheel

Our group members love the circular format of this tool at it allows them to move from general words to more specific words. It is simple and easy to use once the members are shown how it works. Feel free to adapt this tool for other uses whether for writing in school or work settings, or for expressing yourself verbally. I think it has applications for social work or psychotherapy as well – particularly if you are working with clients who have trouble connecting with their emotions or expressing themselves.

We offer groups for our own clients as well as those working with SLPs from other agencies. Please click here for more information on our communication groups for people who have survived ABI.

BobiTychynskiShimoda-220Bobi Tychynski Shimoda is a Speech-Language Pathologist with more than a decade of experience working with neurological communication and swallowing disorders. She has worked in a variety of settings including inpatient rehab, acute care, community, and private practise. She is highly skilled in assessment, and innovative treatment approaches.