The Role of Play in Speech Therapy

The Symbiotic Relationship of Play and Speech Therapy

play speech therapyYou may have wondered why your child’s speech therapist spends so much time playing with your child. We are often on the floor being silly, making animal sounds, talking into a banana, or pretending to make a fabulous spaghetti and meatball feast. It looks too fun to be therapeutic, right? But in reality, those are the moments where the magic happens. To understand why speech therapy involves so much playing, it helps to know why and how children play.

Why do kids play?

Play helps children to understand their world. A child can pretend to be an astronaut without ever leaving the ground, or they can pretend to be a doctor before they have started elementary school. Play helps children try new things, test out theories, and imagine new worlds. Communication is an essential piece of this process. A child who plays with another child or with an adult will use language to craft a shared, imaginary world. Delayed play skills may be a red flag that a child may also have delayed language skills.

Play skills develop in tandem with language skills.

Children typically say their first word at about one year of age. Before then, they ‘practice’ language when they watch others speak and when they babble. A one year old is likely to understand more than they say, and they may be able to respond to a simple request such as, “bring me your shoe.” That same one year old is starting to realize that objects they can’t see still exist. In other words, they may be able to retrieve those shoes even if they are out of sight, in another room.

By age two, a typically developing child will be expressing their wants and needs using spoken words. They may still do a lot of pointing and crying, but they can also combine two words for a variety of purposes, such as to greet someone (e.g., “Hi Mommy”), label objects (e.g., “big dog”), or to make requests (e.g., “want banana”).  A two-year-old uses play to connect with another person and to practice using new words and phrases.

play - speech therapyAs children continue to grow, they express themselves using more complex words – learning to use words to describe concepts such as time, location, and size as well as to discuss abstract ideas and feelings. When language becomes more detailed and complex, play also becomes more sophisticated. Children progress from observing play, to playing by themselves, to playing next to other children (but separately), and ultimately to playing interactively with others. By the time a typically developing child is three years old, they are able to engage in imaginary play, and their play schemes may follow a sequence. For example, a child might pretend to choose ingredients, cook food, and then eat it. Or, they might pretend to be a doctor – inspecting and treating an injury.

How and why play is used during speech therapy.

play in speech therapySince play and language skills develop in tandem, we often play during speech therapy to encourage language. Rule-based “game play” is often built into speech activities and/or combined with other forms of play to entice children to join in. We use “symbolic play (pretend play) to get a children  talking, since pretending requires the use of language in order to build a shared understanding. We also utilize our sensory motor gym, where we have the option to collaborate with our occupational therapists to engage in “practice play” (play that involves a lot of movement), which has the added benefit of helping children to maintain a state of sensory regulation, or optimal band of arousal, so they are happy and having fun while engaging in speech learning activities. During all these different forms of therapeutic play, we can incorporate gestures, facial expressions, and signed language in order to help build language skills in children whose verbal skills are delayed.

So, the next time you see your giggling child on the floor sitting next to a speech therapist who has a banana phone in her hand, rest assured that play is the fun way to build communication and language skills.

Related: Helping Children Communicate with Speech Therapy

Autism Awareness – Language Processing and Social Skills

Autism awareness requires an understanding of the importance of addressing language processing and social skills deficits.

As we enter Autism Awareness Month, we want to help parents understand the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to working therapeutically with children on the spectrum.

Children on the spectrum are at risk for language and social challenges, often due to their individual processing challenges. Finding a team of professionals, (Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist) who can identify the root of a child’s struggles is the first step to creating a plan on how to build a base for development in these areas.

autism awarenessBy taking into consideration the “whole child”, Occupational Therapists and Speech Therapists, working collaboratively under one roof, are able to help parents prioritize next steps to maximizing their child’s development and potential. The skilled clinicians will evaluate a child, determining his/her interests, personality, goals, motivation and strengths, as well as areas that can be improved. Using this information, they can  plan an engaging program of intervention to target and remediate the child’s difficulties, and strengthen language processing and social skills concepts such as collaborative play, cooperation and negotiation. 

The compassionate therapists will work hard to form a solid, trusting and fun relationship with each child. They will pivot and evolve therapeutic strategies and implementations, to help a child generalize skills across the disciplines. 

Social Pragmatic Language and Autism

Pragmatic language is the use of appropriate communication in social situations. Language deficits in children with autism will contribute to their difficulties with social interaction with peers, as they do not intuitively understand and use social communication concepts, and must be guided in the learning of these skills.  

autism awarenessBecause language is the vehicle that drives social interaction , difficulties with literal language comprehension and use will hinder success in turn taking, perspective taking, and reading social cues. Additionally, when a child cannot easily access language on demand” during peer interactions, anxiety can form, and this can affect their self-confidence. 

Bringing a child into a sensory gym allows the speech and occupational therapists to also observe and analyze a child’s behaviors as they engage in play, both solitary and peer-to-peer. The therapists use this environment to encourage use of language to facilitate successful play and engagement, resulting in a positive and confidence-building outcome for the child. 

This interaction between language and social engagement, will also exercise and strengthen executive functioning, appropriate behavior, conversation and narrative language, reasoning, social problem solving (organization of thought), perspective taking, whole body listening, and humor. 

During Autism Awareness Month, if your child is struggling on the spectrum, consider reaching out and learn more about learning opportunities facilitated by informed, knowledgeable and compassionate mentors, including teachers and therapists. Together, we can bridge the gap for your child and help him/her build the “scaffold” needed to move to higher learning and more successful social engagements. 

Helping the Sensory Child Thrive

Is your child struggling to participate in family life?

An “at the end of her rope” mom once said to me, “our son is holding our family hostage.” The stress and tension in the home were weighing heavy on mom, dad and older siblings.

While that sounds pretty dramatic, it is in fact a scene that plays out in families quite commonly, and perhaps even more now during the Covid-19 pandemic. This mom went on to tell me that her young son was loving, big hearted, and smart, as well as controlling, manipulative, prone to frequent temper tantrums and had a hard time keeping friends, and playing a role in family life as a team member and not dictator. With a deeper dive into the consultation, it was revealed that this young child was also hyper-sensitive to loud noises and rough clothing, and loved to cuddle and build things. What the mom sensed but didn’t really know, was that her son wasn’t a troubled child with behavior issues – but that something more was going on that made the world a harder place for him to thrive in. This child was a sensory child.

To be fair, we all are “sensory”, in as much as we all take in and process the sensory input we are constantly receiving. But, and this is big, when there is a “glitch” in the sensory processing systems , the results can be stressful on the brain, resulting in challenging behaviors – a child who is harder to parent and finds it hard to thrive in social environments.

Sensory processing skills develop differently for each child.

underlying sensory processing issuesSometime between the ages of two and three, children begin to develop the ability to extend their attention span and follow an external plan – skills vital to social emotional growth. If, during this time, a child seems to be struggling in this area of development, there may be underlying factors impeding the process. We are all wonderful and unique in how our brain grows and develops. Different speeds and different strengths and challenges do occur along the journey. Sensory processing challenges can result in outbursts, tantrums, an unwillingness to socialize, go to school or play by the rules, and may be a precursor for learning or emotional challenges in the school aged child. We encourage parents that believe their child may be struggling in these areas, to get early support.

Helping the sensory child thrive, not just survive.

When we know why a child is struggling we can modify, adapt and create an individual plan that sets up the child for emotional, social and learning success. An occupational therapist utilizing a sensory processing approach, can assess a child to identify the underlying sensory processing challenges. At that point, an individualized therapeutic strategy will be created that will address those challenges, and build the child’s self-regulation, joint attention, and promote imitation and shared reciprocal play.

It is critical to understand why a child’s nervous system is struggling to calm and regulate, listen and participate, and to empathize and relate successfully to others. The occupational therapist can help parents to identify and implement strategies that will build their child’s regulation, joint attention, attunement and engagement in the relationships and activities of the family, building a foundation for lifelong attention and learning.

Early therapeutic intervention can help prevent negative relationships, micro trauma, negative interactions, and stress and frustration within the family unit.

Seeking information to help you parent your individual child is a joyful and wonderful gift. Fear of the unknown often prevents parents from reaching out for more information. We all have a unique and individual sensory processing system. When each member of the family understands the unique sensory needs of the other, peaceful, successful interactions can occur with less challenge and stress.

If your child is struggling, and you are a struggling parent, please reach out to get help. We invite you to come and learn about your own sensory processing systems and those of your children so that your family can create goodness of fit for peace and joy in your family.



Firing Up Your Child’s Language and Speech Skills for the New School Year

Language and speech development issues can lead to reading and writing difficulties, impeding a child’s ability to enjoy learning and to experience successful academic outcomes.

language and speech therapy Poor readers often have an early history of spoken language deficits. Not all communication challenges are rooted in a language and speech disorder, but it is important to make that determination, one way or the other, via a thorough assessment process. If a language and speech challenge is the issue, the summer is a good time to get your child the help he or she needs to be prepared to meet the expectations of the next grade level with confidence and the right tools for success.

Our  Speech Therapists implement the most effective language and speech strategies available utilizing individualized play-based treatment plans. Therapies provide the child the language processing skills needed to be a friend, a learner, and productive group member.

More than 70% of teachers believe that students who receive language and speech therapy demonstrate improved pre-reading, reading, or reading comprehension skills.

The stress free environment of a summer enrichment speech therapy program provides a child with the support needed, combining learning with play. Without all the expectations of school looming, a child can relax, enjoy and retain skills learned during each session.

The development of communication skills begins in infancy. Any communication issue is likely to have a significant effect on the child’s behavior and academic skills. The earlier a child’s speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is that problems will persist or get worse.

This year use the summer break as an opportunity to advance your child’s communication skills.

To continue current speech therapy over the summer or to set up a speech and language assessment, please give our office a call. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech and Language Therapy – Helping Children Communicate



Taking a Look at Speech Therapy

Paying Special Recognition to Speech Therapists during Better Hearing and Speech Month

Child Success Center Speech Therapy

Communication is a fundamental skill that lays the foundation for how each of us will flourish and interact in society. Its importance cannot be understated, which is why every May we pay special recognition to Better Hearing and Speech Month, and the therapists that do the amazing work with our kids.

Our speech therapists shine a light on some common challenges that can affect a significant percentage of children during their key developmental years – and if left untreated, can have severe physical and psychological implications.

Speech challenges in children can exhibit overt symptoms such as delayed language development, but they also can lead to behavioral, self-esteem and de-motivational issues. Some speech challenges can be ‘grown out of,’ however, others left untreated can lead to more severe problems down the road.  To better understand Speech Articulation and the therapy process, Child Success Center’s Licensed Speech Pathologists share keen insights about the potential challenges and successes – and general information – that parents want regarding ways to help their child’s specific needs in this area.  Here are their responses to several essential questions surrounding these issues:

What are the greatest challenges you deal with as a therapist?

“As therapists, we are always challenged with coming up with new and creative ways to do therapy.  Some children are very receptive to therapy and are very compliant.  Other children demonstrate avoidance behaviors, may lack internal motivation or challenge the therapist behaviorally.  It takes a special therapist to have patience, understanding, compassion and creativity to pull out the best in each child.  This is the beauty of experience.”

What has been your greatest success story?

“I worked with a child years ago who was 2 years of age and had apraxia of speech – with only 10 words at the time.  Most 2 year olds have 200-300 words.  His father was a very involved parent, but needed a lot of guidance in understanding how to communicate with his son.  He often drilled him with questions putting him on the spot, causing him to “shut down” when he talked to him.  The father was very educated and successful in his career, however, I could sense that he did not feel success with being a parent due to this child’s communication deficit.  After 6 months of treatment, both the child and the father, who also attended the weekly sessions, made huge gains.  The father learned how to be a better communication partner with his son and the experience significantly changed the dynamics between them.  With therapy a success, I formally assessed the little boy and his communication skills were above his peers.  On the last day of therapy, his father cried and was so grateful.  That was beyond rewarding for me!”

“Hearing a 3-year old child with a diagnosis of apraxia of speech say his nanny’s name for the first time without any help was one of the highlights for me.  This child was known to simplify the words in his vocabulary to very similar and short words (mama, dada, nana, pa, ba, etc.).  In (therapy), he was trying to share a story about his former nanny after Skyping with her the previous evening, and independently said his nanny’s full name.  His mother began to tear up.  It was that feel good moment that you want as a therapist with every client you treat.”

So parents can better understand the process, for the most common cases, what changes, other than in speech, do you observe in clients you work with?

“We can see more confidence and less frustration with most of the kids.  Some children are teased by their peers because of their communication problems.  I find that kids can become more confident in interacting with their peers too.”

“One of the most amazing and beautiful things that speech therapy does, is it helps children learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.  In therapy, you have to help kids learn new skills and sometimes they don’t want to do the work.  It gives them the confidence to work through their discomfort and know that they will eventually be successful with practice.”

“Therapy is a confidence booster for parents too.  Some parents are shocked by what we can get out of their kids.  They can’t believe that their child is willing to do the work and be pushed at times.  It gives a parent a sense of pride in their child.”

High fives“As children progress through therapy they begin to show more confidence in their skills.  We see children start to stand taller, walk taller, and use a louder, more appropriate voice when unfamiliar faces are near.  However, these are also the children who teach us as therapists to “think on our toes,” or else they may use their new found skill to escape their work task.”

What are the most common questions parents will ask?

“Parents typically want to know how long the therapy process will take?   This is always a difficult question to answer as the time varies from child to child. It may take 3 months, but it could take over a year. It depends on why the child is coming to therapy, what are the speech errors, how many errors, what type of errors, etc. There are a lot of factors to consider which makes that question one of the most difficult to answer.”

“They ask what therapy is like and how will they get their child to do the work. They also want to know what reason they should give their child for going to speech therapy. They ask if the problem will go away on its own – without therapy.  They often ask if they have done something to create this problem (parents often blame themselves).”

What are the most common questions kids will ask, if any?

“Kids often want to understand why they are coming to speech therapy (especially the older ones).  As they continue to come and they are in the final stages of therapy, they want to know when they will be graduating and what we do for graduation parties.  They often ask about the kind of toys and games we play?”

Child Success Center is unique from other therapy facilities because it features a fully equipped and kid friendly gymnasium that the kids love to explore.  How do you use the gym to help clients and why is it effective?

“The gym is a great tool to motivate kids.  We sometimes use the gym as a reward in the middle or end of our sessions.  It’s also great for children who are not regulated and need movement to help them feel more regulated in their bodies.  Children that have high arousal levels and children who are under aroused benefit from speech work in the gym to help them stay internally organized and regulated.  This helps them to attend more to the speech work and also helps motivate them. Physical movement helps jump start the communication centers in the brain.

“We see many children ranging in age from 2 years old to 12 years old.  These children always enjoy knowing that they have gym time after working hard in speech.  For other children, the gym is used to help the child during the speech session.  These children typically benefit from the repetition of drilling for specific sounds, requesting by using language, and by utilizing the gym equipment.  For these children, sitting in a chair at a desk is not the ideal situation because their body may need vestibular and proprioceptive input.  When working with these children, the occupational therapists are amazing at providing tips to help improve a speech session.  These tips may include providing the child with heavy work (e.g. climbing, moving pillows around) to help regulate a child or swinging in a specific manner (e.g. linear movement, spinning, etc.) and even jumping.”

More information on Better Hearing and Speech Month

More information on Speech Therapy at Child Success Center





Child Success Center – 10th Anniversary!

by Melissa Idelson, Director – Child Success Center

Child Success Center - 10th Anniversary

Looking back over the last 10 years, like most people say, I can’t believe it’s gone so quickly. My daughter was just 3 years old when my dream of having a center that helped children struggling with developmental and learning challenges thrive, came to life. We started off small in the back of a preschool. We turned a small group room into a gym and started to work with children in the Pacific Palisades community. It wasn’t long before we grew out of this space. Good fortune led us to a collaboration with a colleague offering social skills groups in Santa Monica. It was there that our team of occupational therapists, speech therapists and educational therapists grew and built the beginnings of the Child Success Center mission.

Two years later, prompted by the needs of families of the west side communities, Child Success Center moved into its own space on Pico Blvd. and continued to build new programs for children and support for their families. Now at our 10 year anniversary and 8 years in our beautiful 4000 square foot learning space, I feel truly blessed to work alongside a team of experienced, compassionate, dedicated and creative therapists. Every day I look forward to the challenges of the day, knowing that the CSC team will come to the center ready to work and with an inspired plan to help each child learn and grow.

We love what we do and look forward with great expectations to the next 10 years. Thank you to all the parents who have entrusted us with your precious children, and thank you to all the unique and wonderful children we have have the privilege of getting to know.

Melissa….                                          Child Success Center 10th Anniversary                        

Child Success Center Director Melissa Idelson

Backpack Awareness Day

“A child wearing a backpack incorrectly or that is too heavy can be contributing risk factors for discomfort, fatigue, muscle soreness, and musculoskeletal pain, especially in the lower back,” says Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE, clinical professor of occupational therapy at Boston University.

Backpack Awareness Day

Every student has one – from pre-schoolers to teens in High School, students are carrying backpacks containing not only books and binders but also lunches, athletic gear, extra clothing and maybe even a tablet or laptop computer. All that adds up and that extra weight, and perhaps an ill-fitted or poorly constructed backpack, can lead to injuries that can lead to chronic pain as an adult. In 2010 nearly 28,000 strains, sprains, dislocations, and fractures from backpacks were treated in hospital emergency rooms, physicians’ offices, and clinics.

It is estimated that about 55% of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guideline of 10% of the student’s total body weight. In a study on the effect of backpack education on student behavior and health, nearly 8 out of 10 middle school students who changed how they loaded and wore their backpacks reported less pain and strain in their backs, necks, and shoulders.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 is AOTA’s National School Backpack Awareness Day. Take a few minutes with your child to learn more about the ways you can prevent backpack related pain and injuries, by visiting the links below.

Backpack injuries infographic

Backpack Facts: What’s All the Flap About?

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has put together an informative overview of how to pack, carry, adjust and lift a backpack that parents and students can use to help prevent pain and injury.

The 1,2,3’s of Basic Backpack Wearing

Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students

Tips for Purchasing a Backpack

Summer Reading and Fluency Program

Summer Reading and Fluency Program—give your child the gift of a lifetime.

At the Child Success Center Summer Academy, our goal is to effectively impact a child’s academic learning problems by preparing the brain for learning.

Gaining and developing reading and writing skills does not come naturally for all children. For every 1 in 5 children, developing the underlying language, visual, auditory, sensory motor and attention and memory skills to process knowledge, and thus achieve academic success, can be significantly challenging. Because learning styles differ from one child to another, some learn better in an emotionally safe environment where there is ample opportunity for repetition and mastery. In addition to environment, specific programs, designed to meet the needs of individual processing strengths and challenges, can be introduced to further facilitate learning success.

Bright students just shouldn’t be struggling.

When children with at least average intellectual ability struggle to learn, even with adequate instruction, there is likely some form of foundational learning disability.

Questions parents commonly ask are: “How do I know what support my child needs?  Does my child need a tutor – a summer off  or time spent in a summer program, and at what level of intensity? What are the costs involved?”

At Child Success Center, the first step through our assessment process, designed and implemented by experienced education therapists, is to identify your child’s learning profile.  Then a customized program that prepares the brain for learning is created to “unlock” learning challenges by developing/strengthening the underlying/supporting thinking processes and laying down the basic academic skills. Working on either area by itself may make some temporary gains, but will not correct the learning difficulties in the long term. For some children, this “work” is accomplished in a “just right” learning group. For others, individual, one-on-one support proves more effective.

Whichever approach is decided upon, daily instruction is critical to the process. The summer offers a great time to provide a child with the frequency they often need but are unable to receive during the busy school year.

About the “Summer Reading and Fluency Success” Program:

Summer Reading and Fluency program Child Success Center Santa Monica

Our Educational Therapists have designed a therapeutic summer reading program for children in grades 1-4. The assessment process determines the child’s weak areas and through myriad fun and creative activities, the neurological processes that build a strong foundation for fluent reading are addressed. An individualized plan will be created and delivered one-on-one or in small groups, and scheduled as daily intervention or as needed, depending on the child’s needs. Children who have struggled with reading begin to enjoy positive reading experiences as their neurological processes are strengthened and foundational skills are acquired. The results of the summer session will be evident in the fall school term as the child experiences success in…

  • Word Reading (Decoding)
  • Spelling
  • Passage Reading
  • Fluency
  • Word Meanings




Individual intensives and groups are now being scheduled. Call today for a pre-summer assessment or e-mail: officemanager@ChildSuccessCenter.com

Turn Up the Volume on Learning with Music and Sound

Most children have become accustomed to the steady stream of the ongoing soundtrack of daily life.  However, for some, normal sounds such as that of a bus driving by, the ticking of a clock, children talking and yelling in the next room or the ring of school bells can all cause anxiety and are all common concerns for kids with auditory processing challenges.  Even routine noises such as public toilets flushing can be scary or bothersome for some kids.  Luckily there is a simple yet effective program called Therapeutic Listening.

Continue reading

Too Revved Up to Sit Still?

All children need movement and plenty of exercise, which they get throughout the summer with camps, swimming and play-dates.  However, when school starts up again, the emphasis switches from outdoor play to sitting at a desk and children are expected to sit still and listen quietly for hours on end.  Some children learn to handle this transition, whereas others, especially those with sensory processing issues, find this change much more challenging.  When school starts, we need to keep in mind that our kids who crave sensory input still need a lot of movement breaks.  The ALERT program is a strategy to help kids recognize and name their arousal level in order to better self-regulate throughout the day.  This is a perfect strategy for the classroom because it helps kids monitor themselves and also effectively communicate their needs to their teachers.  Many teachers do not understand sensory integration disorder and will think your child is just being “naughty.”   Continue reading

Child Success Center
2023 S. Westgate Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Call 310-899-9597 to access our “warm” line.
Join Our Newsletter!