Why do we utilize play-based intervention?

By: Ariel Schuman, MS, CF-SLP

Parents of children who attend the Boston Ability Center may find that our clinicians frequently appear to be “playing” with young clients. While our therapists are certainly playing and having fun with children, they are simultaneously targeting their language development. Using bubbles, Pop-the-Pig, and countless other toys allows our clients to increase their language development in natural contexts. Researchers have found that play-based intervention styles result in a systematic increases in language skills that are maintained after treatment. While our clinicians play with your child, they also utilize the following approaches to increase and support language.


Parallel Talk: Our clinicians use what is referred to as “parallel talk” to encourage children to describe their actions during play. Using parallel talk supports children in their ability to make connections between their language and what they are doing. If a client was playing our popular game, “Pop the Pig”, this might sound like, “The pig is so hungry! We need to feed the pig hamburgers. He needs to chew, chew, chew! What do we need to do?”


Expansions: Expanding what our clients are saying, while using appropriate syntax and sentence structure, assists with children’s grammatical development. If a child was playing with bubbles and said, “open”, this might sound like, “Yes, we need to open the bubbles.”


Extensions: When our clinicians comment on children’s utterances they are adding semantic information. This provides clients with ways to expand and elaborate their language, in addition to teaching grammatical development. If a child was playing with bubbles and said, “open”, this might sound like, “Yes, we need to open the bubbles. We will blow big bubbles up towards the sky!”


Mileu Teaching: Through Mileu Teaching, the clinician can arrange the child’s environment to increase interactions that the therapist can use to model appropriate language and play schemes. Our clinicians may give a child a bottle of bubbles with the lid screwed on tightly. This provides the child with an opportunity to ask for help or request assistance, and the clinician with the opportunity to model how to utilize this specific language (e.g. “I need help” or “help me”).


Script Therapy: Using “scripts”, or language embedded in a familiar routine, can reduce cognitive demands on children as they are working towards increased language development. Scripts can be utilized through repeated book reading, or during familiar games. A common example may be singing “clean up” as our clients clean up toys at the end of a session. Singing this song while pausing and allowing the child to fill in words such as, “up” is an effective way to use this method.

Researchers have found that these play-based, or naturalistic interventions styles, are successful in improving children’s functional, everyday language. Teaching these skills in natural contexts, or through play, has also been found to increase children’s spontaneous use of language. At the Boston Ability Center, our clinicians use these techniques in order to support both function and fun for our patients.

For more information regarding play-based intervention, specifically Mileu Teaching, follow the link to the research article below: http://jslhr.pubs.asha.org/epdf.aspx?doi=10.1044/jshr.3706.1320


Kaiser, A. P. & Hester, P. P. (1994). Generalized Effects of Enhanced Milieu Teaching. J Speech Hear Res, 37(6), 1320-1340. doi: 10.1044/jshr.3706.1320.

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