Imagine walking around your favorite store. You find the items on your list, navigate your cart around other customers, ask an employee to help you find an item, and wait your turn to pay in the checkout line. This simple trip requires the use of language, fluency, articulation, and social skills. Community Based Therapy gives you an opportunity to target all of them.

Community based therapy (known as community based instruction in education) is the systematic process of teaching functional skills in their natural environment. These sessions can be integrated into the treatment for children with a variety of communication disorders including language delay, fluency disorder, pragmatic deficits, or complex communication needs. Community based sessions, when appropriate, provide a unique opportunity to bring therapy into the real world.

What does community based therapy look like

When working in the community, sessions can take place anywhere your client needs the support. If you have a client who stutters when talking with other kids you might target fluency strategies at their neighborhood park. Maybe your client has meltdowns at mealtime because they can’t ask for foods they want.  A session at the grocery store with their caregiver is a great way to target their expressive language needs and help them shop for preferred food. The idea is to take the skills you are targeting to the actual location your client will use them

 

Choosing targets in the moment

The goal of community based therapy is to help individuals communicate as they go about their daily lives. That means you’ll start your session with a target in mind and assess how your client is acquiring the skill just like traditional therapy. The benefit of using the community setting comes from your ability to make therapy meaningful to your client. For example, a child may be struggling to choose a snack in your session. When you go to the cracker aisle at the store that same child immediately chooses a cracker for snack, it just happens to be one that wasn’t an option in your therapy session. Now you have a meaningful item to work with and you can target naming/describing/requesting the child’s chosen cracker. By making therapy functional and relatable for your client your intervention is more likely to stick.

Encouraging parent participation

Parents and caregivers are an essential part of the therapeutic team, but traditional therapy can leave them feeling like outsiders. Even when the SLP provides suggestions for home practice, most caregivers are more comfortable leaving the therapy to the experts. Community based therapy gives parents a chance to BE the expert, by focusing on activities they regularly participate in, which empowers them to continue the work once the session is done.

Maximizing potential outcomes

The ultimate goal of speech therapy is for your client to generalize their skills- meaning they are able to use the skill targeted in the real world setting where it is required. Typically the SLP will target a skill, say ordering from a menu, in a structured therapy session and when the client can order in therapy they go to a restaurant to practice. This may be especially difficult for some clients who are more rigid or concrete in their thinking, who sees the community ‘practice’ as a completely different skill.  When you use community based therapy you allow your client to LEARN the skill in the setting where it’s needed so generalization happens naturally. This allows you to maximize your therapy by targeting more skills in the same amount of time, simply by eliminating the needs to explicitly teach generalization.

Community based therapy may not be an option for every session, but when possible spending time in the client’s community helps them bring their communication skills into their daily lives.

 

Sarah is a pediatric  SLP specializing in evaluating and treating complex communication needs in students with autism or behavior/mood disorders. She is the owner and founder of Sarah Weber Speech, an in-home practice in Naperville, IL. She provides individual and school based services designed to meet the needs of the whole child.

Sarah provides child-focused therapy with an emphasis on parent education and community involvement. She integrates animal assisted therapy and the latest technology to provide the best therapy outcomes. She has presented nationally and locally to parents, therapists, and educators on child driven therapy. Additionally, Sarah develops custom therapy materials and provides individual coaching to busy SLP’s. Learn more at sarahweberspeech.com

 

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