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Today's Family Magazine

Speech pathologist helps children enhance social skills and build friendships

Aug 22, 2017 12:00PM
By Deanna Adams

While all children learn their ABCs at an early age, teachers, counselors, and psychologists agree that they also need to hone the 4Cs: confidence, cooperation, curiosity and communication.

Social skills are fundamentally important for everyone, but especially for children struggling with a disorder, such as autism, hearing loss, and dyslexia.  Nicole Gerami, a speech pathologist with a masters in pathology, specializes in helping children with a wide range of delays, both on an individual basis, and in groups.  She teaches social skills intervention and speech and language therapy for children with apraxia, late onset of communication, and phonological processing disorders.

Gerami is on the adjunct staff at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University, and lectures around the country on both social skills development and narrative development in children on the autism spectrum.  Her mission is to provide high-quality speech and language services that take into account the whole child.

“We evaluate and treat children from infancy through young adulthood and work hard to design custom therapy programs that allow children to reach their full communication and academic potential,” explains Gerami, who began her practice in 1996.  “They need a place where they can practice important social skills.  A lot of kids learn those in the traditional way, but unless they have siblings or opportunities to play with their peers, they won’t learn how to share, interact with others, initiate play or develop friendships.”

In fact, the word friendship is in all her group programs.  They include the Beginner Friendship Group (ages 4–6) the Intermediate Friendship Group (ages 7 and 8), and the Advanced Friendship Group (ages 9–12).

“I usually begin by having the children in small groups, up to four, in my office.  I form groups with those who are well matched and on the same level of language ability and similar interests.  For the first lesson, they sit at a table and do interactive games or some theme-based activity so they can use their social skills along with free-play time.”

“For the little ones,” she adds, “we work on friendship skills, sharing and cooperating.  The 3- and 4-year-olds, of course, work more on just conversation, it’s less direct.  The 5-year-olds are getting kindergarten-ready so they work on cooperating, initiating and narrating play, which is when they talk about the activities they’re doing. Then, once they get older, it’s more direct therapy like social and thinking skills.  It’s teaching them about thought process, how we interact with others, and how what we do affects how others think about you.”

She says it’s always best for a child to start these programs at an early age.  “For example, we had a little girl who started with us at 3 years old, with no language skills.  She worked with me first individually, then she did a small friendship group in my office and now at 7, she’s mainstreamed into a regular classroom and requires no further therapy. We often find really good outcomes provided they start early with the therapy.”

Once kids have honed the required social skills, Gerami says that they need a venue to best use those aptitudes.  That’s where the FIT (Friendship in Teams) program comes in.  This is a large group, consisting of up to 15 kids and lasts throughout the year.  “It’s the icing on the cake therapy,” Gerami says, “where we can use the skills they developed in the smaller groups and carry it out in a more natural social setting, like you would in a PE class.  We play games like T-ball and basketball, so it’s more like a regular recess where the kids are playing and interacting with one another and use what they’ve learned in the classroom.

She adds that parents often tell her that they’d really like their child to make friends, even just one who they can play with on the weekends or on a playground.  These programs give the children the necessary skills so that they know how to play and interact with others.

“In addition to helping the child, we address family concerns and work as partners with parents and caregivers.   We share our techniques, and best of all, we make therapy fun and engaging because we know that learning is easiest when it is enjoyable for everyone.”

Groups begin in September and are ongoing throughout the school year.  For more information, visit