As a speech and language therapist, one of the questions I am asked most often is how we can support children to generalise the skills they have learnt during a period of intervention. The child has mastered their new skill within structured activities, where they can easily anticipate the expected target, and receive direct feedback and support to achieve their goals. But outside of those highly structured sessions, there is little evidence of any change. This is common, and it’s important to keep in mind that this does not represent a failure of the intervention, it’s simply another step along the way.

So, once you have completed your 1:1 or small group targeted SLCN intervention, what’s next? How can you support a child to apply their new skills in everyday scenarios?

Perhaps the most important factor for successful generalisation is the team around the child. Speech and language must not be just one individual’s responsibility. Support for SLCN should be everybody’s business. Specifically, all adults who regularly work with or interact with the child, and especially their class teacher, should be aware of their speech and language targets and the broad status of their current intervention. This is crucial for successful generalisation, because the child will be moving from working towards their goals in specific scenarios, to working towards their goals in every scenario. To do this, they will need support within their general environment, and that means adults will need to coordinate their efforts to facilitate the child’s success. Remember that the child’s parents are part of this team too, and home-school communication is really important because the child will need to apply their communication skills across all areas of their life.

Next, the child’s own insight and self-awareness will play a key role in their success with generalisation. To move from using target skills within structured, predictable activities, to applying those skills in everyday contexts, the child will need to be able to monitor their own communication. Ideally, building awareness and self-monitoring should be a direct target within intervention sessions, and as targeted interventions progress, we should aim to gradually shift the emphasis from explicit external feedback to the child’s own internal monitoring. As you transition from targeted intervention sessions to generalisation, try to encourage the child to set goals for themselves if they are able to. Support the child to consider what situations are difficult for them and plan for how they can make steps of progress.

To maintain support as the child moves towards generalisation, try to implement carryover activities. These can be structured activities that have been ‘borrowed’ from their recent sessions but carried out in the classroom and involving peers as conversation partners. The aim is to maintain some consistency with routines and activities from the session and implement these in a new and more natural setting. As a next step, try to carve out specific times for the child to explicitly focus on their speech and language target(s) – providing a visual cue can be really helpful to help keep the child’s goals in mind. Utilising the same tools, strategies and visual support that are familiar from intervention sessions will help to maintain a consistent approach and help the child to bridge the gap from structured to unstructured activities.

Finally, just as within your intervention sessions, it is important that the adults around the child are able to provide specific praise and feedback that acknowledge the child’s goals and their progress. This will help to ensure that the child is aware of their goals and their ongoing importance, so they will be easier to keep in mind. Check in with the child regularly to make sure that the child is on track, tapering your support as their skills develop, and remember that success and praise are the most important motivators you have at your disposal, so they should be used generously!

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