Expressive Language with Animal-Assisted Intervention

Please visit my original post here to learn the basics about therapy dogs and animal-assisted intervention in speech-language pathology.

Expressive langauge skills are the easiest to address with AAI. You simply have the animal do things (or wait until they do things) then use common techniques such as communication temptations to get the child to talk or language stimulation to increase the use of target structures.

Like many naturalistic interventions, I usually have to “go with the flow” with this one. I can use the commands Zooey knows (sit, stay, lay down, shake, etc.), but most of the kids are more excited by the things Zooey does spontaneously, like sleeping and snoring. My favorite way to work on expressive langauge with Zooey is to give her this treat puzzle. Then she can “have at it” while I target phrases (“She got it“), irregular past-tense verbs (“She ate it”), bound morphemes (“She opened it”), asking questions (“Did she eat all of them?”), and answering questions (“What’s she doing?”). My favorite way to work on prepositions is to hold Zooey’s collar and cover her eyes while I tell kids where to hide treats (“On her bed,” “Under the table,” or even “In the green chair”).

Birdfeeders are another fun and easy way to address expressive language.

Another fun (and easy) way to use AAI for expressive langauge skills is a birdfeeder! I’ve loved having offices with an attached courtyard so I could treat kids’ speech and language outside. When I was working in the schools I found that some kids did their best work on the playground and I know several of my current patients talk the most when they’re playing in their yards. But it’s hard enough for an SLP to get a room with a window, much-less a courtyard! A window-birdfeeder is a great way to “bring the outside in” while working on expressive langauge skills! I can’t tell you how many of my patients said some form of “bird” or “look” in reaction to the birdfeeder as their first words in my treatment room.

I originally bought this birdfeeder in 2018. It lasted until 2020. Since then I’ve tried various feeders, but their suction cups usually give up after a year or two. Right now I’m using this feeder. I’ll let you know how long the suction cups last!