Choosing the right kind of therapy for your child can sometimes feel daunting and overwhelming. Of course, individual therapy offers many advantages for your child. It allows the therapy to be personalised and tailored to suit your child’s needs and abilities, it supports your child in learning new, complex skills in isolation and allows time for parent education and support. But for many children (and parents), practicing these skills in a real-world setting can be tricky. That is where group therapy and kids group programs come in.
By joining with like-minded peers in real-world settings, your child can continue to work on their speech therapy goals, practice valuable social communication skills and even build friendships. You might also be able to connect with other parents.
In this blog, we will discuss what group therapy looks like, how it might benefit your child and what A Growing Understanding Speech Pathologists have to say when it comes to the kids group programs we offer.
What is Group Therapy?
Group therapy refers to speech therapy sessions that are delivered in a group setting, usually including 5 to 8 children. The children within a group are of similar ages and are often working towards similar communication and language goals. This ensures the children can work together, find similarities with their peers, and make friends – all while developing important skills.
Like individual therapy, the groups are run by an experienced speech pathologist and incorporate fun and engaging activities that align with the participants interests. These might include:
- Lego and building groups
- Science, maths, technology (STEM) and coding groups
- Art, craft, dance and drama groups
- Minecraft and Pokémon groups
Speech pathologists are skilled in developing and delivering specific programs that help children build several skills, particularly in the space of social communication. While many children will build language skills in individual therapy settings, practicing social communication skills in a group setting with the support of an experienced speech pathologists is invaluable.
For many children, understanding the nuances of conversation, body language, gestures etc. can be difficult and it takes practice. Incredible Flexible YOU and Secret Agent Society, are just two examples of programs that are designed to help children navigate ‘social rules’ and become ‘flexible’ in their approach to many different social circumstances.
Group therapy and programs are also used to offer families a flexible approach to working with more than one professional. For example, A Growing Understanding offers a school-skill building program called Kids SPOT which combines both the expertise of Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists. Groups like this ensure children have access to the support they require to develop both language and physical skills that can help them transition to school.
What Are the Benefits of Group Therapy?
Group therapy can be a functional, meaningful way to encourage your child to learn new skills and practice these new skills in a realistic, natural setting away from the clinic. Think of it like learning to drive a car. You first spend time at home learning the theory and perhaps even sitting in the car becoming familiar with the gearstick, accelerator and clutch. But the real test comes when you venture onto the road and put these skills into practice.
Group therapy can be viewed in a similar way. The skills your child learns in a one-on-one therapy setting are essential building blocks to then support them in the ‘real world’ – places like classrooms, shopping centres and birthday parties.
Other benefits of group therapy include:
- The opportunity to generalise their ‘therapy’ skills with the guidance of an experienced speech pathologist
- The opportunity to develop social skills and gain support from children the same age
- Engage in fun real-world activities
- Target individual goals within a group
- Develop vocabulary and discover new ways of thinking
- Practice specific skills and prepare for various milestones i.e. transition to school
Of course, one of the biggest benefits of group therapy would have to be the opportunity for your child to make friends. Practicing their social skills is just one step in this process. By joining a group of peers who are not only interested in the same activity or subject matter, but also experience the same challenges is the making for long-lasting friendships that are founded in understanding and acceptance.
A Speech Pathologist’s View on Group Therapy
At A Growing Understanding, we recognise the value of group programs and believe they are an integral component of practicing important communication and social skills in the ‘real world’. To find out more about the benefits of group therapy and programs and how A Growing Understand ensures they are an effective therapy solution, I had a quick Q&A session with Jo Nelson, our Group Program Coordinator. The following is what we discussed:
How are A Growing Understanding’s Group Therapy Programs different to individual therapy?
Groups are often delivered in more natural environments for communication, that is, they are less formally structured than one-on-one therapy sessions. Interactions occur between other children in the group and are guided by a Speech Pathologist. Group therapy can also be offered as a ‘one-off’ or be part of a child’s ongoing therapy program. Groups may also be longer in duration, and may include breaks for morning or afternoon tea, as an example.
What are some of the benefits of group programs as an intervention method?
There are so many benefits of group therapy sessions, particularly in addition to individual appointments! Group therapy sessions are cost-effective and offer opportunities to generalise skills learned in one-on-one sessions or learned in the groups across new environments.
Being surrounded by peers with similar goals helps motivate children and encourages them to participate in interactions. Children can work together to problem-solve and enjoy time with peers. Groups are also fantastic opportunities to target social skills, which is a particularly common goal for our clients with delayed pragmatic language skills, including children on the Autism Spectrum.
What is your favourite part of group therapy?
For me, the best part of group therapy is watching the kids ‘work it out themselves.’ You see real-life problem solving in action, new friendships being built and their confidence increasing as they come out of their shells.
Who is group therapy suitable for?
Group therapy is suitable for just about any child! Each group targets specific goals, interests and skills, and will indicate the appropriate age in communication materials. We offer groups for children as young as three, up to primary school-aged children (around 14 years of age). Essentially, if your child can attend to adult instructions and engage for periods of time in an activity they love, then they are already on their way to gaining value from a group program!
What does a typical group therapy session looks like?
As just one example, we run a social skills group called ‘Incredible Flexible You’. This is a social thinking group, run for preschool and early school-aged children across five separate sessions.
In this group, children are firstly introduced to each other, and are encouraged to help formulate a ‘group plan’ using visuals in a visual schedule. They will sit together in a group to read and engage with book-based stories and interact in targeted activities to practise the newly learned social skills. This group also offers unstructured break time (for food and discussion between peers) and play-based activities so children can practise interacting and thinking about each other. Information is provided to parents after each group as well as activities to continue at home.
Most group programs will help children continue to build the following skills through both structured and un-structured activities:
- Vocabulary skills
- Sentence construction
- Listening to and following directions
- Generating and sharing ideas
- Literacy skills (reading and writing)
- Social skills including participation, turn taking and cooperation
- Problem solving skills
Children will also have an opportunity to learn interest-based skills i.e. coding skills, science skills etc.
As parents it can be reassuring to know that there are a range of therapy options available for children, particularly options that are cost effective, engaging, fun and encourage friendships.
Whether your child is engaging in individual sessions or embarking on one of our future groups, the team at A Growing Understanding Speech Pathology can guide and support you every step of the way.
Discover our group programs here and secure your child’s spot in a therapy session with great value.