At the Atlanta Speech School, a comprehensive center for language and literacy in Georgia, LENA feedback is being used to support both parents and parent coaches in understanding and enriching children’s early language environments.
The Atlanta Speech School is made up of four distinct programs that educate preschool students, students with learning disabilities, students with speech delays, and students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Staff at the Katherine Hamm Center — one of the four programs, a language school for children birth to five who use assistive listening devices — are using LENA SP to get a clear picture of children’s audio environments. LENA SP is designed for use in research and clinical settings and offers advanced audio environment analysis.
“We offer LENA to parents as a tool to heighten awareness. Our early intervention specialists are pushing parents to talk 20,000 – 30,000 words a day, but that’s such an ambiguous number until you can show the parent on the report exactly how many words they’re using,” Erica Welch, Birth to Five DHH (deaf or hard of hearing) Coach, said.
Welch supports a team of early intervention specialists who work with families to coach them on techniques and strategies for increasing language at home. Parents are offered the option of adding LENA to their coaching sessions, she said, and once they try it, they love it.
“All of the families who are using it have latched onto the feedback it gives them, and they use it over and over again,” she said.
DHH Early Intervention Specialist Linda Lasker said she can see a clear change in families once they start regularly receiving feedback on the number of words and conversational turns children are experiencing.
“Now the parents have something giving them feedback that’s more than just my observation,” she explained. “It’s definitely improving outcomes for the parents, because it’s not just me modeling behavior anymore.”
The feedback from LENA allows families to compare their progress from week to week during coaching sessions and to identify times where interactive talk could be increased. LENA also provides an audio environment report that allows coaches and parents to see what times of day contained a high volume of talk, times that were low in talk, and times when other noise like a TV or radio playing overlapped with talk.
“All our parents use a log sheet to write down what’s happening each hour. When we use that log sheet with the LENA feedback, it helps us to see what the best time of day is, and if there’s any way we can utilize that kind of high level of language in other areas of the day,” Lasker said.
LENA measures adult words, conversational turns, and how many speech-related sounds the child produced throughout the day. Each of these measures also provides a percentile, comparing counts to a normative database from typically hearing children. Because of the depth of the data, the team at the Katherine Hamm Center has found LENA to be a valuable coaching tool.
“The coaches are able to better identify and point out what the parent is doing, which in turn is increasing the parents’ awareness of what they’re doing,” Welch explained. “And when the Early Intervention Specialist appreciates and notices what the parent is doing, it reinforces that skill and leads to the parent doing it more.”
Though initially hesitant about trying out new technology, they were pleasantly surprised to discover how easy LENA is to use.
“We were nervous about getting started, but we just jumped in, and it’s been so simple! You just plug it in, set up an account for the participant, and then assign a recorder,” Welch said.
Now that they’re up and running, both women are excited about LENA’s potential to continue enriching their program.
Welch has many ideas for utilizing LENA data. One is to include pre-post data from families who have used LENA to round out a study that’s so far been relying solely on qualitative data. Another is to incorporate feedback from coaches to develop and expand a more robust coaching program to benefit other staff at the school.
Lasker plans to continue using LENA in weekly and monthly coaching sessions to increase parents’ awareness of interactive talk.
“We’re using LENA to teach families about ‘language nutrition,’ turn-taking, and how important language is for brain development in children,” she said. “All of our parents are really excited about it — they love to get the reports and know how they did.”