San Diego’s NEW All-Inclusive Playground

I recently checked out a brand new playground in Mission Bay that is a game-changer for families with children of all abilities – the all-inclusive playground. I did a bit of research and want to share the inspiring story of the origin of this park and why parents of kids with special needs should make it a must-visit destination.

How did the playground come to be?

The story begins with a shared vision among Mission Bay’s residents – a space where every child, regardless of their abilities, could play together. Turning this vision into reality required financial backing, and Mission Bay’s residents, local businesses, and organizations joined forces in a series of fundraising initiatives. From charity events to donation drives and sponsorships, the community garnered enough financial support to begin the process of getting bids, imagining, and drawing up plans. To ensure the playground met the highest standards of inclusivity, design and accessibility experts were brought in. Their expertise played a crucial role in crafting a space that accommodates children with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities. 

How is this play area different?

This isn’t your average playground – there are areas where every child, regardless of their abilities, can play and explore. From inclusive play structures to sensory-rich zones, this playground is designed to be a haven for kids of all kinds. 

Pathways are wide and ramps make it stroller-friendly. Kids with different mobility needs can move around freely with wheelchair-accessible swings to inclusive slides and climbing structures. This playground has some cool sensory play zones with textures, colors and engaging sounds that rival our OT gyms at SmallTalk!

Not only is this playground a place for play, but it also offers a bit of casual learning. Info panels and interactive features are scattered around, providing a chance for kids and adults to explore and talk about different abilities in a natural, easygoing way.

If you haven’t checked out Mission Bay’s new all-inclusive playground yet, what are you waiting for? Grab the family, pack a sweatshirt and enjoy one of the best months outdoors in San Diego with very few tourists. :) See you at the playground! 

By Jen Traina, CEO

SmallTalk’s gifts for goals!

The Holidays are upon us, and we’ve heard the question…. “What toys do we recommend?!” We LOVE all questions, but this one, in particular, is FUN to answer! In general, most novel items or toys are a great way to teach your child new skills! Like all other moments of the year, FAMILY TIME is the best gift. Break out a family photo album, cut back on screen time, make a “family dance party” playlist, bake together (recipes are great for reading comprehension and following directions), or go explore the great outdoors (play “I spy” on a walk to work on visual-motor integration and describing).

Get Retro!

Think back to a toy that you received as a kid to share with your mini-me! Ditch the expensive electronic light-up toys and go for “old school” blocks, train sets, or pretend musical instruments. Bring back family game nights; with Pictionary, you can work on fine motor skills and labeling. Board games that you played as a child, like Candyland or Hungry Hungry Hippos, are awesome to work on taking turns, following directions, and fine motor skills.

Get Building!

We already know many of our SmallTalk family loves Legos, but did you know how great they are for therapy goals? To work on therapy targets, you can talk about what you’re building, give directions, or give only a few blocks and have your child ask for more. Try larger blocks Lincoln Logs, or magnet building sets if Legos are too small. Puzzles are also a go-to, working on fine motor skills, picture matching, and labeling.

Get Creative!

Hands-on activities and craft sets are awesome for all kids! We recommend Play-Doh, sticker books, puppet theaters, Kinetic Sand, water tables, or make your own jewelry activities. You can work on verbs in all of these activities and following directions. Costumes or dress-up items are fantastic to work on making narratives (telling stories) and pretend play. Make reading more interactive with books that have craftivities.

Get Moving!

Gifts to get our bodies moving are always wonderful, especially for our sensory-seeking friends or if gross motor skills are a challenge. We’d recommend small trampolines, swings, sports equipment, Twister, or Spike Ball. A simple ball can be used to roll back and forth to work on turn-taking, use to work on saying names, or can be thrown at a hoop to work on coordination. For our smaller movements, check out the 50 Piece Fidget Popper set on Amazon or stretchy toys like Goo Jit Zu characters.

Before you buy…

Before buying a new toy, think about your child’s specific way of PLAY! For example, avoid small pieces if your kiddo is still exploring with their mouth often, and avoid toys with gel or slime inside if they may love to bite, squeeze, or stomp.

Prepare for Changes in Routine!

  • As always, it is important to talk about changes in routine, such as visitors or traveling to new places.
  • Discuss how your child is feeling about changes in routine and ask how you can help them (i.e., bring a familiar toy to new places or show pictures of where you are going or who is coming over).
  • Remind family and friends about how best to greet your child- do they prefer high-fives or big bear hugs?

If this year has been hard on your family, like so many, check out this link to see local resources to help with the holidays.

We wish you and your families a fun and festive holiday season!

Kendall Harrington, M.S., CCC-SLP

Surviving the holidays with picky eaters

The holidays are times of family and traditions, many of which involve food and eating. However, when your child eats very few foods, the holidays can bring frustration and stress as you navigate the changes in routine, new foods and the expectations of eating them, and the abundance of desserts and sweets.

We’re sharing some recommendations to help you decrease stress surrounding mealtime so that you can enjoy the holidays with your loved ones.

  • Limit changes in routine. Holidays can often mean traveling, time changes, and lots of familiar and new faces. These changes can be overwhelming. Try to keep your child’s mealtime routines, including the time of day they eat and any cleanup routine, the same. If possible, bring familiar plates, utensils, and cups too!
  • Have your child eat a typical meal or snack before the big meal, especially if the big meal is later than the child’s usual mealtime. Then, keep a preferred snack at the ready for your child to eat with the whole family. The focus of the holiday meal should be family, not a struggle to explore new and tricky foods. If available, you can always bring some leftovers home for food exploration at a later time.
  • Prepare your child and set expectations. Explain to your child what activities may be happening and show pictures of who they can expect to be there. If there is going to be food present that may be tricky for your child to tolerate, try exploring the food through play the weeks before the holiday at home, where they will likely feel the safest.
  • Limit sweets! The holidays are filled with desserts that are sometimes hard to resist. Sugar can suppress appetite limiting consumption of nutritious foods. Try to keep sweets until the end of a meal; however, avoid making the availability of dessert dependent upon how they ate the rest of their meal.

Try these suggestions so you can focus on enjoying your time with loved ones.

The SmallTalk family wishes you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Lauren Fong

SmallTalk’s spooktacular Halloween tips and tricks!

October has officially arrived, triggering a return to school, apple picking, frolicking in the pumpkin patch, tractor rides, and the delicious aroma of pumpkin spice coffee. Of course, fall also stirs up the ghosts, goblins, and witches of Halloween!

While Halloween can be a memorable and exciting time for children all over the country, it is also a time of uncertainty, confusion, and stress for those who experience communication and sensory challenges. For these children and their families, Halloween can prove to be a difficult and overwhelming experience to navigate.
At SmallTalk, parents and families often ask how we can help prepare their children for the holiday seasons.

Below is a list of tips and tricks to help our families and emphasize the treats as opposed to the tricks of Halloween.

Prepare for Unexpected vs. Expected Situations

If Halloween brings discomfort to your child, discuss what they might expect to see, hear, or feel around or on that costume-filled night.

  • Read a non-threatening Halloween book/social story, watch a fun Halloween movie, listen to upbeat Halloween music or make a trip to a Halloween store.
  • Prepare and practice a written script for how and what to say for trick or treating interactions with neighbors and friends.
  • Review with your child a Halloween social story or sequence of events that will occur on Halloween while trick or treating.
  • Share your trick or treat route and script with your neighbors before Halloween night.
  • Discuss how your child is feeling about Halloween- excited, scared, happy, etc.
  • Anticipate and talk about some unexpected situations that could occur.
  • Reassure your child that friendly faces will be by their side throughout the night.

Augmentative/Alternative Communication

Create a Halloween page on your child’s AAC device with various Halloween icons and answers to possible Halloween questions such as “What is your costume?” “Are you having fun?”

  • Practice using the device’s Halloween page with your child, so they feel comfortable using it on Halloween night.

Articulation/ Phonological Delays

  • Suggest Trick or Treating in a small group of familiar people.
  • Consider a group costume with friends/family (i.e., Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, circus, etc.) to help your child feel more included.
  • If Halloween trick or treating is too overwhelming for your child, many communities, local churches, and schools provide Trick or Treating options.
  • Encourage your child to attend/participate in a Halloween party at school or local community.
  • Try an alternate Halloween plan.
    • Allow your child to hand out candy to trick or treaters and practice asking “Wh” questions to trick/treaters (i.e., What is your costume? Where did you get that?).

Sensory Challenges

  • Provide a Halloween craft or carve a pumpkin to expose your child to different textures.
    • Create a Halloween sensory bin.
  • Trick or treat before it gets dark.
  • Before Halloween night, walk around your trick/treating route and observe your neighbors’ decorations and lights.
  • Schedule sensory breaks while trick or treating or at Halloween festivities to avoid possible overstimulation and provide distance from foreseeable stressors.
  • Bring headphones to block out overwhelming/loud noises.
  • Try tasty candy alternatives if you have a “picky” eater.
  • Allow your child to pick a costume that makes them feel comfortable.
    • Try on the costume on several different occasions before trick or treating to make sure it is comfortable.
    • Allow it to hang in a visible spot days before Halloween to familiarize your child with the costume.
    • Create your own costume out of preferable fabric if a store-bought costume cannot be tolerated, and invite your child to be a part of the process.

We wish you a fun-filled and SPOOKTACULAR Halloween season. We cannot wait to see your costumes and hear your children tell us about their experience!

by Pamela “PJ” Baragona, MA CCC-SLP

COVID-19 and your child’s development

SmallTalk is listening to you! In the last year and a half, we’ve heard you express your child’s needs, your own fears and frustrations, and the COVID-19-related obstacles you have encountered.

We empathize with you and understand the difficulties in juggling a little one’s developmental progress as you simultaneously deal with the concerns of a pandemic.

Can you relate to these challenges expressed by some of our clients?

  • We knew our child needed help, but COVID concerns were confusing and worrying, so we stopped seeking services until now.
  • We had a pandemic baby. So, we felt the need to stay safe at home with our child.
  • We didn’t go out much because of COVID.
  • School speech/language or occupational therapy via ZOOM at school did not work for our child, so we discontinued this until the pandemic was over.

If so, keep reading.

The Effects of a Pandemic

Over the past 18 months, the global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic rocked our society. Our country experienced a significant financial and human loss, and, as a result, many of our children suffered considerable speech/language, emotional, physical, or feeding delays. In addition, the temporary suspension of schools, parks, playgrounds, amusement parks, and other outlets limited their ability to embrace a sense of fun and learning. And travel restrictions forced a feeling of stagnation that further added to our children’s loss of opportunity to build important functional communication skills.

On top of all that, as safety concerns and the need to protect family health grew, most playdates, extra-curricular, and family outings were abruptly halted, decreasing our children’s exposure to building critical developmental milestones.

Learning how to develop meaningful in-person interactions with peers, understanding body/facial language and feelings, throwing a ball, balancing on a swing, holding a pencil, or exploring various sensory experiences are all crucial to a child’s development. They learn from experiencing different lights, sounds, smells, and textures that exist throughout our communities. Learning by example is vital. That phenomenon is stifled when, for example, the ability to explore new foods at restaurants is not permitted or the natural mimicking of peers, as they try different foods, is no longer happening.

SmallTalk’s Response

Our therapists have been proactive in working with our current families and addressing specific and individual situations. For the Speech-Language Pathology team, the lockdown caused a significant increase in referrals for children under three years who are experiencing a delay in functional expressive language such as verbalizing basic needs and wants. This team also helps children who have trouble being in groups and sharing. They assist little ones with their ability to play appropriately with toys and other children, as well as understanding age-appropriate language and guiding them to learn to follow directions.

For our school-age children, we are seeing an increase in the need for social groups as children have not had significant opportunities in school or extra-curricular activities to engage and bond with their peers.

Some families seeking extra support for their children found that virtual school therapy was inconsistent, ineffective, or not individualized. Others recognized that due to the severity of their child’s delays, engaging or participating in Zoom school/therapy seemed fruitless, resulting in the cessation of further attempts at treatment until clinics and schools once again provided in-person opportunities.

Our Occupational Therapy team is also providing increasing support to help children with sensory/regulation issues, exploring new foods/textures, attachment/separation anxiety concerns, and lack of core body strength.

At SmallTalk, we have the strong desire and expertise to help children with any speech/language or occupational therapy needs by providing an optimal environment for learning. We are here for you. In addition to working with your child at one of our three locations, we are also passionate about supporting you and your family by sharing ways that you can reinforce and practice the learned skills at home.

Here are some helpful tips that can target missing or delayed skills:

Early Intervention Language

  • Promote child-led play: allow your child to pick their preferred play object and narrate their play. Tell them what they are doing, label objects.
  • Keep the language simple – if your child speaks only in 1-word responses, narrate their play in no more than 2-3 words. Ex: child says “ball,” parent/sibling can say “big ball” or “go ball.”
  • Limit the noisy toys, which limit a child’s ability to be imaginative and/or create their own sounds for the toys.
  • Emphasize using cause/effect toys like blocks, stacking cups, cars, and ramps.
  • Encourage requesting words in play like “more,” “help,” “want,” or “open” to help your child express wants, needs and limit frustrations.
  • Daily routines such as bath time, snack, or mealtimes, are excellent language opportunities. Talk with your child about the activity, the whys, the hows, the sensations, or any related topic that promotes positive communication.

Social Skills

  • Encourage a playdate.
  • Consider enrolling them in daycare/pre-school.
  • Encourage them to participate in a sport.
  • Join a music or story-time class at a local library.
  • Visit a playground/park with other children.


  • Have fun with new foods! Create fun, creative, and colorful displays.
  • Give your child food choices- have them look fun and good.
  • Get messy! Play with your food- kids may want to explore new foods before putting them in their mouths.
  • Give new foods creative and silly names.
  • Use fun books/apps to explore new foods.

Motor Planning, Cognitive and Sensory Skills

  • Use everyday household objects to build a themed obstacle course like pillows, boxes, rolled towels, or packing peanuts.
    • Walk on uneven surfaces –balance and sensory needs.
    • Push/pull heavy items- strengthening.
    • Walk like different animals – coordination.

Smalltalk’s message to our families is that you are not alone. We hear you. We understand. We can help your child reach their greatest potential. Let’s talk. Call us today to learn more at 619–647-6157 ext. 1.

by Pamela “PJ” Baragona, MA CCC-SLP

Autism awareness

Today- April 2nd- is World Autism Awareness Day. Our nation celebrates the entire month of April. 

As I sit down to write this blog on the Eve of World Autism Awareness Day, my mind is spinning with how I personally have been affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. I don’t have a child with ASD- but I have known and loved hundreds.

When I was in graduate school over 15 years ago, my very first client in our university clinic was a child on the Autism Spectrum. I was incredibly unprepared for what I would face and for how to interact with my little friend. We were both scared our first few sessions together. I made many mistakes and struggled through learning how to engage him and help him enjoy communicating. It wasn’t easy. It never is…

Little did I know then that 15 years later I would be the director of a Speech and Occupational Therapy clinic where over half of our kiddos are on the Autism Spectrum. I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest a few ways of how ALL of us can celebrate Autism Awareness Month. 

I’m suggesting that we each volunteer to help a family with autism this month. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Babysit. It’s hard for families to find someone they can trust to watch their kids. Even if it’s just for an hour so they can go to the store without kids- they’ll appreciate it.
  • Go with the family to the Autism Speaks Padres vs. Dodgers game on April 10th.
  • Make a basket for the parents for a “night in” – they rarely (if ever) get pampered.
  • Fix them a meal or treat- but be sure to ask about special dietary restrictions.
  • Offer to run an errand or two for the family.
  • Give a gift certificate to places that get the parents out of the house without the kids – and don’t forget to provide a sitter.

If you don’t know of a family to help, you can help by supporting Toys R Us, Build-A-Bear, Stella & Dot, Home Depot and many other companies in their initiatives this month to increase awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Or, donate money to improve and expand research. Take a minute and read this link about what research funding has resulted in this past year. It’s amazing.

I consider myself blessed to be in a position where I can walk with families through their journey with a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This Autism Awareness Day and month, I am aware of how Autism has impacted my life. Very, very positively. :) 

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