How to Know When It’s Time to Visit a Speech Therapist?

a girl visiting a therapist

Language and speech problems in children are not uncommon. Most kids with communication disability experience problems with speech, using and understanding language, voice, writing, reading or hearing. The communication disability may be present at birth or may be acquired later in life. A speech therapist is an expert who can help address all these concerns.

It's true to say every child progress at a different pace. Therefore, it's natural for parents to either overlook or ignore their toddler's speech issues. Early intervention is key in treatment as a speech-language pathologist will help your child overcome the problem. Parents should take their children to a speech therapist for speech evaluation every time they're concerned about their speech development.

A speech therapist is a person who diagnoses, evaluates and treats those individuals with difficulties in listening and speaking. They are highly trained to deal with both children and adults with communication disorders. A speech therapy helps curb the widespread impact of a communication disorder on a child's life that lasts through adulthood. But how would you know it's time to visit a speech therapist?

What Is Speech Therapy?

teaching the child

Speech therapy is a remedy for language and speech disorders. A language disorder involves a difficulty in understanding words and placing together sentences and ideas for communication. In contrast, a speech disorder refers to a problem in producing words and sounds. Apart from improving your child's speech and ability to understand and express language, the therapy also focuses on nonverbal language.

 

A speech disorder refers to a problem with the actual production of sounds. A language disorder refers to a problem understanding or putting words together to communicate ideas.

How Speech Therapy Works

SLPs figure out what kind of language problem a student has. They determine what’s causing it and decide on the best treatment. SLPs may help kids build skills by working with them one-on-one, in small groups, or in the classroom.

Speech Disorders Include

Articulation Disorders

These include difficulties producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly to the point that listeners can't understand what's being said.

Fluency Disorders

These include problems such as stuttering, in which the flow of speech is interrupted by abnormal stoppages, partial-word repetitions ("b-b-boy"), or prolonging sounds and syllables (sssssnake).

Resonance or Voice Disorders

These include problems with the pitch, volume, or quality of the voice that distract listeners from what's being said. These types of disorders may also cause pain or discomfort for a child when speaking.


Language Disorders Can Be Either Receptive or Expressive

Receptive Disorders

These include difficulties understanding or processing language.

 Expressive Disorders

These include difficulty putting words together, limited vocabulary, or inability to use language in a socially appropriate way.

 Cognitive-Communication Disorders

These include difficulty with communication skills that involve memory, attention, perception, organization, regulation, and problem-solving.

 Dysphagia/Oral Feeding Disorders

These include disorders in the way someone eats or drinks, including problems with chewing, swallowing, coughing, gagging, and refusing foods.

The speech therapists adopt different options to assist with what is speech therapy. That includes training, repetitive exercises and assistive devices for communication. For those who are nonverbal, devices such as augmentative and assistive communication will help them produce speech or sound.

 

Therapists Use a Variety of Strategies

mother showing a card to her child

Language intervention Activities

The SLP will interact with a child by playing and talking, using pictures, books, objects, or ongoing events to stimulate language development. The therapist may also model correct vocabulary and grammar and use repetition exercises to build language skills.

Articulation Therapy

Articulation, or sound production, exercises involve having the therapist model correct sounds and syllables in words and sentences for a child, often during play activities. The level of play is age-appropriate and related to the child's specific needs. The SLP will physically show the child how to make certain sounds, such as the "r" sound, and may demonstrate how to move the tongue to produce specific sounds. 

Oral-Motor/Feeding and Swallowing Therapy

The SLP may use a variety of oral exercises — including facial massage and various tongue, lip, and jaw exercises — to strengthen the muscles of the mouth for eating, drinking, and swallowing. The SLP may also introduce different food textures and temperatures to increase a child's oral awareness during eating and swallowing.


Speech therapy sessions involve modeling proper speech and using repetition exercises to improve speech and language.  Speech therapists might use play or books to stimulate communication and increase chances to develop language skills.  Therapists will model correct pronunciation, articulation, and expression during play activities and might actually physically show a child how to move their mouths or tongue to create what is speech properly.

Speech Therapy Includes Two Components

1. Coordinating the mouth to produce sounds to form words and sentences (to address articulation, fluency, and voice volume regulation).


2. Understanding and expressing language (to address the use of language through written, pictorial, body, and sign forms, and the use of language through alternative communication systems such as social media, computers, and iPads). In addition, the role of SLPs in treating swallowing disorders has broadened to include all aspects of feeding.

What Conditions Do Speech Therapist Treat?

Seeing a speech therapist is often a nervous situation for both you as a parent and your child. However, there is nothing to worry about as the therapist is there to help identify ways to help your child. This improvement will help further their education while giving them a new sense of confidence. It is important to know what conditions speech therapists treat. Speech therapy targets a great deal of speech and language disorders, including:

Articulation Disorders

Difficulty producing sounds or syllables or saying words incorrectly.

Fluency Disorders

Including problems like stuttering, which is characterized by abnormal stoppages, repetitions, or prolonging sounds in words.

Dysphagia or Feeding Disorders

Difficulties with eating and swallowing.

Receptive or Expressive Communication Disorders

Difficulties understanding and processing language, or difficulty putting words together to form sentences, or trouble expressing or communicating in a socially acceptable way.

Complications from Birth Defects Surgery

Difficulty speaking due to effects of conditions like cleft palate or surgery involving the throat and mouth.

Children might have difficulty in one of these speech and language areas due to cognitive or learning disabilities, hearing impairments, autism, birth defects, brain injury, motor planning problems, or feeding and swallowing disorders.  Speech therapy is often available as a part of a child’s IEP, and it is also often covered under insurance.

How Do You Know When You Should See One?

baby boy playing

Children learn differently. Some grab onto certain learning techniques and ideas while it takes others longer. This is true with everything from complex mathematical formulas taught later on in school to developing language skills early on in life. As every child is different, it is important to look at other developmental skills a child shows early in their life.

If you're wondering whether your child needs to see a speech therapist you need to monitor other aspects of their day-to-day life. Your child might need speech-language therapy for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • Hearing impairments
  • Cognitive (intellectual, thinking) or other developmental delays
  • Weak oral muscles
  • Chronic hoarseness
  • Birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Autism
  • Motor planning problems
  • Articulation problems
  • Fluency disorders
  • Respiratory problems (breathing disorders)
  • Feeding and swallowing disorders
  • Traumatic brain injury

Therapy should begin as soon as possible. Children enrolled in therapy early (before they're 5 years old) tend to have better outcomes than those who begin therapy later.

This does not mean that older kids can't make progress in therapy; they may progress at a slower rate because they often have learned patterns that need to be changed.

Pronunciation Language Skills vs. Pragmatic Language Skills

Some children may have excellent pronunciation and may even be early readers, but they may need speech therapy to improve "pragmatic" language, or the process of using verbal and body language appropriately in social situations for everyday purposes such as making requests, having conversations, and making friends.

Other reasons children may need speech therapy include medical conditions such as a brain injury or infection that has affected their ability to communicate and an identifiable disability such as Down syndrome. Services often begin at a young age and continue as children enter school and start to communicate with written language.

 

Conclusion

Your child’s work with a speech therapist may last for months or even for a few years. It depends on your child’s needs. You will probably see an improvement in your child’s issues. Remember, though, that therapy can’t “cure” your child. The underlying speech or language issue will still be there.

The therapist should give you and your child strategies to deal with obstacles more effectively. She will likely give you activities to practice at home to reinforce the skills your child is learning. Kids who make the most progress tend to be those whose get involved in their treatment.

It’s important that the speech therapist and your child are a good match. The speech therapist should have experience working with kids with your child’s specific issue. Speech therapy is just one way to help a child with learning issues related to language and speech. For more ideas, consider other special services.

 

 

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