Do you think that you are seeing some signs your child may need speech therapy? If your child has difficulty with words and sounds or isn’t meeting certain language milestones, they are not alone. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly one in twelve children has had a disorder related to language, voice, speech, or swallowing in the previous 12 months.
Speech therapy can help your child navigate a speech disorder and build confidence and self-esteem through improved communication. Read on to learn more about speech disorders, some signs your child may need a speech evaluation, and what to expect from the speech therapy process.
What Is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy is the evaluation and treatment of various speech and language disorders. It is performed by a skilled health professional called a speech therapist, speech-language therapist, or speech-language pathologist.
Speech therapy utilizes activities and techniques to improve communication-based on your child’s ability to speak and understand others. Speech therapy programs are tailored specifically for your child based on their individual strengths, challenges, and treatment goals.
What Are Speech and Language Disorders?
Speech therapy treats a wide range of speech and language disorders.
An articulation disorder is a problem forming certain word sounds. A child with an articulation disorder may add or drop syllables or swap or distort sounds.
Cognitive-communication disorders are problems with attention, memory, regulation, and problem-solving that affect communication. Three types of cognitive-communication disorders are:
- Aphasia: difficulty expressing oneself through speech, understanding speech, and reading and writing
- Childhood Apraxia of Speech: difficulty positioning the lips, jaws, and tongue to make sounds and delayed onset of words, and using a limited vocabulary
- Dysarthria: weakness or inability to control the muscles that create speech, resulting in slowed or slurred speech
Cognitive-communication disorders can occur as a result of damage to the part of the brain that controls language. In adults, they may develop due to a stroke or degenerative disease.
A child with an expressive disorder has a limited vocabulary, trouble putting words together, and they may not use language in socially-appropriate ways.
A fluency disorder impacts the speed, rhythm, and flow of speech. Rapid, stumbled speech (cluttering) and interrupted or blocked speech (stuttering) are two common fluency disorders.
Children with receptive speech disorders have difficulty understanding and processing what others are saying. They may appear to be uninterested or unable to follow directions.
Voice or Resonance Disorders
Voice or resonance disorders affect the child’s pitch, volume, or voice quality. They can be caused by a blockage in airflow in the oral or nasal cavities due to a deviated septum, cleft palate, and other conditions.
Signs Your Child May Need Speech Therapy
The signs of a speech or language disorder vary depending on your child’s age and abilities. It’s best to be proactive and schedule a speech evaluation if your child:
- Is having difficulty saying age-appropriate sounds and words
- Only uses a few sounds to pronounce all words
- Has trouble understanding simple sentences
- Refrains from talking, especially in social situations
When to Start Speech Therapy for a Toddler
Keep in mind, these guidelines based on age are fluid. It’s important to remember that every child develops differently, at their own pace.
If you are wondering when to start speech therapy for a toddler, check with your healthcare provider for an assessment or referral as soon as you notice they are not meeting these speech and language benchmarks.
The goal of speech therapy is to evaluate your child, determine if a speech disorder is present, and intervene as early as possible.
What Causes Speech Disorders?
Childhood speech therapy is recommended for many reasons. Some children have speech disorders due to developmental delays. are also medical conditions that increase the risk of developing a speech-language disorder.
Some speech disorders are linked to structural differences, like a cleft lip or palate. Autism-spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, hearing loss, genetic conditions, traumatic brain injury (TBI) can all cause challenges with communication and language.
How Does Speech Therapy Work?
Speech therapy begins with a comprehensive assessment by a speech therapist to identify the type of speech disorder and determine the best way to treat it. Your child will be asked to say certain sounds and words, which may be recorded for the therapist to evaluate later.
Speech therapy involves a lot of practice, practice working on how to make proper sounds. Children model their therapist, copying how they move their mouth, lips, and tongue, to create sound. It’s common for speech therapists to utilize mirrors so children can see themselves articulating words and sounds.
For children with language disorders, the speech therapist helps them put words together to build logical thoughts and statements. Therapists do their best to make these activities fun using games, books, pictures, flash cards, table writing and other tools to keep children engaged.
Typically, speech therapy takes place in a one-on-one setting in the classroom or a private office.
You Play a Key Role in Your Child’s Progress
As a parent or guardian, you are an integral part of your child’s speech therapy journey. Your child’s speech therapist will give you activities you can do at home with your child to keep the momentum going after you leave the office. When parents collaborate with speech pathologists, their children are more likely to have good outcomes.
Benefits of Speech Therapy
Speech therapy offers numerous benefits for children of all ages and abilities. When children know what they want to say but can’t get the words out, they may feel frustrated or angry.
Speech therapy helps them speak clearly so that others can understand what they are saying. It provides skills to enable children to communicate and express their thoughts and feelings.
Therapy to address speech disorders helps children keep up in school and achieve their educational goals and milestones. It also has a positive impact on reading and literacy skills. From a social and emotional perspective, treating speech delays and disorders can improve a child’s interactions with peers and help them feel more confident and independent.
How Long Will My Child Need Speech Therapy?
That depends. Speech therapy treatments are as unique as the children they help. Some children meet with their therapist weekly; others go a few times a week. Depending upon your child’s speech disorder and progress, treatment can take weeks, months, or years.
Parents are often amazed at how their child transforms before their eyes once they are better able to express themselves and understand others. Check with your provider to determine if your child may benefit from speech-language therapy.
Click here to find a speech therapist near you.