When it comes to starting speech-language therapy, parents often are unsure where to begin. It can be overwhelming to receive a diagnosis from a pediatrician, with recommendations to begin speech therapy as soon as possible. It can be equally overwhelming to hear your child’s teacher bring up speech, language or social skills during conferences.
Here, we have answered a few of the most common questions that parents have when they are interested in starting speech therapy with their child.
Does my child need speech therapy?
As stated above, sometimes a doctor or teacher will recommend seeking out speech therapy for your child. Other times, parents have their own concerns, but are unsure if their child will just “grow out of it.” There are several indicators that your child may need speech therapy. As you read the statements below, see if any of them apply to your child.
- My child cannot make speech sounds, or cannot make them clearly. Your child may be completely non-verbal, just beginning to speak, or fully verbal, but not in a way that you and your family can understand all the time.
- My child has problems understanding language. Your child may not only be struggling to produce language, but also struggling with language comprehension. One indicator of a language comprehension issue is if your child has difficulty following directions.
- My child has a speech rhythm problem. Stuttering and stammering are both fluency disorders that are interrupting the flow of speech.
- My child has difficulty eating and swallowing. If your child struggles to eat and/or swallow, he or she may have a disorder such as dysphagia, which can be treated during speech therapy. Or, your child may gag or refuse to eat certain food groups, textures, or consistencies, in which he/she can benefit from a systematic sensory and feeding program which can be helped by an occupational therapist or speech therapist.
What are the benefits of speech therapy?
There are too many benefits of speech therapy to list in one article! The following three are the most universal benefits, but little milestones are reached throughout the entire speech therapy process.
- Speech therapy gives children a voice. If a child is nonverbal, and has difficulty producing any sounds at all, they lack a voice and a way to communicate effectively. Through speech therapy and forms of aided communication, like communication devices, children learn a way to communicate with their parents and friends.
- Speech therapy teaches children social language skills. Speech therapy is not only about the physical ability to speak, but also about the unspoken parts of our language. When we communicate, we use so much more than simply words — we communicate through eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and so on. When children learn other aspects of communication, they can more easily communicate with and understand those around them.
- Speech therapy promotes self-confidence. When a child struggles with a speech disorder or delay, they likely also struggle with a lack of confidence and self-esteem, especially in situations with their peers. Working with a speech-language pathologist, a child will gain an ability to communicate, giving them more confidence to engage and interact with peers and adults.
What does a speech therapy session look like?
Using a well-rounded and transdisciplinary approach helps children reach their peak potential. Therefore, every child’s session looks different. Their needs change as they grow and learn, so it is important to find a therapy provider that will continue to provide services. Below are a few of the ways that sessions can differ between clients.
- Location. One child may receive services at their home, to work on skills in the location that they will most commonly be used. Another child may be seen at their school or daycare, to best meet their needs in a convenient and educational setting. A third child may be seen at a therapy center. Furthermore, a young adult working on transition skills may meet his or her therapist in the community, to work on job training or life skills.
- Session Layout. Parents typically are welcomed and encouraged to participate or observe during therapy sessions, particularly if they have younger children. Sessions can be one-on-one or group sessions, including a social skills group for older children.
- Targeting Goals. Therapists may incorporate crafts, games, toys and science experiments into therapy to promote greater opportunities for language usage and development. However, some clients require structured settings in order to achieve their goals.
How can parents help at home?
- Slow down and simplify your language. Speaking slowly and clearly aids in processing and comprehension. You do not have to speak in slow motion, but make an extra effort to use concise and meaningful language. If your child is working on articulation of certain speech sounds, enunciate those sounds when you say them. If he or she is working on language comprehension, give simple, one-step directions, or pause between multiple-step directions, to ensure your child has time to process what you are saying.
- Repeat things. It can be helpful to hear you repeat the words and sounds with which they are struggling. This is called “auditory bombardment.” If “dog” is a tough word for your child to say or understand, use it as often as you can when communicating! Say, “I see a dog. The dog is walking and the dog is sniffing. That dog is big. The dog is brown and white.” That is five uses of the word “dog” in a few seconds, which reinforces the sounds, words and language concepts over and over again.
- Read actively. Storytime can be vital for both speech and language development. Hearing the words helps your child get an idea of how things are supposed to sound, but the stories themselves can help with language comprehension, literacy and cognition. Have your child help you tell the story. Change a familiar story and see if he or she is catching the difference. Buy “cause-and-effect” books with flaps and pop-up pictures so your child has more to interact with. Books unlock speech, language and cognition just about as well as any tool, so use storytime as an opportunity to grow.
- Step back and observe. Let your child run the show! Rather than trying to do all the talking, watch what your child is doing. In your silence, they may begin to make sounds to get your attention, or they may reach for their picture symbols or device to tell you something. If your child shows an interest in an item or action, use that as a means of promoting speech and language. After all, we all like to talk about things we enjoy! After observing, then use the other strategies listed above.
Submitted by Milestones Autism Resources and written by Peak Potential Therapy, which is committed to helping children learn to develop effective speech, language, comprehension, eating and social skills. For more information, go to peakpotentialtherapy.com