In a recent parent-teacher conference, maybe the teacher expressed concern that your child could have a problem with certain speech or language skills. Or perhaps while talking to your child, you noticed an occasional stutter.
Could your child have a problem? And if so, what should you do?
It's wise to intervene quickly. An evaluation by a certified speech-language pathologist can help find out if your child is having problems. Speech-language therapy is the treatment for most kids with speech and/or language disorders.
Speech Disorders, Language Disorders, and Feeding Disorders
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.
Speech disorders include:
Language disorders can be either receptive or expressive:
Dysphagia/oral feeding disorders are disorders in the way someone eats or drinks, including problems with chewing, swallowing, coughing, gagging, and refusing foods.
Specialists in Speech-Language Therapy
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), often informally known as speech therapists, are professionals educated in the study of human communication, its development, and its disorders. They hold at least a master's degree and state certification/licensure in the field, and a certificate of clinical competency from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
SLPs assess speech, language, cognitive-communication, and oral/feeding/swallowing skills to identify types of communication problems (articulation; fluency; voice; receptive and expressive language disorders, etc.) and the best way to treat them.
In speech-language therapy, an SLP will work with a child one-on-one, in a small group, or directly in a classroom to overcome difficulties involved with a specific disorder.
Therapists use a variety of strategies, including:
When Is Therapy Needed?
Kids might need speech-language therapy for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to:
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.
Finding a Therapist
It's important to make sure that the speech-language therapist is certified by ASHA. That certification means the SLP has at least a master's degree in the field and has passed a national examination and successfully completed an ASHA-accredited supervised clinical fellowship.
Sometimes, speech assistants (who usually have a 2-year associate's or 4-year bachelor's degree) may assist with speech-language services under the supervision of ASHA-certified SLPs. Your child's SLP should be licensed in your state and have experience working with kids and your child's specific disorder.
You might find a specialist by asking your child's doctor or teacher for a referral or by checking local directories online or in your telephone book. State associations for speech-language pathology and audiology also maintain listings of licensed and certified therapists.
Helping Your Child
Speech-language experts agree that parental involvement is crucial to the success of a child's progress in speech or language therapy.
Parents are an extremely important part of their child's therapy program and help determine whether it is a success. Kids who complete the program quickest and with the longest-lasting results are those whose parents have been involved.
Ask the therapist for suggestions on how you can help your child. For instance, it's important to help your child do the at-home stimulation activities that the SLP suggests to ensure continued progress and carry-over of newly learned skills.
The process of overcoming a speech or language disorder can take some time and effort, so it's important that all family members be patient and understanding with the child.