One of the first signs of autism for our son was the sudden loss of words. With our daughter though, she did not lose words at all but struggled with hitting those milestones when she was supposed to. Sometimes, it is hard to know how to tell if your child needs speech therapy.
Today, our friend Lisa Orlando from Invo Progressus explains what signs to look for as well as what to expect when your child needs speech therapy.
What To Expect When Your Child Needs Speech Therapy
Children have an innate desire to communicate and learn. One of the greatest joys of parenthood is watching your kids figure out how to express themselves and discover their world around them through the acquisition of speech and language.
What happens when you begin to suspect your child may be struggling in this essential developmental area?
If you’re in this position, it may be time to consult with a speech therapist. Here’s what you can expect as you and your child set out on this journey.
How to Tell if Your Child May Need Speech Therapy
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, speech therapists — also known as speech-language pathologists (SLP) — are trained clinicians who “prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.” Christine Cox, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech therapist from Quincy, Massachusetts.
Cox provides some insights into the parent’s decision-making process as to when to consult with a speech therapist.
She notes several factors to consider:
There are certain behaviors at every age that, if present or not, can help you determine if your child is developing typically, but know there’s some wiggle room. As Cox points out, “Every milestone has a bell curve.”
The Well-Intentioned Layperson
Perhaps a friend, neighbor, family member or teacher voices concern about your child’s language development, especially compared to his or her peers. While this person’s input can be appreciated, realize the comparison game can be a bit of a slippery slope. Parents can too quickly “start thinking the worst,” Cox notes. So at this point, it’s best to chat with the doctor.
“Put a lot of weight on the pediatrician,” Cox points out, especially since he or she will be well-versed in the specific milestones. Your pediatrician can also help you make sense of your concerns and identify signs in your infant, toddler or child you may not have been able to recognize. These include:
- Limited social interaction
- Reduced number of (or difficulty producing) sounds, words, and gestures
- Difficulty understanding the child
You know your child best, so trust your instincts. “If you feel there’s an issue, go with your gut and ask the doctor” Cox recommends. “And if you think your pediatrician is wrong, get a second opinion.”
The Evaluation and Treatment Process
Once you’ve been referred to a speech therapist, it’s helpful to have an idea of what to expect.
Here’s a brief rundown:
A speech therapist’s first priority is to make you and your child feel comfortable by developing a rapport. Then, using various objective tests, games and observational techniques, he or she will assess several components that go into your child’s speech and language, including:
- Oral motor function
Based on his or her findings, as well as your input, the therapist will design and implement a treatment plan. Your child’s specific plan of care will be unique to his or her needs. Thus, be prepared to ask plenty of questions along the way. Your therapist should expect and encourage it.
The Treatment Sessions
Typically, treatment sessions are done in one-on-one settings, for which you may or may not be present. Activities tend to focus on progressing from simple sounds to words to phrases to spontaneous speech. Ultimately, “you gotta make it fun,” Cox advises, a nod to the fact that young children learn through play. Positivity, encouragement, and patience are key.
Supporting Your Child at Home
Follow-through is essential for your child’s success. Make sure to complete any homework you and your child are prescribed. Also, keep the activities as engaging and positive as possible. Devices such as the Forbrain and apps like Speech Blubs and InnerVoice can go along way to help at home.
If any underlying issues are identified throughout the therapy process, such as hearing impairments or learning disabilities, work closely with your pediatrician to ensure these factors are addressed.
Lastly, remember to celebrate your child’s accomplishments along the way. Not only does this encourage your child to work through his or her language challenges, but it can instill in him or her the joy of learning. That is a valuable life lesson in its own right.