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How to Know if your Child could Benefit from Speech Therapy

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Seeing a child display language is a highly anticipated and celebrated milestone for many families. Language, after all, is the mutually accepted way of how we communicate with each other. It fosters clearer mutual expression between parents and children than human touch alone. When our daughter’s speech lagged from poor oral muscle tone, we were advised to learn and teach her sign language to give her the tools for self-expression and help prevent tantrums.


Understandably, delays in language development cause concern for many parents. Research has shown that there is marked variation in how quickly language develops from one child to another and delays in early learning are fairly common. Speech and language impairment is the top indication among children 3-5 years of age to enroll in special education preschool, while learning disabilities rank as the most common reason for school-aged children.


Is it language delay or disability?


Language is generally composed of our ability to comprehend (receptive language) and to convey (expressive language) a message. Speech generally refers to oral communication rather than writing or other non-verbal forms of communications. Among newborns, the capacity to turn to a mother’s voice and cry when in need demonstrates early receptive and expressive skills, respectively.


A delay in language or speech suggests that development is slower than expected for age. By definition, a disability is a deficit that is severe enough to interfere with learning, communication and social functioning.


Language delay or disability may be classified as “primary” when it cannot be explained by a known condition. Disorders are considered “secondary” when it can be accounted for by a known condition.


Examples of primary speech and language disorders:

· Speech sound disorders (e.g. dysarthria, childhood apraxia)

· Voice disorders

· Stuttering and fluency disorders

· Receptive language disorder

· Expressive language disorder

· Phonology, lexicon or syntax disorder

· Social communication disorder


Examples of conditions associated with secondary language disorder:

· Hearing loss

· Autism spectrum disorder

· Intellectual and developmental disabilities, including genetic or chromosomal aberrations

· Neurologic disorders, including traumatic brain injury

· Cleft palate


How can a Speech Therapist help?


A pediatric speech therapist, also known as speech-language pathologist (SLP), works with children to diagnose and manage a broad array of language and speech disorders. This type of therapy can be incredibly beneficial for children as it can help them improve both verbal and non-verbal communication skills and ultimately, allow them to reach their full potential. Therefore, it is an intervention than should be promptly started when language and speech problems are suspected or confirmed.


Key benefits of speech therapy:

· Improves expressive language verbally or using alternative techniques and augmentative communication devices; also strengthens reading comprehension and understanding context

· Enhances speech quality, including strength of oral muscles, articulation and fluency

· Develops conversational skills and social interaction, including non-verbal communication

· Prepares children for school and helps advance academic performance

· Treats swallowing problems and feeding disorders

· Promotes self-esteem and independence

· Provide constructive feedback and create an environment for continuing learning and growth


Through consistent work with a SLP, our daughter has shown progress with both her sign and verbal language. My wife waited 2 years to hear the word “mama”. Speech therapy helped transform what had previously been a discouraging delay into a magnificent milestone.



References

1. Speech and language disorders in children: Implications for the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income program. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; US; 2016.

2. Number of Children Receiving Early Intervention and Special Education Services under IDEA, Birth through Age 5 2016.

3. Feldman HM. How Young Children Learn Language and Speech. Pediatr Rev. 2019;40:398-411.

4. Committee on the Evaluation of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability Program for Children with Speech Disorders and Language Disorders; Board on the Health of Select Populations; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Institute of Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Rosenbaum S, Simon P, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016.

5. Law J, Garrett Z, Nye C. Speech and language therapy interventions for children with primary speech and language delay or disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003


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