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How to know if your child could benefit from speech therapy

January 31, 2021

As parents it can feel as though there are so many things to worry about. You might ask yourself if your child is sleeping enough, eating well, socialising, sharing, and communicating as you’d expect for their age?

The truth is, all children are different and will develop at their own pace. One area that parents may be concerned about is in relation to their child’s speech. Often a child care educator may express concerns in this area to a parent too, if they have noticed anything that they know could affect the child’s future progress. 

Today we have Katie O’Brien, a Private Speech Pathologist, giving us the low down on the common concerns for the under five year olds when it comes to speech and language.

What does a child’s Speech Pathologist do? 

A Speech Pathologist is a healthcare professional that works with people with communication and swallowing problems. Communication problems include problems with speech, language, swallowing, stuttering and voice. 

Speech Pathologists study, assess and decipher the problem, give advice and provide therapy whilst providing the right tools for each individual.

"Parents and caregivers are very important teachers during the early years of a child’s life."

What are some of the common concerns that parents of under 5’s have about their child’s speech? 

Common concerns that parents have queries about are: 

  1. articulation of phonological disorders (that is, difficulty pronouncing sounds in words) such as saying ‘lellow’ instead of ‘yellow’ or ‘nake’ instead of ‘snake’
  2. delayed or disordered language skills (that is, not saying many words or not putting words into sentences)
  3. stuttering or fluency disorders, which can include getting stuck on words or repeating sounds/words. 

What age do you think parents should consider investigating speech therapy for their child? 

It is commonly recommended by Speech Pathologists that early intervention for communication delays or disorders provides a child with the best opportunity to improve and hopefully resolve communication problems. 

You can start therapy for children even at the newborn age if they have feeding issues. Speech issues can benefit from intervention at a young age too. There isn’t a specific age that is too young or too soon, it really needs to be determined on a case by case basis.

At times children may have other underlying issues that may be preventing their communication skills from developing, such as hearing problems, neurodevelopmental disorders or syndromes. A Speech Pathologist would be happy to provide you with advice over the phone if you have any concerns regarding your child’s speech development. 

There are guidelines of milestones that children should meet at different ages and most children by the age of 5 should have resolved most communication problems. 

How long does it normally take to see results? 

"Some children may require a few weeks, months or even years of therapy, it is very individual for every child."

This is a very common question that we are regularly asked by many parents and we simply cannot give a specific timeframe. I often tell parents that I would love to have a crystal ball but I simply don’t. 

We can advise parents on the type of communication delay and the severity of the problem and provide a plan that outlines goals and milestones for the child’s speech and language development. 

We also advise parents that regular and consistent practice of the therapy goals and strategies set by your Speech Pathologist will see results faster than no practice. 

In therapy I try to set small and achievable goals for parents to focus on at home because I know parents are busy with work and family life.  I often give parents the analogy that when you plant a seed you have to water it regularly for it to grow otherwise it won’t grow. 

Some children may require a few weeks, months or even years of therapy, it is very individual for every child. 

Where is the best place to conduct speech therapy?

Every child is individual and will feel comfortable in different environments. As a Speech Pathologist I have treated children in clinics, at child care centres, schools and in the family home. 

There are benefits to all environments, but whatever setting you choose a Speech Pathologist is always able to liaise with educators and other health professionals to ensure collaborative goals can be targeted and the children have the best possible care.

Any tips for what parents could be doing at home to help their child’s speech development?

Parents and caregivers are very important teachers during the early years of a child’s life. Children learn to speak by watching and listening to others speak and will then practice themselves. 

Babies will notice when others repeat a sound, noise or word they say. Children’s language develops best when they are exposed to a wide variety of different words. 

Parents can help a child’s communication skills to develop by responding to the baby's first sounds, noises and gestures, repeating what the baby says and adding to it, talking about things that the child sees and hears, asking questions and listening to the answers, looking at or reading books, telling stories and recounting events or things that happened during the day and singing songs and nursery rhymes together.

What else can Speech Pathologists do?

We can also assist children with literacy delays or disorders. Learning to read and write is a crucial part of a child’s development. Approximately 10% of children have problems with reading and writing. 

Speech Pathologists can provide therapy for children with delayed literacy skills. This includes skills such as letter and sound identification, rhyming, segmenting and blending words, manipulation of sounds, reading fluency, reading comprehension and written expression such as narratives, recounts, information reports, procedures, persuasive writing etc.

If you have concerns about your child’s development before they start school, you can speak with your child’s educators or your GP to see what they have noticed. 

You don’t need a referral to see a Speech Pathologist; so you can just find a local Speech Pathologist and contact them to ask for their advice on whether your child could benefit from an appointment.

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Written by

Lee Price

Toddle is the most comprehensive child care finder in Australia, on a mission to make parents’ lives easier.