Does my child need speech therapy or other interventions?

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Does my child need speech therapy

This is such a tough question to answer, especially when I have not spoken with you or seen your child. So instead of telling you ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to “does my child need speech therapy”, I would like to equip you with information that will help you make an informed decision about whether your child needs therapy.

In this article I cover:

Natural variability

Firstly, remember that although you can find specific milestones and ages for certain skills, there is always natural variability between children. This is why clinical professionals will refer to “typical ranges” more often than milestones as the range accounts for the variability among children’s development (read more about the typical range here)

So make sure you don’t get too caught in the trap of comparing your child every time they’re around other kids, making you ask yourself “does my child need therapy”. 

Key signs that indicate my child needs speech therapy

Here are a few indicators in the areas of stuttering, early talking and speech clarity that will help you determine whether your child needs speech therapy:

Late talking

This is a term often used for toddlers/kids between 1.5 years to 3 years who struggle to use words to communicate, & don’t easily imitate new words (regardless of their clarity of speech). 

👉 Seek intervention if your child is 24 months or older, has less than 50 expressive words and has not started to imitate two-word combinations.

Social interaction

This refers to how your child plays and interacts with other you, other adults and children, both verbally and with body language (i.e. back-and-forth play, sounds, turn-taking, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures etc). 

If your child is 12 months or older and has trouble sustaining engagement with you, this section will be helpful for you. 

👉 Seek intervention if your child (12 months or older) has trouble sustaining engagement with you – to the point where you feel like there is limited “connection”.  You might describe them as being either “On their own agenda” or “Only does what they want” or “Doesn’t seem to acknowledge me/others” or “Not be bothered by me/others”.  

Speech clarity or speech sound pronunciation

There are quite a few speech sound ‘errors’ that are made by most children & and are classed as part of “typical development”. However, these speech sounds are expected to resolve each by a certain age.

👉 Seek intervention if your child is either:

  • 3 years or older: You, family members and less familiar people find it very difficult to understand your child. 
  • 3 years or older: Has difficulty using early consonants (p, b, m, n, t, d), or a deletes the first or last sound in words.
  • 3 years or older: Seems to only use vowels to talk, very limited to no consonants used. 
  • 4 years or older: Has difficulty using early consonants (p, b, m, n, t, d, k, g, f, s, z), or omits the first or last sound in words. 

Stuttering

This is when your child’s talking (fluency) is interrupted by involuntary audible or silent repetitions or prolongations. (e.g.“Whaaat’s that?” / “D-d-d-daddy” / “I-I-I want a drink.” / “My my my turn to play”).

Developmental stuttering usually occurs between 2-3 years of age when a child starts using longer sentences. 

👉  Seek intervention if it continues for more than 3 months. It may appear & reappear within those 3 months, but overall is still present &  hasn’t fully resolved. 

The benefit of getting speech therapy sooner: Critical learning period

Perhaps you have decided that your child does need speech therapy however, you’re probably wondering whether to wait a bit or get therapy now. I would highly suggest that you get help now rather than wait so that you can maximise your chill’s critical developmental period.

So what is the critical learning period?

This critical learning period refers to the clinical term ‘optimum neuroplasticity’. This period or developmental window is when your child’s brain has the most remarkable ability to change, rewire, organise, strengthen, & relearn critical neural connections. Although humans can learn at any age, the brain grows rapidly during the first 5-6 years of a child’s life. So the first few years of your child’s life is the best time to take advantage of this critical period (neuroplasticity). Their brain’s ability to mould and change reduces over time, so it is essential that speech therapy or any other intervention starts as early as possible

Benefits of getting therapy sooner

If your child needs speech therapy or other interventions, starting sooner:

  1. Your child will find it easier to learn new skills quickly
  2. Your child will require fewer supports as they get older
  3. The total time and money spent on speech therapy or other interventions will be less overall!

Getting help during the critical learning period will reduce your child’s risk of further delay and result in better long-term outcomes academically, socially and for their overall well-being. 

References:

Capone Singleton, N. (2018). Late Talkers: Why the Wait-and-See Approach Is Outdated. The Pediatric clinics of North America, 65(1), 13-29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2017.08.018

Dockrell, J. (2002). Bishop, Dorothy V. M. & Leonard, Laurence B. (eds), Speech and language impairments in children: causes, characteristics, intervention and outcome. Hove, UK. Psychology Press, 2000. Pp. xiii+305. In J. Child Lang (Vol. 29, pp. 701- 711). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 

Illingworth, R. S. (1974). The Development of the Infant and Young Child Normal and Abnormal (Vol. 88). Elsevier Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0033-3506(74)80081-8

Michelle, R. E., & Ellis, W. S. (2008). Language Outcomes of Late Talking Toddlers at Preschool and Beyond. 15(3), 119–126. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862655/

Senturias, Y. (2016). Neural Plasticity and Cognitive Development: Insights from Children with Perinatal Brain Injury. In (Vol. 37, pp. 175): Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, WK Health. 

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