Does Your Child Need Speech Therapy?
Most children make a couple of mistakes when they’re learning how to talk, but what about when mistakes keep happening past the age where it’s normal? Judgment on whether a child’s speech is normal or not can be complicated by the fact that children tend to master different sounds at different ages. Speech sound disorders can include issues with phonological processes (or sound patterns), or articulation (pronouncing sounds).
When children only have problems with a few speech sounds, therapists may be able to correct the issue fairly quickly with a sound-by-sound approach. When the speech issues are particularly mild, teachers and pediatricians might encourage you to take a wait-and-see approach. This is usually fine, but a child should be able to be understood by strangers 75-100% of the time by 36 months. If those mild problems don’t correct themselves, they may turn into long-term issues that go into adulthood. Learning to speak intelligibly is something that must be practiced often as a child grows, to establish and strengthen the neurological pathways that govern speech.
But when is the right time to put a child in speech therapy? What’s the cut-off? One speech pathologist advises parents to ask themselves the following four questions:
- Has my child’s speech become easier to understand or made improvements at any time over a 6-month period?
- Can my child make the sound correctly at any time in spontaneous speech?
- Can my child make the sound correctly after I make the sound?
- Can acquaintances understand my child’s speech?
If the answers to any of those questions are “no,” she recommends that it may be time to consult with a speech language pathologist about having a full evaluation—especially if your child is nearing school age.
The therapist, she goes on to say, will figure out whether or if your child needs help with phonological or articulatory issues, determine if your child has any physical abnormalities of the mouth, jaw or throat that could be affecting his or her speech, and recommend a speech therapy plan. Usually, the only course of treatment will be therapy, but if there is a physical impediment to speech such as a tongue tie or high palate, the therapist may make a referral to an orthodontist, otolaryngologist, or even a craniofacial specialist to clear up the underlying issue first.
In the event that your child does need speech therapy, what can parents do at home to help? This link has a lengthy guide to different ideas for children of different ages, but one good general tip is to always use clear speech yourself when speaking to your child.