How Parents Can Know and What They Can Do
Are you currently a toddler parent?
Perhaps you have a 2 1/2 year old who has yet to speak anything more than one-word utterances. Maybe you have a 3-year-old whose speech is so garbled that others look to you for translations while your child’s frustration builds.
You may have older children with which to compare your child’s speech development, or you might be a first-timer observing other children confidently rattling off distinct phrases. Either way, you feel pangs of guilt pondering your child’s differences. Your brain reminds you that children develop at their own pace, but your heart aches, wondering if this perceived language delay is a harbinger of other more significant obstacles to come.
Does any of this describe your family’s situation?
It perfectly described mine.
How We Decided to Begin Speech and Language Therapy
Our boy and girl twins began preschool a few weeks after they turned two. I never noticed much of a difference initially between our children’s speech and language and that of the kids in their class. However, as months progressed, I would hear these same classmates excitedly chattering away in the mornings, waiting for the teachers to open the classroom doors.
Meanwhile, at home, our children were communicating with us in ways that would be unintelligible to the rest of the world. Nevertheless, there were many attempts at speech, mostly one-word demands; seldom were there two-word phrases, but never more than that. At first I dismissed any feelings of unease by reminding myself that our twins were the youngest in the class and twins are notorious for slower language development.
Slowly it became more apparent that our twins’ inability to get their message across was affecting their moods, especially for our son. He was prone to temper tantrums, complete with hitting, throwing toys – the works. Desperate to restore harmony to our abode, my husband and I decided to have our kids evaluated for speech and language delays.
Coincidentally, this evaluation took place the same day as the first (and only) parent/teacher conference that year, six months after school began. Both teachers wore furrowed brows and frowns. Only then did we learn that our son and daughter were essentially mute in class. They made no attempts at verbal communication with their teachers or classmates but mostly played amongst themselves.
This meeting jarred me. My thoughts bounced all over the place:
Why am I just now learning of this six months after school began?
But their dad and I hear them “talking” all day long!
If we had known about the severity of the situation earlier, our kids could already be months into speech therapy instead of waiting to be evaluated.
Are our kids okay?
How Can You Know If Your Child May Need Speech or Language Therapy?
Are you worried that your own child may not be on track?
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has provided us with some early detection signs of possible or emerging language and speech disorders to help parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers.
On the language side:
- Doesn’t smile or interact with others (birth–3 months)
- Doesn’t babble (4–7 months)
- Makes few sounds (7–12 months)
- Does not use gestures (e.g., waving, pointing) (7–12 months)
- Doesn’t understand what others say (7 months–2 years)
- Says only a few words (12–18 months)
- Doesn’t put words together to make sentences (1½–2 years)
- Says fewer than 50 words (2 years)
- Has trouble playing and talking with other children (2–3 years)
- Has problems with early reading and writing skills—for example, may not show an interest in books or drawing (2½–3 years)
As for speech:
- Says p, b, m, h, and w incorrectly in words most of the time (1–2 years)
- Says k, g, f, t, d, and n incorrectly in words most of the time (2–3 years)
- Produces speech that is unclear, even to familiar people (2–3 years)
You’ve Identified the Warning Signs. What Can You Do at Home?
Are your little one’s language skills your primary concern? To summarize ASHA’s recommendations, you should keep up constant communication with your child, listening as well as responding, using a variety of words. Narrate your day. Arrange play dates.
On the speech side, enunciate in your own speech. Don’t correct your child’s incorrect speech. ASHA’s emphasis is on keeping the words flowing.
Speech Therapy: What We Learned Along the Way
Let’s now assume that you are in MY camp and believe that your tot’s delays may need more than just help from mom and dad. Allow me to share some of my observations, learnings and thoughts on our experiences with professional speech and language intervention.
- Find out if your school system provides taxpayer-funded speech and language services. Our school system has services available for qualifying children, even those who are younger than elementary school aged. Our family ended up taking advantage of these terrific services, only after close to a year of private therapy. It took TIME to get “into the system,” along with patience and multiple evaluations.
- Some private insurance policies cover speech therapy, but don’t expect it to be easy. If you are lucky enough to have speech coverage as a part of your plan, you must do your homework. What is the copay? What is the maximum yearly coverage? Who is in-network? Possibly the most critical: There may be certain diagnosis codes that must apply to your children in order for them to be eligible. Call your insurance company and ask for those diagnosis codes. Having those codes in advance will be instrumental to you in determining the affordability of therapy.
- Regardless of the source of therapy, there is a good chance that you will be thoroughly questioned about your child’s past. Keep track of your child’s history of reaching significant milestones. Expect the evaluation to include a hearing evaluation as well.
- Be your child’s number one advocate. Respect the work and knowledge of the professional you hire but do not hesitate to ask questions or express any concerns about your child’s progress.
- Involve yourself fully in supplementing the therapist’s work at home. A good therapist will always be willing to give you “homework” to help your child’s progress along.
- If language is a concern more than speech for your preschooler, consider asking your therapist to conduct sessions at both school and home. This could give him or her valuable insight into the impact of environment on your child’s communication.
- Lastly, become an “unofficial” therapist to your child. My dear friend Susan bought for me the “It Takes Two to Talk” program (both the guidebook and DVD). I found it incredibly empowering not to just sit idly by while another person worked with my children on their language development. This program is easy to follow and loaded with practical tips, particularly on incorporating play with language skills.
I no longer worry about something being wrong with our kids. The speech professionals who have worked with our children have deemed them to have articulation disorders, but I believe that this is only a minor challenge. There is no real “problem,” but I don’t think that I would put emphasis on it if there were.
My focus now is in meeting my kids where they are – wherever that is – and giving them the tools to do their very best in this world.
It has been beyond rewarding to hear from friends and family members on how far our twins have come with their speech and language development. I feel that we can credit a number of factors with the kids’ progress, but do not want to minimize one very important fact:
Our kids WANTED to improve and worked hard to do it. And that makes my heart swell with pride.
Have your children undergone speech or language therapy? What have you learned through the process?
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