Your child has autism. You know it. The rest of the family knows it. His teachers and therapists know it. Maybe even a few of his classmates know it. But when should HE know it? And how should you tell him?
It’s something many of our FOCUS Therapy families grapple with at some point. The answers really depends on the individual. Some parents opt to tell their child when they’re very young, hoping an early understanding of why they struggle more with certain things might make it all less confusing. Other parents wait until their child becomes aware of their differences and starts asking questions. A few parents wait until their child is older with a better ability to fully understand their diagnosis. Our FOCUS speech, occupational and ABA therapists know there isn’t one right answer, but we’re here to support our patients and help guide families in these discussions.
Recently, a patient’s mother asked about the best way to handle some of the questions her 7-year-old son on the spectrum was asking. Christie Lawrence, a registered behavior technician (RBT) with our Fort Myers ABA therapy team, herself the mother of a teenager with autism, offered her thoughts.
“I would say the most important part of informing your child of their autism diagnosis is to empower them,” Lawrence said. “Autism can bring many gifts, and it’s so important to teach our children to find and focus on their strengths and build confidence from their success.”
Many people think of the role of speech therapists as being limited to speech and language. However, we also play a key role in pediatric feeding therapy evaluation and treatment.
Our Fort Myers speech-language pathologists are experts in oral mechanics – all the way down to the esophagus. We’re specially qualified to support individuals with feeding and swallowing difficulties.
Most people don’t put a ton of thought into the process of feeding and swallowing, but but both actually involve dozens of steps and systems working in conjunction. Feeding is what it takes to get food off the plate and into the mouth. Swallowing involves all the steps it takes to chew and then move food down the throat while protecting the airway leading to the lungs.
A child may have a feeding AND swallowing disorder, or just one or the other. For example, a child on the autism spectrum may have a feeding disorder wherein their food intake is extremely limited due to sensory processing difficulties. They may only need feeding therapy. A child with tracheostomy tubes or dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) or odynophagia (pain while swallowing) may only need swallowing therapy.
When your child is hard to understand, it can be stressful for you, your family, friends, educators – and perhaps most especially, your child. Of course, nobody enters this world speaking perfectly, and each child has their own timeline for proper pronunciation. However, it’s also important not to wait too long if you notice your child is more difficult to understand than his or her peers. The sooner a Fort Myers speech therapist can intervene, the faster your child can catch up to where they need to be. That can be critical to ensuring they don’t fall too behind socially and academically. Speaking skills mastered before pre-K and kindergarten can significantly impact the ease with which your child will be able to read and write.
Although every child develops at their own rate, knowing what key milestones to watch for is a good idea. In general, as noted in a recent Parents.com article, you should understand:
- At least 50 percent of what your child says by age 2.
- At least 75 percent of what your child says by age 3.
- About 100 percent of what your child says by age 4, even if all the sounds aren’t perfect.
By the time your child is about 6 or 7, he or she should produce all sounds correctly most of the time. If you can’t, it is well past time to reach out to a Fort Myers speech therapist. Ideally, we like to start treatment of children with speech and language delays and disorders as soon as possible – the earlier the better. At FOCUS, we are big proponents of “early intervention,” which starts between ages 2 and 5.
Does your child say “brudder” for “brother”? “Dat” for “that”? “Fing” for “thing”? As our Fort Myers pediatric speech therapists can explain, the ‘th’ sound is one that develops later for a lot of kids. Some master it sooner, often when they start school and are constantly interacting with older kids. Others continue making this error. Most child development experts agree this is a sound that should usually be developed by age 7 or 8, though it’s certainly something you can begin working on earlier.
Of course, all children develop at their own pace, and a singular issue doesn’t necessarily mean your child is going to need speech therapy, particularly if your child is younger than 7 and your only concern is the “th” sound. Still, most kids develop their speech sounds in the same general order, beginning in the first year of life. (The American Speech-Language Hearing Association has a development chart you can use for reference.) The key is if you notice a delay, you don’t want to wait too long in addressing it.
An assessment from a licensed child speech therapist can help you determine if it’s something your child will likely grow out of or whether they need some additional help. Waitlists for child speech-language therapy services in Southwest Florida can be lengthy, so it’s best to inquire sooner than later if you have a question.
At FOCUS, we’re familiar with the process of searching for a Florida speech therapist for kids. When we’re looking to hire speech therapists, there are some key things that we look for – and it goes beyond the right education, certification or qualifications. All those things are important, but they won’t necessarily dictate whether a person is going to work well with kids.
Approximately 5 percent of kids ages 3-17 have a speech-sound disorder that lasts more than a year, often requiring some type of intervention. Sometimes, the cause is due to something like autism or down syndrome or childhood apraxia of speech. But sometimes, it’s for something like a stutter or just a general delay in speech-language skills. For many of the kids who receive speech-language therapy, you’d never be able to tell later in life. This is especially true the younger they are when they start. That’s our goal: To get kids to catch up to their peers and be able to communicate, socialize and function as normally as possible. But in order for children to reach their maximum potential, they need to be paired with therapists who are going to be effective!
Here, we’re offering some insight into the qualities we prize in our speech therapists (and therapists of other disciplines, for that matter). We hope this helps parents in their search to find the Florida speech therapist who will be right for your child.
Beyond the current need for social distancing, there are many reasons parents may be looking for pediatric therapy options that would allow their kids to have Florida speech therapy at home. There’s the convenience of it, particularly if you have to work or have other kids and commitments. Travel can be especially difficult too if you live in a more remote area.
Whatever the incentive, FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers offers the next best thing: Teletherapy. Also known as virtual therapy, it’s a service we’ve been offering since even before the pandemic, becoming a regional leader in the field. We now extend it not just to those in Southwest Florida but to kids across the whole State of Florida who may be looking for speech therapy at home. Our reason is simple: It works.
Although many are initially skeptical of speech teletherapy, research and our own anecdotal evidence have proven it’s actually very effective for many kids with a range of conditions. And, it can be carried out in the comfort of your own home with a laptop and internet connection.
Lisps are practically universal among small children who are learning to talk. In fact, they can be pretty darn cute. But when a lisp persists beyond a certain age, it’s time to consider whether speech therapy intervention is necessary.
Lisps usually last until about 4 years and 6 months, when they resolve on their own. Pay attention to your child’s peers and see whether your child’s speech stands out in this way. If your child is still talking with a lisp after age 4.5, it’s probably time to make an appointment for a speech therapy consultation. If the speech therapist recommends therapy, it’s best to start right away. The longer you wait, the harder the habit may be to fix.
It’s also a good idea to seek speech therapy services from a private clinic as opposed to relying on public schools to take care of it. It’s not that there aren’t good speech-language pathologists in schools (in fact, many are excellent). The issue is that many school therapists may not be able to treat a child with a lisp until age 7 or 8. Beyond that, if the lisp doesn’t directly impact the child’s education, school district speech therapists may not be able to treat them at all.
Building kids’ speech and language skills isn’t just some magic we cook up in the clinic – it’s something you can do in your very own kitchen too! As our FOCUS speech therapists can explain, the more you can help your child try to practice their skills everywhere but the clinic, the better off they’ll be for it. What we’re aiming for here is something called carryover, and it’s something the American Speech Language and Hearing Association underscores can help those lessons “stick.”
This is especially important if they’re schooling, extracurricular activities and social events have been significantly curtailed during the pandemic. They’re going to need all the extra help they can get!
Our speech therapists recognize that cooking is a great activity because it not only helps them with lots of speech and language concepts (up, down, over, in, stir), there are math and science components, it encourages creativity, responsibility, teamwork and independence. Cooking can be a very naturally social activity, and it’s one that can help you make wonderful memories. Plus, it can be easily tailored to the child’s age and skill level with just a little planning. Start out with it just being you and your child, and once they get more comfortable with it, you can work your way up to have siblings and others involved – make a play date of it!
Social Skills of the Sous Chefs
The sous chef is the second-in-command in the kitchen. Anytime you’re working with high heat or open flames or sharp tools, it’s important that kids understand who is in charge and how important it is to listen carefully and follow directions.
It’s estimated that about one in a dozen kids in the U.S. between the ages of 3 and 17 has some type of disorder related to speech, voice, language or swallowing. Roughly 5 percent have a speech disorder specifically. When we look at even younger kids, it’s about 9 percent. Children who have speech sound disorders struggle to form speech sounds. They have trouble articulating individual sounds, being understood, modulating speech, they might stutter, have a lisp, etc. When it comes to speech sound disorders, working with a skilled, creative pediatric Fort Myers speech therapist can make all the difference.
About Speech Sound Disorders
Kids with speech sound disorders don’t have difficulty understanding language. What they struggle with is expressing language in the sounds of speech at a level that is age-appropriate.
As a Fort Myers speech therapist can explain, speech sound disorders are characterized by regular trouble producing speech sounds. That can mean several different things, including:
- Phonological problems. This is when one has a tough time producing certain sounds or sound blends.
- Vocal apparatus problems. This would be if someone has issues with their larynx or lungs that makes producing certain sounds difficult.
- Speech timing issues. This would be if a child has difficulty with their vowel onset time, vowel duration, consonant closure duration or voicing during consonant closure.
- Speech difficulty. This would be issues like stuttering or lisping.
Typically, we can classify a speech sound disorder either as a “phonological disorder” or an “articulation disorder.”
The ability to ask and answer “Wh” questions is an integral part of language development. Speech pathologists recognize that kids must first be able to understand questions before they can engage in an exchange of information. It’s the very foundation of conversation.
Most typically-developing kids will start to ask and answer “Wh” questions when they’re between 1- and 2-years-old. They’ll continue fine-tuning these receptive and expressive language skills into their school years. Children with delays, disabilities, injuries and other conditions may struggle with Wh questions. Our Fort Myers speech pathologists at FOCUS can help.