Communication is at the very core of who we are as human beings. How we communicate shapes our relationships and our ability to understand, learn about and engage with the world around us.

When a child struggles to communicate, it can adversely impact every other aspect of life – including social, emotional and intellectual development.

Pediatric language & speech therapy providers at FOCUS will help your child develop skills necessary to communicate effectively.

“Speech” refers to the sounds we make when we talk.

“Language” refers to the understanding and exchange of words, concepts and ideas. Some children require help with just one of those aspects. Others need assistance with both.

Our Fort Myers speech & language therapy program encompasses all facets of communication.

If you are concerned about your child’s speech or language skills, our friendly, knowledgeable speech therapists offer free screenings by appointment.

Does My Child Need Speech Therapy?

Speech and language problems in children are actually fairly common. But while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Intervention (CDC) reports nearly 1 in 10 children have a communication disorder, only about half received intervention services in the last year.

Feeding and swallowing disorders necessitating feeding therapy intervention by a trained speech therapist or occupational therapist occur in about 1 in 4 children, with a prevalence rate of 8 in 10 for children with disabilities.

It’s important to identify speech and language problems as early as possible so your child can start treatment. Some think speech therapy can’t begin until a child is actually speaking, but that’s not true. Treatment can - and should - start as soon as possible.

Indicators of a speech and language disorder or delay will vary depending on the age and condition of the child. As a general guideline, some appropriate developmental milestones to consider include:

At 18 months

  • Child says “no” correctly
  • Has about a 10-word vocabulary
  • Identifies basic nouns (i.e., cat, dog, car, doll)
  • Can answer a “what-is-this” question
  • Follows simple, one-step instructions (i.e., “take off your shoe,” or “sit down”)

At 2-years-old

  • Uses consonants
  • Identifies parts of body when asked
  • Can put two words together (i.e., “doggie gone” or “want ball”)
  • Enjoys “story time”
  • Identifies pictures in books
  • Has a vocabulary of about 50 words
  • Sings simple nursery rhymes

At 3-years-old

  • Follows two-step directions (i.e., “go downstairs and get your shoes)
  • Initiates/ participates in conversations
  • Uses some grammar
  • Makes longer sentences
  • Clearly says words with consonant endings
  • Initiates lots of questions

At 4-years-old

  • Uses a lot of sentences
  • Has many questions
  • Can tell a short story
  • Uses more advanced grammar
  • Can pretend play with words
  • Can answer questions like “who?” or “how many”
  • Makes friends with other children

At 5-years-old

  • Understands “why” and “when”
  • Can make thoughts known to you
  • Ability to tell you how to use something
  • Learning to read
  • Talks about the past and understands the concept of today/ yesterday/ tomorrow

This list is not exhaustive. A single indicator doesn’t necessarily mean your child needs speech therapy. If you have concerns, we encourage you to reach out to our office about a free screening.

Causes of Speech and Language Problems

It can be difficult sometimes to know for sure whether a child whose speech is delayed is simply a “late bloomer” or if he or she has a speech and language disorder or other condition. Nonetheless, it’s important seek early intervention. If it turns out your child’s speech is delayed, therapy will help your child “catch up” - which is invaluable in those critical early stages of growth and development. However if there is a more serious issue, procrastinating on therapy often results in a steeper uphill climb in helping a child learn to talk and communicate effectively.

Some conditions associated with speech and language disorders and delays include:

  • Autism. Children with autism commonly have communication difficulties. In fact, speech, language and communication problems are often the first indicator that a child may have autism.
  • Prematurity. Often a child who is who is born prematurely can have a number of developmental delays, including speech and language difficulties.
  • Developmental speech and language disorder. This is a common catalyst for speech and language troubles in children. It’s a type of learning disability wherein a child might have trouble producing speech sounds, using spoken language or understanding what others are saying.
  • Auditory processing disorder. This refers to problems understanding speech sounds. Children with auditory processing disorder can improve with appropriate speech and language therapy.
  • Apraxia of speech. This is a type of speech disorder wherein the child has trouble sequencing and executing speech movements.
  • Structural problems. This could include issues like a cleft palate or a cleft lip, both of which can adversely affect one’s ability to engage in speech.
  • Neurological problems. These would include conditions like traumatic brain injury (TBI), muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy. Each of these can impair the muscles necessary for speaking.
  • Intellectual disabilities. This is a common cause of speech and language delays.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome. This condition is associated with cognitive deficits and hearing impairments, as well as verbal learning deficits, speech disorders (i.e., fluency, voice, articulation and intonation) and receptive/ expressive language delays.

Although it’s helpful to understand the underlying causes of speech and language delays and difficulties, we don’t necessarily need a diagnosis to begin treatment. We can start by addressing the symptoms. 

How Speech Therapy Helps

Goals of speech therapy at FOCUS will be tailored specifically to your child’s needs, and objectives are re-evaluated periodically, usually every six months.

We follow all established clinical guidelines and best practices, though we recognize every child learns differently. Not every child is going to “light up” for the same puzzle or game. In our clinic, we have a wide and colorful array of toys, games, puzzles and activities to spark your child’s interests and motivate them to practice and learn – and have fun doing it!

At FOCUS, our creative speech therapists are committed to finding solutions that will help your child overcome his or her unique challenges and work toward clear, effective communication.

Who are the Speech and Language Pathologists?

A speech and language pathologist is trained to assess, diagnose, treat and help prevent communication and swallowing disorders. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) generally hold a master’s degree in speech pathology and must complete hundreds of hours of supervised clinical fieldwork. We also employ speech therapists with bachelor’s degrees in a field related to speech and hearing science.

Several of our speech-language pathologists are specifically trained to treat swallowing disorders and feeding disorders, the latter through the SOS Approach to Feeding Therapy.

All of our FOCUS speech therapists use evidence-based science to develop individual treatment plans for each child, and those targets revisited at regular intervals.

We also prioritize parent education and empowerment. One of the best ways we can help children thrive long-term is to offer parents strategies, tools and information on how to work with their child daily on these emerging skills.

Carrying over lessons learned in speech therapy into everyday interactions – mealtimes, play times, bath times, bed times – all of this will help strengthen your child’s chance for success. In the end, YOU are the best “speech therapist” your child will ever have. We look forward to welcoming you to our "FOCUS family!"