At What Age Should My Child Start Speech Therapy?
Most parents know the thrill of hearing a child say, “mama” and “dada” for the first time. Then comes the adorable baby talk. But what if your child isn’t saying words by the time they’re 1 year old? What if they’re still mispronouncing lots of basic words by age 5? At what point do you decide a speech therapy consultation might be in order?
The first thing to bear in mind is that kids develop at all different paces. So the fact that your child is behind a bit isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. That said, it never hurts to have your child evaluated if you aren’t sure. FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers offers free initial consultations to help parents determine if a more extensive evaluation is necessary. Evidence has shown time-and-again that “wait-and-see” is an ineffective approach when it comes to children with speech-language disorders or delays. The reason is the longer kids go without early intervention, the more developmental skills they must catch up on. Plus, the older they are, the harder it is to unlearn bad habits and adopt new ones because neuropathways have less plasticity as we age.
“If there is reason to be concerned when your child is 18-months-old, there is no reason to wait until they’re 3 or 5 to have them evaluated,” explained FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, MS/CCC-SLP. “The earlier we can diagnose a speech-language disorder or delay, the less impact it is going to have on your child’s development, academic achievements, and social/emotional well-being.”
Speech delays can have a number of causes, including oral impairment (problems with the tongue or palate), oral-motor problems, hearing issues, or a neurological condition like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although we treat children of all ages, we do recommend initiating assessments as early as possible, ideally as soon as you notice an issue.
Steps to Take if You’re Concerned Your Child Might Need Speech Therapy
If you think there’s a possibility your child might need speech therapy services, consider the following steps:
- Check your child’s verbal development. Although there is no bright line rule for when kids must be saying certain phrases, we do have some solid guidelines that can help us pinpoint a problem. If your child is 18 months and isn’t speaking at all, doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t respond to their name, isn’t pointing – these are indicators that you should at least seek out a screening. If your 2-year-old cannot say about 50 words and/or is unable to combine words to communicate something, they should probably be evaluated for a speech-language delay or disorder. By the age of 3, your child should be able to clearly pronounce the ‘t,’ ‘d,’ and ‘n’ sounds. Someone who is a familiar listener should be able to understand 75% of what your child says. Almost everyone should be able to understand what your child is saying by the time they’re 5.
- Seek an initial consultation and talk to your child’s pediatrician. Your child’s pediatrician is the one who can refer you for formal evaluations for speech-language and hearing skills assessments. But if you are uncertain or have met any resistance (the latter being somewhat unusual, but it does happen), our Fort Myers speech therapy team is happy to offer free initial consultations to help determine whether a full evaluation is needed. We’ll arrange to meet with you and your child, and provide insight you can give to the pediatrician to obtain a referral for evaluation. The results of that formal evaluation will indicate whether speech-language therapy is medically necessary, and if so, how intensive it should be. These reports are also used to make a case to health care insurance companies that such treatment should be covered. It’s possible other services may be recommended as well. The benefit of speech therapy evaluations at FOCUS Therapy is that we are a multi-disciplinary clinic, employing not only speech therapy professionals, but also those in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and ABA therapy.
- Practice at home as much as possible. Speech therapy is key to helping your child unlock certain skill sets, and it can be invaluable for parent education and training. That said, practice and carryover of these skills at home is mission critical. The more communication practice a child gets at home – whether that’s reading together, limiting screen time, or just narrating your day out loud – the faster progress they’re going to make in speech therapy. Our speech therapists can also recommend games and activities to try to engage your child in fun speech practice techniques.
If you have questions or are ready to take the next step, our team is available to provide answers and/or schedule an appointment at one of our two Southwest Florida clinic locations.
Contact us online or by calling (239) 313-5049. FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida – including virtual speech therapy.
Collaboration between parents and SLTs produces optimal outcomes for children attending speech and language therapy: Gathering the evidence, May 8, 2020, International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders
More Blog Entries:
Florida Speech-Language Pathologists are in High Demand, Feb. 5, 2022, Fort Myers Speech Therapy Blog