Child Too Young For Speech Therapy? No Such Thing!
When it comes to speech therapy, there are two general schools of thought: Early Intervention and Watch and Wait. Increasingly, doctors, specialists and teachers are on board with what our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists have been saying for years: Early intervention is key!
You may be familiar with the legend of Albert Einstein’s childhood speech delay leading to his parents’ concern he might not be bright. This purported speech delay of an unequivocal genius lends inspiration to many who struggle with similar issues. Unfortunately, it’s also given families of “late talkers” validation for the “Watch and Wait Approach” – which is typically not what we advise.
Until fairly recently, most pediatricians were content to let parents wait before seeking assistance with their children’s speech concerns, often not pressing for speech therapy until the child was school-age. That is changing – much to our enthusiasm! Clinicians are increasingly aware that speech impairments in children can lead to a greater likelihood of social struggles and reading problems. The younger the child, the more malleable their brains, and the better outcomes we have.
Developmental speech disorders are fairly prevalent, occurring in about 5 percent of children in preschool. Prevalence of autism (associated with moderate to severe delays in speech and language skills) was recently reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be up 15 percent since 2012, with now 1 in every 59 children in the U.S. diagnosed. (Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism, with a rate of 1 in 37, versus the rate of 1 in 151 for girls.) Accessing speech therapy and other services earlier on is now highly recommended for children with a wide range of speech problems.
Spotting a Speech Problem
In the past, when speech and language problems weren’t referred for therapy until children were older, recognizing speech delays might have been considered fairly easy, mostly because we’d be dealing with a children who was 6 or 7 at the time of the first evaluation. However, we’re now routinely seeing 2-and-3-year-olds. Recognizing speech issues in younger children can be more of a challenge. Kids are just starting to experiment with words as toddlers, so patterns like slurring long words and lisping are pretty common.
What we look for at that age in speech therapy evaluation is communication. Pronunciation and articulation are secondary to whether they are trying to communicate at all. If they are over the age of 1 and have no words, that may be cause for concern, especially if they aren’t gesturing or responding to their name. Language tends to rapidly pick up the pace between 18-and-24 months, so if you aren’t seeing real progress by then, you definitely should seek a professional opinion about whether speech therapy is needed. It’s possible your child may also benefit from occupational therapy, behavior therapy and physical therapy too, as many of these systems and skills are intertwined, but the determination is highly case-specific.
Some parents worry that by their child having a diagnosis, whether it’s childhood apraxia of speech, autism or some other condition, their children will suffer from the “label.” Parents might also be quick to explain away concerns, (i.e., “It’s because he’s a boy,” or “My sister was a late talker, so that explains it.”) Many want to avoid thinking there may be anything “wrong” with their child, so commit to the “Watch and Wait” approach. The problem is that when you don’t seek early intervention help for speech delays, your child misses out on positive growth trajectory. A child who is 1-years-old should be communicating with you using gestures and/ or words. If that’s not happening, you should talk to your physician about a referral for evaluation by a qualified pediatric speech therapist. (We also conduct free initial screenings to give you an unbiased professional opinion of whether you need to further explore this possibility.)
Think about it this way: Every speech milestone delay may initially add up in months, but eventually, it’s going to compound by years. For instance, a child who receives speech therapy at 1.5-years-old may only be 6 months delayed. However, a child with similar delays who doesn’t begin speech therapy until they are 3-years-old will be 2 years behind with speech and language milestones. When you start a child early, they have a better chance of catching up sooner.
How Young Can a Child Start Speech Therapy?
Babies as young as 6-months-old can benefit from speech therapy, though most start closer to around ages 1-to-3 when they start. Keep in mind, there it often takes time to go through the process of obtaining a referral, having an evaluation and then establishing a therapy schedule. Initiating the process when you first suspect an issue (rather than when you’re absolutely sure of it) will give you a jump start. The majority of speech concerns arise when a child is between 18 and 24 months, but it’s not a bad idea to seek insight sooner if you’re noticing some red flags.
Some speech disorders may not become apparent until a child is a bit older. These would include things like articulation, pronunciation and reading. Again, though, the earlier you seek help, the better – and faster – the outcomes will be for your child.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
More Blog Entries:
Smartphones & Speech Therapy: A GR8! Combo, May 19, 2018, Fort Myers Speech Therapy Blog