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:
From fables and fairytales to silly rhymes and serious plots, kids LOVE story time! At its core, storytelling is about connection and communication. Everyone has a story to tell, and stories help us to understand the world around us and empathize with the people in it. Being able to follow – and tell – a story helps to understand the actions and opinions of others, and allows others to understand us too. Stories can be poignant and meaningful, giving us insight into an important life lessons, or they can be simple, everyday conversations, such as what someone did that weekend. When children learn how to tell stories, they learn how to be better communicators. At our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapy clinic, we love using creative stories in sessions. It not only teaches children important communication skills, it keeps them interested and engaged!
Teaching storytelling involves not just reading stories, but breaking them down into the most basic parts for kids to understand. In our experience with young children, it’s best to start with simple narrative stories and then help them to identify the beginning, middle, and end. We teach them the transition words (first, then, next, last…). Even if retelling the story is difficult, sparse, or choppy at first, the idea is to help ensure the retelling isn’t random – it’s an organized beginning-middle-end structure.
For instance, we’d tell the story of the Three Little Pigs like this:
- First, three little pigs built three houses.
- Then, a big, bad wolf said he would blow their houses down.
- Finally, the three pigs found safety in the house made of bricks.
Once they’ve mastered this basic Beginning, Middle, End, we can help them work on the more complicated story structures, such as orientation/setting (answering the who, where and when questions), the complication/plot (answering the what questions), the action (this answers the what and also how), the resolution (also the what and how questions) and the ending.
No doubt these are skills your child will need in school. The sooner we begin working on it when they’re younger, the better.
Kids’ recreational screen time more than doubled in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. This is concerning news because, as a Fort Myers speech therapist will tell you, excessive use of screen time can have numerous adverse impacts. In particular, these include:
- Unhealthy weight gain.
- Reduction in social skills.
- Delay in speech-language development (particularly for younger children).
The researchers looked at a group of more than 5,400 kids. Their average daily screen time prior to the pandemic was about 3.8 hours (still pretty high!). (The data was initially gleaned to study how cognitive development is impacted by screen time.) Then during the pandemic, kids’ use of electronic screens doubled to 7.7 hours daily. It should be noted that figure excluded school-related screen time, which many kids engaged in on-and-off, either in virtual school or some hybrid. Here in Southwest Florida, many schoolchildren are also assigned a set number of weekly minutes through a reading-math program called iReady. This too would have been excluded.
Analysts were solely looking at recreational screen time. That would include the use of electronic devices (phones, iPads, gaming systems, etc.) for things like:
- Multiple-player gaming.
- Single-player gaming.
- Social media.
- Video chatting.
- Browsing the internet.
- Watching streaming movies, videos, or television shows.
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.
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.
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.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
When a child with autism is first learning how to speak, it’s often delayed and it may not develop in the same way as typically functioning children. As your Fort Myers speech therapist can explain, many begin by copying words they hear, as opposed to trying out new words or phrases they generate on their own. This type of “echoing” is clinically referred to as “echolalia,” and it’s often a vital first step in verbal communication.
Echolalia is the exact repetition or echoing of sounds or words. A child with autism will often use words in the same order – and sometimes even in the same tone – as what they hear, be it from another person or in a book or television show.
Although it may not have any communicative meaning (there is a difference between functional and non-functional echolalia), it can be an excellent place for your speech therapist to begin work with your child on meaningful communication.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
At some point, most parents have been on the receiving end of judgmental looks due to a child’s behavior. Tantrums in the cereal aisle are practically an official rite of passage for all toddlers. But “bad” behavior could be a sign of a deeper issue. Occupational therapists and speech therapists in Fort Myers know that sometimes, “bad” behavior goes hand-in-hand with a clinical condition with symptoms that can be mitigated with prompt and proper treatment.
For instance, a child grappling with a speech delay may find the most effective form of communication is behavior some find socially unacceptable. These behaviors can include tantrums and aggression, but also non-compliance, running away or resistance. Understandably, parents may feel unprepared or unequipped, and respond ineffectually with tactics like yelling, repeated admonition or just giving in. Both parent and child remain trapped in a frustrating cycle.
According to one study published by researchers with Western Michigan University, a significant portion of children with language disorders also have co-occurring emotional or behavior disorders. Despite this, most children diagnosed with an emotional or behavior disorder have not been evaluated for speech-language problems. When a child has receptive and expressive delays or disorders, it can directly impact their social functioning – and in turn, their behavior.