Fort Myers speech therapy

The Best Age for Fort Myers Speech Therapy? Mind the Milestones.

When we’re looking at the best age for kids to start a Fort Myers speech therapy program, one thing we’re going to zoom in on is whether they’re meeting certain developmental and language milestones.

In the first 3 years of life, a child’s brain grows and matures rapidly. It’s an intensive period for acquiring critical speech and language skills. These are developed in a world that is rich with sights, sounds, and regular exposure to the speech and language use of the people all around them – parents, daycare workers, siblings, grandparents, cousins, friends, shop workers, and more.

One of the reasons language develops so fast during this time period is that the brain of a baby, toddler, and young child has a great deal of plasticity. What this means is it’s able to absorb a great deal for quickly. It also means that the neuropathways that allow us to cement certain skillsets are not yet rigid. So if one neuropathway isn’t working as it should, new ones can develop – assuming they are taught to do so. This is why early intervention therapies are so important.

Speech and language development can vary from child-to-child, but if they’re missing major milestones, it’s important to take action.

Too often, we see parents and even some specialists take a “wait-and-see” approach if a child isn’t meeting these milestones. But it’s our firm belief this is a mistake. Because just as quickly as kids develop these skills, they can also fall behind. If we pass these small windows of time without Fort Myers speech therapy intervention, it’s going to be more difficult for the child to learn. Not impossible, mind you, but tougher.

CDC Milestones for Speech Language Development

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has a hearing & communicative development checklist that we recommend reviewing (it’s based on the “How Does Your Child Hear & Talk” guide from the American Speech-Language hearing Association). Ultimately though, if you have a concern, it’s best to start exploring interventions right away.

Even if professionals evaluate your child and determine they don’t need Fort Myers speech therapy, it’s better than waiting too long and having the impact of a delay snowball – particularly considering that so many specialists and clinics in Southwest Florida are on extensive waitlists.

As Fort Myers speech therapists, we always urge a proactive approach rather than a reactive one when it comes to a child’s communication skills. Parents sometimes wish they had started the process sooner, but almost never regret starting as soon as they did.

-Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, Speech-Language Pathologist & Owner/Founder of FOCUS Therapy

Some milestones to consider:

Birth to 3 Months

  • Reacts to loud sounds
  • Calms down or smiles when spoken to
  • Recognizes your voice & clams down if crying
  • When feeding, starts or stops sucking in response to sound
  • Coos and makes pleasure sounds
  • Has a special way of crying for different needs
  • Smiles when he/she sees you

4 to 6 Months

  • Follows sounds with eyes
  • Responds to tone of voice changes
  • Notices toys that make sounds
  • Pays attention to music
  • Babbles in a speech-like way with lots of different sounds, including those that begin with p, b, and m
  • Laughs
  • Babbles when happy, excited, or unhappy
  • Gurgles when alone or playing

7 Months to 1 Year

  • Likes playing pat-a-cake & peek-a-boo
  • Turns and looks to where sounds originate
  • Listens when spoken to
  • Understands common words like “milk,” “up,” “cup” etc.
  • Responds to basic requests “come here”
  • Babbles using short and long groups of sounds (upup, bibibi, tata, byeybye)
  • Babbles to get up or to keep attention
  • Communicates with gestures like holding up arms, waving, or even pointing
  • Imitates various speech sounds (even if they don’t make sense)
  • Has 1 or 2 words (Hi, Mama, Dada, Bye-bye)

1-2 Years

  • Knows a few body parts, can point to them if asked
  • Follows simple commands “bring the cup,” “roll the ball” and simple questions, “where is the dog?”
  • Likes simple rhymes, songs, and stories
  • Will point to pictures in books when named
  • Picks up new words on a regular basis
  • Uses some of those 1-2 word questions “Go bye-bye?” “Where doggy?”
  • Can put together 2 basic words “more juice” “want car”
  • Uses different consonant sounds at the start of words

2-3 Years

  • Has words for most everything
  • Uses 2-3-word phrases to talk about and ask for things
  • Can use the d, n, t, f, g, and k sounds
  • Is easily understood when talking to family and friends
  • Can easily name objects to ask for or direct attention to them

3-4 Years

  • Hears when you call from another room
  • Asks simple WH questions (who, what when, where, why)
  • Talks about preschool, grandparents’ house, activities with friends
  • Uses sentences with 4 or more words
  • Speaks easily without having to repeat words or syllables

4-5 Years

  • Pays attention to short stories and can answer basic questions about it
  • Hears & understands most of what is said at home and in school
  • Uses sentences with lots of details
  • Tells stories that stay on topic
  • Communicates easily with adults and other kids
  • Uses rhyming words
  • Names letters and numbers
  • Says most sounds correctly (except for tricky ones like r, s, v, l, ch, z, sh, and th)

These milestones are understood to be when about 90 percent of typically developing kids in a given age range have mastered these skills.

Although we don’t want parents stressing milestones, it’s a good idea to keep track of them because we don’t want them to fall behind.

Also worth noting is that these are just the basic milestones for speech and hearing. There are others that focus on growth, movement, physical development, and literacy. Any kind of concern for speech, language, or hearing issues is best addressed promptly. In addition to in-depth exams, FOCUS also offers free screenings to help you determine if it’s an issue you should raise with your pediatrician.

Should I Be Comparing My Child’s Speech & Language to Other Kids in Their Class?

The answer to this is yes… And no.

Fort Myers speech therapists

Speech Therapists: Say ‘Sayonara’ to the Sippy Cup!

If you ask any parent of young kids whether they’re game for a product that is affordable, reduces spills and messes, and is super convenient, of course you’re going to hear: Yes, Please! Unfortunately, convenience for parents isn’t always what’s best for children. Case-in-point: The sippy cup. Speech therapists who study feeding and swallowing development and speech-language development will tell you: You really should ditch the sippy.

It’s really made more for parents than for kids. Someone got tired of their toddler spilling all Tang on the carpet and the rest is history. Sippy cups are marketed to parents as a necessity. But our Fort Myers speech therapists will beg to differ.

Some things to consider:

  • Overuse of the hard sippy cup spout impedes swallowing development. During the baby’s first year, he or she will primarily use a front-to-back tongue movement to pass liquids and soft solids to the back of their mouth so they can swallow them. Speech therapists call this pattern suckle-swallow. But by the time they get to be about 12 months, their swallow pattern will mature. The tip of the tongue will rise to the bumpy, gum line ridge (where you make the /d/ sound) and begin using wave-like motions. This is what allows them to swallow a greater variety of textured foods. If your child is drinking solely from a sippy cup or bottle, this development milestone can be delayed.
  • “Paci-mouth.” Yes, this refers to the damage that can be caused by overuse of a pacifier, but something similar can occur with sippy cups. If the tongue isn’t able to go up during swallowing, it will generally come to rest in a forward position in the mouth. This can potentially impede speech-language development. If your child only uses a sippy cup very occasionally, this likely won’t be a problem. But for lots of kids, sippy cups are constant companions. Speech-language skills can be stunted for kids who don’t get past that suckle-swallow pattern by the time they’re 1.
  • Facial development delays. There is a muscle in the face called the genioglossus. Heavy use of a sippy cup can impede its development, which can lead to mouth-breathing. Mouth-breathing is associated with slowed facial development.
Fort Myers speech therapists

Cooking Up Some Communication! Tips From FOCUS Speech Therapists on Meal Prep as a Language Booster

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.

Is My Child a Late Bloomer Or Is It A Language Problem? Speech Therapists Weigh In.

All children develop at their own pace and in their own way, each displaying their own strengths. This is as true for speech and language development as it is for anything else. But while the traditional wisdom when it came to late talkers was to simply wait-and-see, medical professionals are increasingly urge parents to have their kids evaluated sooner than later. Our Fort Myers speech therapists encourage the same, knowing that while some kids really are late bloomers, a language problem becomes more difficult to correct the longer you wait.

Sometimes, this message can get a bit muddied when reports of some studies, such as one published by The American Academy of Pediatrics, are reported under headlines such as, “Late Talkers Do Fine as They Grow Up.” This ends up giving many parents a false sense of assurance. That study tended to show little to no lasting behavior or emotional problems associated with late-talking toddlers by age 5. However, it didn’t assess the language outcomes, so it’s a leap to say those kids went on to be “fine.”

Somewhere between 70 percent and 80 percent of toddlers who talk late will outgrow that language delay – but only if it is an expressive language delay (difficulties with verbal and written expression). Those with receptive language delays (understanding what is being said to them) may have a more difficult time. What our speech therapists want parents to bear in mind is that while many toddlers will outgrow a language delay, 20 percent to 30 percent will not – unless they have access to early intervention like speech therapy.

online speech therapy Fort Myers

FOCUS Now Offers Online Speech Therapy for Kids in Fort Myers

Medical providers are increasingly relying on telehealth services to ensure patients' needs are met - by meeting patients where they are. It's been used by nurses, psychologists and therapists too. FOCUS Fort Myers is now among the first providers in Southwest Florida to offer online speech therapy for kids.

Sometimes called virtual therapy or teletherapy, it's any therapy that can be conducted via technological device (iPad, phone, computer, laptop, etc.). FOCUS began offering online speech therapy services sporadically about 18 months ago. Recently, we established our Teletherapy Department, consisting of two pediatric speech therapists who exclusively operate remotely.

"The same diagnoses and conditions that can be treated in our clinic can be treated effectively via teletherapy," said Haley Ott, FOCUS speech-language pathology assistant and director of the Teletherapy Department.

The process is similar to a Face Time call, except it's through a secure, HIPAA-compliant app.

"It's fairly simple from there," FOCUS SLP and TD department founder and executive director Emmi MacIntyre Ring explained. "We provide our clients with a meeting code, the client enters it into their device, and we pop up on their screen and utilize a variety of online platforms to target their therapy goals. It's an evidence-based and supported administration of therapy services that we've found to be extremely convenient and effective for our clients at FOCUS."

Some local schools contract with companies that strictly offer teletherapy services. However, only a small number of private therapy clinics offer it - for now.

In many regions - including Southwest Florida - the need for speech therapists is greater than the supply. The new Advanced Report on Telehealth and Telemedicine Market Analysis Forecast indicates that by 2026, the global market for all telemedicine is expected to exceed $185 million.

The cost for speech teletherapy is the same as an in-clinic visit, and it's covered in FOCUS' contract with Medicaid. We also extend this service to private pay clients, and are working to expand availability for patients in other insurance networks.

Therapists don't need any special training for telehealth services except for use of the app. If there are parent concerns about how attentive a child will be in online speech therapy, we encourage quiet observation of a session or two in the background. After the first few, though, kids usually make more progress when given space to connect one-on-one with their therapist - even from a distance.Fort Myers online speech therapy for kids

Effectiveness of Teletherapy for Speech

Because telehealth is relatively new in the medical field, researchers are still gathering data and anecdotal evidence that will provide definitive proof of its effectiveness. Still, early impressions are that online speech therapy could be a game-changer for many kids who might otherwise be limited in the early intervention services they could receive.

One study found that kids receiving speech teletherapy outperformed control groups and national benchmarks in expressive and receptive language, social pragmatics and articulation skills.

Research published in the spring 2017 edition of the International Journal of Telerehabilitation concluded: "The evidence presented showed that telehealth is a promising service delivery method for delivering speech and language intervention services to school-age children. This alternative service delivery model has the potential to improve access to SLP services for children living in geographically remote areas, reducing travel time and alleviating the detrimental effects of communication difficulties on education, social participation and employment."

In other words: We KNOW that early speech and language communication skills are a strong indicator of a child's future success. The sooner we can treat speech and language deficits, the better off that child will be long-term. Online speech therapy is a way to extend the same services to kids who might have a difficult time to make it to the office everyday.

"The therapy we're offering isn't different - the mode of delivery is," explained Ott. "Many therapists believe that teletherapy is especially beneficial and a superior method for children in schools because it allows for a FULL session, without having to take time out of a session to transport students. More minutes means more progress."

It's also important to note that while screen time for young kids is generally frowned upon, teletherapy is different. While most television and online games deprive kids of key social interaction, the whole point of speech teletherapy is engaging them.

"Teletherapy is led and directed by a licensed, certified clinician, working specifically on therapy goals in a way that is tactical and motivating for each child and their needs," MacIntyre said.

Parent Feedback on FOCUS Online Speech Therapy Program

Parents come to FOCUS Fort Myers from all over Southwest Florida because we are one of the most trusted providers of speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapy in the region. But teletherapy is still fairly new, so it's understandable parents and even some providers would approach it with healthy skepticism. Ott said the primary concern initially is, "What if my child doesn't pay attention?"

"This is 100 percent understandable, and is a concern of ours as well," Ott said. "However, you can apply this question to your child in most situations - including at school and during in-clinic therapy sessions. In school, your child isn't paying attention ALL the time, and in-person therapy at FOCUS isn't always smooth-sailing either. Most children need frequent breaks in order to attend, and online speech therapy is no different."

Elliot Warford, 8, of Fort Myers, has been a speech teletherapy patient for several months now.

"We love teletherapy so much," his mother Crystal Warford said. "It's a more controlled, one-to-one session, as opposed to in the clinic, where there are sometimes distractions. He loves that Haley incorporates games, and he feels more in control when he gets to choose which games to play. And of course for us, it's convenient to be able to cook dinner while he's in therapy."

Teletherapy may not be an option for every child, but we also know for some kids, it can be every bit as effective as in-person sessions. Sometimes children are more engaged in teletherapy sessions than in-person sessions because they get access to functional screen time.

This service makes a big difference for working parents and families constantly ferrying back-and-forth to other appointments and commitments. It increases access to providers, allows for greater transparency (every session can be recorded) and children enjoy it.

"It's a great way to incorporate education with something they like and aid in increasing their development," Ott said.

Andrea Cappuccilli's daughter has been attending speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy at FOCUS for the past several years. Recently, the 7-year-old started doing some of her FOCUS speech therapy sessions online from home.

"Our primary purpose for speech therapy is to work on voice and breathing exercises so that her respiratory system can get stronger," Cappuccilli explained. "Teletherapy at home gives her a solid chance of improving these skills, while allowing her to avoid exposure to illnesses like the flu or RSV that can easily put her in the hospital for weeks."

And her daughter loves it.

"She knows she's doing therapy, but being on a screen - which kids are already all about - makes it seem cool, and like it's on HER terms."

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy and online speech therapy for kids in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

A Pilot Telerehabilitation Program: Delivering Early Intervention Services to Rural Families, Fall 2009, Jana Cason, International Journal of Telerehabilitation

speech therapy

Simple Slime Science Can Be Super Speech-Y!

Speech therapy sessions at FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers are never formal affairs. Children learn best through play – board games, books, puzzles, blocks – and recently, slime-making. speech therapy

While slime itself – slippery, gooey, smooshy, somewhere between liquid and solid – has a lot to offer in terms of sensory integration, the simple process of making it in a therapy session can give children a lot of practice in key skills we’re working to develop.

(And the lessons “stick” because, well – slime is cool!)

We encourage parents to try this – and other simple experiments – at home to get their kids talking!

Down syndrome speech therapy Fort Myers

Children With Down Syndrome Do Better With Speech Therapy

Down syndrome, the most common chromosomal disorder in the world, affects 1 in every 700 children, or about 6,000 annually, a figure representing a 30 percent increase since the 1970s, according to the CDC.

Our Fort Myers speech therapists routinely treat children with Down syndrome, who frequently experience challenges to speech and language development. At minimum, speech is usually delayed, though many can be taught effective sign language to help with communication the first few years and beyond.

Most children with Down syndrome can benefit from speech therapy

Exact challenges and goals for speech therapy often vary depending the severity of certain physiological traits inherent in those with Down syndrome as well as whether they have co-occurring other conditions (to which they are prone) like hearing and vision problems, epilepsy and autism.

Fort Myers speech therapists

Spread The Love: Speech Therapists’ Top Picks for Positive Affirmations for Kids

Our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists must admit: We were a little heartbroken upon learning there would be no more Sweethearts Conversation Candy Hearts this Valentine’s Day (MISS U!). In addition to the fact they can be used in a bunch of fun kids’ speech-language therapy exercises, we had a great idea for a special speech therapy line: TALK 2 ME. I LUV SPCH. WORD UP. LETS LINGO. I HEAR U. SLPZROCK. Not to worry, though – our  speech therapists have other ways of making you talk…

In the spirit of spreading the love (despite being candy heart-less), our speech therapists are sharing some of our favorite positive affirmations for kids. Positive affirmations are the kind of declarations that go a step beyond praise and shine a light on something that is special and inherent in that child. Instead of simply, “Nice work!” we say, “You are a hard worker!” Instead of, “Good job on that one!” we say, “You are so brave to try new things.” Rather than just, “Cool picture!” we might say, “You have such a creative mind!”

Praise and compliments obviously are great too, but positive affirmation is more specific. It shines a light on something that is both inherent and special to that person. It acknowledges the challenge and validates the effort. Positive affirmation can help a child gain the confidence to keep going – even when it gets hard. Research shows that children who receive regular positive affirmations will believe, internalize and be motivated by it. In speech therapy, we often see them excel farther and faster.

The positive affirmation boost is backed by extensive research. One analysis published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that children with cancer who practiced self-affirmation were overall more optimistic and coped better, achieved goals faster and ultimately had better health outcomes. Another study by psychology professors Carnegie Mellon University found that when people are under pressure, they can actually improve their ability to problem-solve by using positive self-affirmations. And a brain scan study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience established that people who practice self affirmation had higher activity levels in areas of the brain associated with reward.

speech-language pathologist

When a Child Doesn’t Respond to Their Name: Speech-Language Pathologist Insights

Most any Fort Myers speech-language pathologist will tell you one of the first questions families of young children ask when inquiring whether certain missed milestones are cause for concern: “What if my child doesn’t respond to his name?”

It’s impossible to give a blanket answer because every child develops at a uniquely individual pace. (It’s also physicians – usually specialists – responsible for the actual diagnosis.) That said, a long-time speech-language pathologist will likely agree: If your child doesn’t respond to his name by the time they turn 1-year-old, it could indicate a developmental delay that requires action. You’ll want to alert your child’s primary care physician and discuss whether the concern warrants referrals for closer evaluation by specialists.

Responding to one’s name is a critical building block of functional communication. This wouldn’t be just a single instance when he couldn’t tear his attention from a riveting show or “selective hearing” in a moment of intense fun. This would be an issue that is consistent and noticeable (at least by you).

What Child’s Failure to Respond to Name Could Mean

Fort Myers speech therapists

Speech Therapists: For Strong Language Development, Talk Your Kid’s Ear Off

Children learn speech and language through immersion. They closely watch your lips and hear the sounds while working to grasp the meaning. When there is a delay or disability that impedes that process, FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists can help – but that doesn’t mean you should stop talking.

A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals that when adults regularly engage young children in conversation, those kids will have stronger connections between the two developing regions of the brain known to be critical to language development.

This discovery held true even when researchers controlled for parental education and income, meaning engaging your children from a young age can help give them a language skills boost regardless of socioeconomic status.This is significant because many prior studies dating back to the early 1990s have established a so-called “word gap” when between children of disparate socioeconomic means. Those who grow up in lower-income households tend to have heard an estimated 30 million fewer words in their lives compared to classmates of more affluent means by the time they reach the ages of 4-6. Thusfar, it’s not been proven that the link is causal, but even if it were, this new research suggests to our pediatric Fort Myers speech therapists it can be overcome when parents devote the time to chatting their kids up at every opportunity.