Speech Pathologists: How can they help my child and when should I seek support?

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A speech therapist (you may have also heard the terms speech therapist, speech therapist, or speech therapist) is basically a specialist in communication and swallowing. Speech-language pathologists have a role to play in helping clients with communication and swallowing from birth, through to care of the elderly, but let’s focus on the early years.

How can a speech therapist help my child (specifically from birth to kindergarten)?

The role of a speech therapist can be very varied, we can support children in many areas. Some of the main areas of speech therapy for children from birth to kindergarten include:

  • Speech/articulation: maybe the sounds your child is making are not clear (i.e. sound substitution, lisping), maybe you/others are having difficulty understanding what your child is saying .
  • Tongue: perhaps your child is not putting the words together to express his needs at a stage that one would expect for his age; or maybe they have difficulty understanding/understanding what you/others are telling them.

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  • Ease: Perhaps your child stutters and repeats sounds, words or sentences when he speaks, which has an impact on the flow of his communication.
  • Literacy: Perhaps your child struggles with early phonological awareness skills (like rhyming, syllable beats) that are essential to prepare for preparation and eventually learn to read and write.
  • Swallow/eat: perhaps your child has difficulty swallowing or has difficulty integrating a varied diet (i.e. restricted food preferences, restricted textures or flavors).
  • Social Communication: maybe your child struggles with social communication/pragmatic language (i.e. making and maintaining friendships, not picking up on non-verbal cues like body language, facial expression and tone of voice).

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Let’s talk about the difference between “speech” and “tongue” because they are very commonly used interchangeably, but they are very different! Speech refers to the sounds we produce, the way we use our mouths to articulate sounds. Tongue refers to the whole system of words and symbols (written language, spoken language, gestures, body language), which we use to communicate meaning. Language can also be broken down into two domains: receptive languagewhich is how we understand/comprehend language, and expressive languageit’s what we say and how we say it.

When to consult a speech therapist?

Speech Pathology Australia has a wonderful, easy-to-read milestone poster (found below) that outlines what we expect of children with their speech and understanding, from 12 months to 5 years old. If your child is not meeting their communication milestones, it would be a good idea to speak with a speech-language pathologist to determine if therapy is needed. You can call Speech Pathology Australia (1300 368 835) for advice, or you can contact a community health center or private practice for further advice about your child’s specific needs.

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In addition to the key stages of communication, if you are concerned about how well your child’s speech is understood by others, here are some basic guidelines on how well a child’s speech is understood by unfamiliar listeners. i.e. a new educator, Grandma’s friend):

  • At 18 months – about 25% of a child’s speech should be understood
  • By age 2 – about 50-75% of a child’s speech should be understood
  • By 3 years old – about 75-100% of a child’s speech should be understood
  • At 4 years old – 100% of a child’s speech must be understood

Trust your instincts – if you think your child is not where they should be in any of the areas listed above, contact and talk to a speech therapist who can give you strategies and advice on how to worth starting therapy. Don’t “wait” until it’s too late – early intervention is key!

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Courtesy of Speech Pathology Australia


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