As a school based clinician, I see children of all ages and abilities. On one end of the spectrum I have toddlers entering preschool. On the other side are middle school students preparing to enter high school. By far, the most challenging aspect of my job is telling parents that their child has a speech delay. Sometimes parents are aware that their child is delayed. Other times this information comes as a surprise and it can be devastating. As a parent, I understand the hope that parents have for their children. When a speech and language delay is revealed, your entire world can shift. When you receive testing scores that indicate a delay, what does it mean?
Remain calm – Don’t overthink this, mommas. A speech delay is diagnosed through the use of standardized testing. Test scores are presented that show your child performing at a much lower level than his peers. This context is really important to keep in mind – these scores are in relation to peers of the same age and gender. Children may not perform to the best of their abilities when asked to do a series of tasks by an unfamiliar SLP. Consider the results, and then shift your attention to your child and work to improve his skills at home.
Speech and language delays can result from lack of exposure. Of late, I have seen many toddlers who are delayed in speech due to lack of exposure. Due to COVID restrictions these children have not have the chance to interact with peers or attend programs outside the home. These children may enter preschool without any prior knowledge of colors, letters, numbers, or any real experience interacting with peers, resulting in that child displaying skills below age level expectations. With the right instruction and support these children often improve their speech and language before entering Kindergarten.
Stuttering and fluency disorders are often observed in children before age 5. Childhood disfluency affects boys more than girls. If you practice clear and fluency at home, you can help your child overcome these disfluencies early in life. For more information about childhood stuttering and what you can do at home, click here.
Articulation errors are often evident when you hear a young child speak – and some errors are expected depending on the age of the child. Children develop speech sounds and outgrow phonological processes as they get older. When the errors do not resolve and begin to impact the child’s ability to communicate and learn, consult an SLP. Again, due to COVID, many children have been at homebound and have missed opportunities to improve speech sounds through interaction with peers. To see a chart of speech sound development, click here.
Realize your impact – By far, parents are the biggest influence in a child’s life. You are the speech and language model that your child hears on a daily basis. Your child is absorbing the language you use and how you use it. Research suggests that much of the groundwork for learning and brain development happens in a child’s first 3 years of life. Does this mean language development does occur after age 3? Of course not! But the earlier you start to target language skills, the better.
Model great speech at home – Speech therapy is wonderful. It is even more impactful if you incorporate those skills into everyday life. Model grammatically correct and complete sentences at home. Introduce new vocabulary words to your child. Sign up for a weekly activity at the local library or a kids sport club to allow your child the chance to interact with peers. Take a break from screens – educational TV programs are helpful but allowing your child the chance practice language skills with a real person is more beneficial! These simple steps can help your child overcome a speech delay. For more activities, click here.