What should I do if I suspect my child to have a speech/language delay?
First, it is important to discuss any suspected speech or language delays with your child's pediatrician. Your pediatrician should know general pediatric guidelines for speech and language development. However, pediatricians often have different opinions about when to make a referral to a speech/language pathologist. Some like to take a "wait and see" approach, while other pediatricians will make an immediate referral. It is my opinion that immediate referral for an evaluation (even if that is all that is done) is always appropriate if a parent suspects a speech/language delay. Generally, a parent's instinct that development is delayed or disordered is often correct. In addition, if your child truly has a speech/language delay or disorder, receiving early treatment may prevent significant frustration and/or behavioral difficulties from developing associated with inability to communicate. The speech/language pathologist may have suggestions for facilitating communication until speech or language skills improve. Before a speech and language evaluation is conducted, a hearing screening or test should be conducted to rule out a hearing loss.
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What can I expect at my child's speech/language evaluation?
Generally, the clinician will request background information from you regarding the mothers pregnancy (any complications), the birth/delivery, and any significant medical events or history (such as chronic ear infections). The clinician will want to know if there is any family history of speech/language disorders, and what the parent feels is the problem. If not already done, a hearing screening or evaluation will be conducted to rule out hearing loss as a cause for speech/language delay or disorder. Clinicians may have unique testing styles and/or protocols, however generally the clinician will combine standardized and informal testing to evaluate the child according to age/ability. There are many standardized tests for speech and language ability which could be administered. (Many of these are similar to the intelligence tests that you may have received when you were in elementary school). The informal testing is usually done during play. The clinician may prefer to watch the parent-child interact, or may interact with the child directly to observe "real world" reactions and communication skills. Often the clinician will videotape, or audio tape record the session for later analysis. The clinician may request information about typical communication at home/school, etc. Generally, the clinician will take a language sample, and record communication during the evaluation. Communication is both verbal and nonverbal. It includes not only what/how communication is expressed, but understanding words/sentences as well. When the evaluation is completed and analyzed (this can take some time), the clinician will make a diagnosis and recommendations.
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What causes a speech and language disorder?
Although this question is frequently asked, it is often not easy to answer. There are multitudes of possible "causes" for a speech and/or language disorder in children. Some are very obvious, and some are unfortunately still unknown, or at least uncertain. Some common causes are: hearing loss; chronic ear infections as an infant/toddler or child; congenital birth defects; brain injury before, during, or after birth; traumatic brain injury or stroke; syndromes; mental retardation; language or learning disabilities; auditory processing disorder; delayed development related to prematurity; oral-motor weakness or disorders; motor planning disorder; sensory processing disorders; physical deformities; and muscle disorders to name a few. There is a disorder called "specific language impairment" which means that there is no underlying cause for a language impairment (or the impairment is specific to language only). Some children are delayed in language/communication for no apparent reason. They may be developing in a typical progression, just delayed. In my experience, I have found that boys are more often within the category of speech/language delayed than girls. It is my opinion that boys in general tend to be "wired" for nonverbal tasks better than verbal tasks. Sometimes, they just need a "jump start" to get the communication/language part of the brain moving! Of course, this can be the case in both genders.
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What is a Speech/Language Pathologist?
A speech/language Pathologist is a licensed and certified (or temporarily certified) clinician specializing in speech and language disorders. The speech pathologist will evaluate, diagnose, and treat a variety of speech/language disorders, oral-motor and swallowing disorders. The credentials include state licensure, which is generally obtained through completing a 2-year graduate level program in speech/language pathology from an accredited college or university to obtain a masters level degree or higher, followed by a 9-month certified fellowship year (CFY). The clinician will be directly supervised from a licensed certified Speech Pathologist. In addition, the clinician must pass a state and/or national examination. After all of this is completed, the clinician is eligible for the "Certificate of Clinical Competence" from the national organization "American Speech/language and Hearing Association" (ASHA). Recently, due to the increased demand and caseloads, a new sub-field has been established. There are now Speech/language pathology assistants. The assistants must be monitored by a speech/language pathologist, and can only implement a plan that an SLP has already developed. They are not eligible to evaluate or diagnose clients.
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Because of the variety of possible speech/language disorders and populations, many speech/language pathologists specialize in specific area's such as: fluency, voice, early intervention, swallowing disorders, oral motor disorder's, oral-facial myology (tongue thrust/orthodontic related), communication development, speech/articulation disorders, language disorders, hearing impairment, augmentative communication, cognitive-communicative disorders, pragmatic or social language disorders (i.e. autistic spectrum), auditory processing, traumatic brain injury, multiply handicapped, or motor planning disorders.
How to Help Your Child Learn to Talk Better In Everyday Activities
There’s help for children who have delayed or disordered speech or language development, apraxia of speech and other articulation difficulties, and other issues that slow down this developmental process. Parents and others can help a toddler, preschooler, or older child speak better and develop language skills by using specific techniques. This eBook provides clear explanations, information, and lots of examples.