Is my child on track with speech and language? This was the question I asked as one of my children grew to be a toddler. Something seemed to be blocking his language development, and it was evident in his speech.
Speech and language development in children are two separate issues, with many overlapping and contributing factors. Determining the root of the delay or problem is not an easy job (even for the professionals), and due diligence is required by parents and caregivers.
It took me years as a parent to sort through the tests, diagnoses, and therapies to find a plan that worked for my child and his speech. Hindsight, however, taught me that parental instincts and perseverance are just as valuable as medical intervention.
What is the difference between speech and language development?
In order determine if your child is on track with speech and language development it is important to understand the differences between language and speech.
Language – the set of rules, including grammar, nonverbal, and written communication. It is the use of communication to effectively translate ideas.
Speech – talking with the coordination of muscles in the mouth and vocal chords to produce sounds. It is just one way to express language.
Is my child’s speech and language on track?
While speech and language are two different issues, they are closely related and overlap. My first clue that something was amiss was the loss of language. My son actually began using fewer words to communicate and began to rely more on nonverbal communication. The second clue was a change in speech as he began to hum more often and his enunciation became less clear. I desperately sought answers from his pediatrician who told me he was just “going through a phase”. Then I looked elsewhere and found the following great developmental guidelines.
NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders). This site highlights various milestones for which parents should monitor, and provides detailed descriptions of speech and language delays and disabilities.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association - This organization provides support and information for parents, caregivers, and professionals.
If you are concerned about the speech or language development of your child, there are several places to which you can turn in your efforts.
Pediatrician – Bring up concerns at well-baby visits, but also don’t hesitate to make an appointment specifically for your concerns. (Our first pediatrician was not helpful, but we found one eventually who was – perseverance.)
Audiology testing services – These services include detailed hearing screens and thorough evaluations of how well the ears are functioning for hearing. Our local city has an audiology testing department as a part of the state university program.
Audiologist – Through more intensive screening an audiologist can help diagnose or rule out hearing issues that may or may not be causing the speech or language delays. Our audiologist helped us determine that drainage tubes in both ears were needed.
Speech and Language Pathologists – These are specialists who basically listen to your children. Through communicating with them and asking you questions about communication habits, they can diagnose delays and what might be the root causes.
Specialized Medical Professionals – Some speech and language delays are related to other medical conditions, so thorough exams in neurology and other fields may be required.
What if my child needs speech therapy?
If your child needs extra help, don’t worry – speech therapy is a good thing. It is one of the least invasive interventions we can provide for our children when they are struggling, and it can vastly improve their abilities to communicate. Our first speech therapist emphasized how the principals of speech therapy are beneficial to all children as they develop their communication skills.
Check with your local school district for qualified speech therapists. Our son was diagnosed with an extremely rare disfluency and no one in the region of the state had ever treated it.
Check with your insurance company for what is covered. Again, because our son’s condition was so rare insurance left us on our own. However, our speech therapist was very compassionate and taught us some of the techniques so we could use them at home and gave us a referral to a specialist in another part of the state.
Connect with speech and language organizations. We contacted the Stuttering Foundation (our son’s condition is a rare form of stuttering) and they connected us with ideas and support.
Helping our children learn to communicate is one of the most important things we can do. When challenges like speech and language delays and disorders exist, it makes our job even more important.