Speech Therapy for Kids: Enhancing Communication Skills
May 22, 2023
What is Kids Speech Therapy? | Speech and Language Disorders in Children | Who Is Speech Therapy For? | Signs and Symptoms | Best Age for Speech Therapy | What Do Speech Therapists Do? | Benefits | Choosing a SPL | Techniques & Activities | FAQs
When your child struggles with their speech and language skills, it can be a source of concern and frustration for everyone involved.
Thankfully, support is available for children with speech disorders. Speech and language pathologists (SLPs) are trained to assess and treat speech and language problems in children. They’re also sometimes referred to as speech therapists, or speech-language therapists.
Many children benefit from kids’ speech therapy services. Speech and language skills are complex, and take time to develop. They can be challenging for some children to master without support and guidance.
It may be tempting to adopt a “wait and see” approach to your child’s speech issues. But research shows the earlier speech issues are identified and treated, the better. Early intervention of speech issues in children often leads to more positive outcomes.
If your child experiences a speech problem, you’re not alone. In fact, a survey from the Center for Disease Control found nearly 8% of children aged 3-17 years had some type of communication disorder.
This guide will offer an overview of speech therapy for parents in need. It will help you understand how SLPs help children with speech and language issues, your role in speech therapy, and how to choose the right SLP for your child.
What is Speech Therapy for Kids?
Speech therapy treats children with speech and language disorders. Some children have both speech and language disorders.
Speech therapy for children takes many forms, depending on the child receiving treatment.
Speech therapists tailor their assessments and treatments to each child they see. This is because no two children or speech issues are exactly alike.
Speech therapy is used to:
- Improve expressive language skills
- Enhance speech intelligibility
- Improve understanding of social cues
- Promote understanding of language
- Enhance vocabulary
- Improve peer relationships through communication
- Promote the ability to learn in a regular educational setting
The main goal of speech therapy for children is to improve communication skills. Speech is a major way we interact with the world. Targeting speech skills helps children engage with caregivers to get their needs met. It also helps them enjoy a full, inclusive educational experience.
Children with speech and language issues often struggle with self expression. This can lead to reduced self image, withdrawal, and less opportunities.
Communication skills build upon one another as children develop. That’s why it’s important to identify speech and language issues as early as possible. An SLP can help your child catch up with same-aged peers in communication skills development. They can support your child in building foundational skills, in order to meet future milestones.
Speech therapists assess communication skills and create treatment plans to target areas of need. They are qualified to target speech skills, expressive and receptive language, voice, and fluency. Let’s explore some common communication disorders in children.
Common Speech and Language Disorders in Children
Parents, educators, and pediatricians are often the first to notice issues with children’s speech and language skills. A speech pathologist can evaluate these skills and develop a treatment plan if necessary.
There are many common speech and language conditions in children. SLPs are qualified to assess these and determine their severity. Once a speech and language issue is evaluated and diagnosed, treatment can begin.
Below, let’s discuss common speech and language disorders in children.
Speech Sound Disorders
Speech sound disorders impact the ability to form the sounds for speech. Common speech sounds disorders include articulation disorders and phonological disorders.
Children with articulation disorders struggle to accurately and consistently produce sounds when speaking.
Children with phonological disorders misunderstand the rules that govern spoken language. They make speech errors as a result of this confusion.
Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is another type of speech sound disorder. In CAS, the brain has difficulty coordinating and producing the movements for clear and accurate speech.
Language disorders can impact both expressive and receptive communication skills. Expressive language involves what we say. Receptive language is what we understand and how we process language.
Language disorders can seriously affect a child’s ability to interact with others and the world around them.
Dyslexia, autism, specific language impairment, and auditory processing disorder are language disorders.
Fluency disorders impact the flow and rate of speech production. Stuttering is the most common fluency disorder in children. Many children go through a stuttering phase in their speech and language development. When stuttering persists or worsens, a speech therapist can treat the issue.
The voice is a complex instrument. Some children need support to learn to use their voices well, and avoid injury to their vocal cords. Others are born with conditions that impact their vocal function.
Laryngomalacia is a birth defect of the voice box that affects how the voice sounds.
Children who form poor vocal habits can damage their vocal system and cause issues like vocal nodules. Shouting, straining, and speaking in an altered pitch can cause these issues.
Who Is Speech Therapy For?
Speech therapy is a valuable tool to enhance communication skills. Many children benefit from speech therapy services.
Children with diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, cleft palate, and ADHD often receive treatment from an SLP. SLP treatment enhances communication skills in children with these diagnoses.
SLP treatment can benefit children with these diagnoses in the following ways:
Children With Autism
Enhances social skills, improves emotional recognition, promotes effective receptive and expressive language skills, augments communication for success, creating routines and schedules to minimize behaviors.
Children With Cleft Palate
Improving speech intelligibility, sound production, and voicing.
Children With ADHD
Improving awareness and self monitoring skills, reduces impulsivity, improves focus and concentration, makes accommodations for success in the classroom, improves time management.
Speech and language treatment is also provided based on outward symptoms and needs. For example, if a child’s speech and language development lags behind their same-aged peers, speech therapy may be warranted. If a child struggles to communicate, produce sounds, or develop important language skills, SLP treatment can help.
When there’s doubt, an SLP assessment helps determine if further treatment is needed to target speech and language skills.
Signs and Symptoms of Speech and Language Disorders in Children
Speech and language skill development begins in the first moments of your child’s life. Early skills lay the foundation for higher level skills, as your child builds a communication system. This development occurs from infancy through young adulthood.
But how can parents tell if their child has a speech or language disorder?
Children all develop at their own pace. But a range of developmental norms for speech and language skills exists. Knowing these can help you understand if your child is on track or lagging behind in these skills.
For example, a child of three who isn’t combining words is below benchmark expectations for speech and language development. But, struggling to pronounce the /r/ sound at this age is normal, as this sound is usually mastered later.
Other signs and symptoms of speech and language issues in children include:
- Delayed speech development
- Pronunciation difficulties that persist beyond normal limits for sound acquisition
- Pronunciation difficulties that persist beyond normal limits for sound acquisition
- Difficulty understanding and following instructions
- Difficulty recognizing and naming letters
- Difficulty rhyming or identifying rhymes
- Difficulty telling stories or relating events
- Lack of babbling or sound play in babies
It’s true that some typically-developing children are late talkers. But a child of two should have a vocabulary of around 50 words and have begun combining words into basic sentences.
If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, reach out for support and guidance. Your child’s pediatrician or school can put you in touch with an SLP to assess your child’s speech and language skills.
What Age Should a Child Go to Speech Therapy?
There’s no set age at which your child should attend speech and language therapy. Speech therapy services are based around your child’s needs. If your child is struggling with speech, language, or communication skills, speech therapy is a way to address these issues. Working with an SLP can help your child develop key skills to succeed in education and in life.
If you notice your child struggles with their communication skills and have concerns, it’s appropriate to ask for advice and support. Your child’s pediatrician and teachers can offer you guidance and even connect you with therapists to evaluate and treat your child.
Early intervention with a speech-language pathologist can help your child meet developmental norms. Early treatment is important for conditions like autism, speech and language delays, dyslexia, literacy, and ADHD. The sooner these issues can be diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes tend to be.
Pediatric speech therapists provide assessment and treatment to children from infancy through preschool. School-based SLPs work with school systems to offer speech and language services within the school setting.
Your child’s communication skills begin developing from the moment they’re born. That’s why speech therapy can occur as early as it needs to in order to help your child master the skills they need to succeed.
It can be valuable for parents to learn about developmental norms for speech and language development. This way, you can understand if your child is on track to meet these milestones or is at risk of falling behind and in need of some extra support.
What Do Speech Therapists Do?
When a speech or language problem is suspected, a speech-language pathologist can investigate and treat the issue. The process of speech therapy begins with a thorough evaluation. This allows the SLP to understand your child’s communication strengths and weaknesses.
SLPs use both standardized and informal assessments to develop a clear picture of a child’s speech and language needs. The information gained provides the framework for treatment.
Your child’s speech therapy may focus on improving their speech intelligibility. It may work to treat specific sounds and sound combinations your child struggles to pronounce. It may focus on their understanding of nonverbal communication and social cues. It may target their vocabulary or ability to self monitor their speech for errors.
The timing, goals, and plan for treatment will be unique to your child, and based on their needs.
Your child’s speech and language therapist will involve you in the process, to give you a clear understanding of what your child is working on and why.
Benefits of Speech Therapy for Kids
Speech therapy benefits many children with speech and language problems and disorders. Left unaddressed, speech and language issues can negatively impact a child’s life and education.
Speech therapy helps children master the communication skills needed to engage with the world.
Depending on the focus on speech and language therapy, benefits can include:
- Improved speech clarity and intelligibility
- Enhanced language and vocabulary skills
- Increased confidence and self-esteem
- Improved social interactions and peer relationships
- Improved reading and writing skills
- Enhanced ability to express inner thoughts and feelings
How to Choose a Speech Therapist for Your Child
Choosing a speech therapist for your child may involve a referral from your pediatrician or school system. If your child is of school age, your school system likely has an SLP on staff or in their network for referrals.
In some cases, parents select a speech pathologist to assess their child. Some speech therapists work in private practice, while others work in school and hospital systems.
The speech therapy process typically begins with an in-person or virtual meeting with your child’s SLP to gain and share information. This is a great opportunity to ask your SLP questions and to get to know them. Talking with your child’s SLP will help you decide if this is the right person to work with your child.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most speech therapists happily welcome parents in the therapy process. Parental involvement is especially important in early interventions.
Techniques and Activities Used in Speech Therapy
Speech therapists use many different techniques, approaches and speech therapy games for kids in therapy.
Speech therapists treating speech sound production may use:
Going over specific speech sounds in a structured way to promote mastery.
Targeting speech sounds in the context of fun board games, or activities like Red Light, Green Light or Simon Says.
A speech therapist may use a model of the mouth to show children where and how specific sounds are made. They will create word lists based on the target productions and have a child review these multiple times. They may also use videos and modeling to show a child where specific sounds are made.
During speech therapy, SLPs provide feedback and encourage kids to self rate their speech sound productions.
Language therapy often involves activities like:
Reading aloud, being read to, or creating and telling stories is a powerful tool in language therapy. Stories involve structure and an awareness of audience needs. Shared book reading is a great way to promote emergent literacy skills.
Games that involve understanding and following directions, working together, reading, and using language are a great way to keep kids engaged and motivated in therapy. This includes games like Musical Chairs, Simon Says, scavenger hunts, charades, and word and trivia games.
Language skills must be reviewed and practiced for mastery. Practice can include worksheets, drills, home activities, exercises, and one-on-one work with your SLP.
Sharing a task is a way to build attention and language skills, through a shared goal. This can include reading, playing a game, or performing a task like blowing bubbles or playing with Play-Doh.
For children working on social language skills, social scripts are a way to enhance awareness and recognition of social cues. These are typically story-based and address a child’s recognition of social cues and norms like how close to stand, voice volume, and what’s appropriate and not. It can also target skills like reading emotions based on facial expressions and picking up on common social cues. Social scripts allow SLPs to target these skills explicitly with children with autism and other conditions that impact social language skills.
SLPs also use aids and devices that offer alternative augmentative communication (AAC) for children in need. AAC devices can range in complexity from picture boards to interactive computer systems. They’re designed to supplement and enhance the communication skills of the user.
SLPs also use tools like Forbrain to complement and enhance their therapy sessions. Forbrain supports speech and language learning by providing auditory feedback and supporting retention. This can be a powerful tool to support speech therapy progress. It can help children who struggle with pronunciations or understanding what’s said.
Speech therapy for kids can be provided one-on-one, with parental involvement, or in a group. It can take place in the home, in school, or in a clinic.
Speech therapists try to build children’s preferences into their sessions. This can mean using games, toys, and activities a child likes in therapy. Speech therapists know it’s important to keep children motivated in therapy and to build rapport.
The Benefits of Using Forbrain in Speech Therapy
Children who struggle with auditory processing and speech skills can benefit from tools like Forbrain.
Forbrain is an auditory stimulation headset that provides instant feedback to wearers on their speech. This can improve a child’s awareness of their speech sounds. It can help them self-monitor and modify their speech for accuracy.
Speech therapists can use Forbrain to promote holistic learning and mastery of speech and language skills. It can be folded into typical sessions to enhance auditory processing of information and the ability to self–correct.
Some kids learn best auditorily. They benefit from repetition to retain information and notice errors. Auditory feedback can improve pronunciation, inflection, and speech fluency. It can also promote recall and promote new brain pathways.
Studies have shown that hearing the sound of our own voice empowers our ability to monitor the words we produce. This feedback is important both in pronunciation and meaning.
Forbrain can enhance a child’s auditory feedback loops. This can improve comprehension and the ability to recognize and correct errors in speech and voicing.
How Can I Do Speech Therapy with My Child at Home?
When your child sees a speech-language pathologist, you may wonder about your role in the therapy process. Most SLPs are happy to welcome parental involvement in therapy, as it’s been shown to lead to better outcomes for children in therapy.
Your involvement in your child’s speech therapy can take many forms. Your speech therapy will offer guidance and support for both you and your child. They’ll train you in strategies to support your child at home in their speech therapy goals. They can even provide you with carryover materials so you have activities to work on with your child at home.
Your collaboration with your child’s speech therapist will take into account your child’s unique speech therapy goals and needs. It will also include their preferences, as motivated kids are more likely to participate in therapy.
Depending on your child’s goals, your SLP may provide you with worksheets, exercises, games, books, or flash cards to use with your child at home.
For younger children, parents can promote speech and language skill development by simply responding to your child. Label items for your child, explain to them what you’re doing, read to them, and involve them in back-and-forth conversations. Even sharing attention with your child on a task or activity can support their development of communication skills.
When your young child needs enticement, use communication temptations to encourage them to ask for what they want. For example, blow some bubbles for your child and then stop. Encourage your child to use their communication and language skills to request more.
Speech Therapy for Kids FAQs
You may have questions about speech therapy and your child. It’s normal for parents to want to know more about how this type of therapy works and what it entails.
Here are answers to some common questions about speech therapy for kids.
How long does speech therapy usually last?
The length of your child’s speech therapy plan depends on their needs, goals, and motivation. Your speech therapist determines long and short term goals, and tracks your child’s progress. They’ll communicate with you throughout the process, and you should reach out for information and questions as needed.
How frequently should my child attend speech therapy sessions?
This also depends on your child’s speech therapy needs and goals. Sessions can take place daily, weekly, or a few times per week. Your child should attend as many scheduled sessions as possible, to ensure they stay on track to reach their goals.
Can speech therapy be conducted online?
Nowadays, many speech therapists offer virtual sessions. An evaluation is typically conducted in person. Your child’s SLP may need to conduct sessions in person, depending on what they’re targeting. Discuss telehealth sessions with your speech therapist to see if they’re an option.
Can parents do home exercises or activities to support their child’s progress?
Yes! Research supports parental involvement in speech therapy for children, especially during early intervention. Speak with your child’s SLP to see how you can partner in therapy.
How can I determine if my child needs speech therapy?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s speech and language development, reach out for help and guidance. Educators and pediatricians are great sources of info. They can also connect parents with appropriate support services if needed.
What can I do to improve my child’s speech?
Seeking out the expertise of a speech pathologist is the first step in improving your child’s speech. Your SLP will guide and support you in enhancing your child’s speech skills and keep you informed about their goals and progress in therapy.
Parents can support children’s speech in many ways. Involve them in conversations, encourage verbal expression of needs, and model correct pronunciations. Playing games is a fun way to target speech skills in a way that feels natural and motivating for your child. Ask your speech therapist for specific tools and strategies to support your child’s speech at home.
How long does it usually take to see improvements in my child’s speech and language skills with speech therapy?
Again, this depends on your child’s speech therapy needs and goals. Many children make noticeable gains quickly, given the support of a speech-language pathologist. Sometimes, parents notice improvements in just a few sessions.
Speech therapy is a powerful tool to support children’s speech and language development. It’s a key support service for children with autism, dyslexia, stuttering, and apraxia. Speech therapy also supports children with articulation and phonological disorders. It can even target literacy skills and problems with swallowing!
Speech therapy offers long-term benefits for children’s social, emotional, and educational development.
If you have questions about your child’s speech and language skills, ask your child’s pediatrician or teacher about speech therapy. They can connect you with a speech therapist and help coordinate next steps. Speech therapists are skilled professionals who are dedicated to helping children succeed. Your child deserves access to the support services they need to thrive.
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