Speech, language and communication difficulties are on the rise amongst children in the United Kingdom. Many parents are asking the question, “how do I know if my child needs speech therapy?”. Let’s dive into what you can expect with speech therapy for toddlers and guidelines to look out for.
How to identify speech therapy for toddlers
No one knows a child better than their parents. As you observe your child grow through their first critical 3 years of development, you might wonder about their development of communication skills. Non-verbal and verbal communication can both be good early indicators of your child’s speech and language skills. Usually, you should be able to observe the following early speech and language signs that can be seen during play and when interacting with your child:
Your child can focus his attention on an object with another individual (joint attention)
Your child utilises eye contact and modulates facial expressions (ie. smiling when happy) by responding to stimulation such as sounds and gestures
Your child plays and engages in daily activities and routines
Your child babbles and vocalises
When a child is unable to communicate their wants and needs either through verbal or non-verbal communication, they will likely demonstrate frustration. This frustration will look differently for each child. Some children or toddlers will cry because their needs aren’t being met due to difficulty communicating. While others may shut down and not want to use their words as they view this as a consistent barrier to getting their family members and peers to fulfil their wants and needs.
When should you start speech therapy for a toddler?
For each age group, communication milestones have been defined, but they don’t tell the whole story. As the child’s brain grows and matures, foundational speech and language skills plant their initial roots and evolve. Early cries shift to babbling and eventually parents are met with pure joy as they hear their child’s first word spoken (late talkers have more patience than their parents and sometimes wait until they are just about a year or a bit later to produce their first word!).
It is important to note that NOT all children achieve each milestone at the same time and comparing your child to their sibling or a peer may alarm you that the child needs speech therapy. If your child is showing signs that they won’t achieve speech and language age-expected milestones, and this interrupting their daily communication with familiar and unfamiliar people, you might want to reach out to professional for a clinical assessment.
Your paediatrician may provide a referral for a speech and language assessment, but because they aren’t speech and language professionals, trust your gut. If the red flags tell you that your child may need an assessment, it is best to advocate on behalf of their needs by looking for an SLT (UK) or SLP (US) to conduct an initial assessment. The assessment will be able to identify if speech therapy for toddlers is needed.
Is speech therapy normal for toddlers?
Peace of mind can be achieved if your child may, for example, simply be a “late talker.” If your child is school age, the teacher may be the first to notice a potential issue, as the classroom environment and curriculum can shed light on speech and language issues that may be overlooked by the familiar listener at home. It is best practices that you are referred for an audiological screening (if one hasn’t already been conducted recently) to rule out any hearing difficulties that may be impacting speech and language challenges.
What does a toddler do in speech therapy?
Your speech and language professional will need to complete an assessment of your child’s communication skills in order to gain a better perspective of their needs. An assessment will last 45 minutes, looking at a range of areas in speech and language, communication skills; attention and listening skills, play and social interaction skills, the child’s understanding of language, use of language and speech sounds they have acquired.
The information gathered will be used to create a therapy plan and will guide your child’s speech therapy sessions. These targets are shared with the parent, so they are aware of the end goal.
Usually, a speech therapy session lasts between 30-45 minutes and consists of 1 to 4 engaging exercises. During a session, your speech professional will use various exercises and provide strategies that are tailored to your child’s need. Your speech professional will work with you toward the goals defined during your assessment.
In between sessions, your speech professional can suggest exercises and strategies for you to continue to practice at home and maximise your child’s success rate. Similar to what a physiotherapist would do. Your speech and language professional can be contacted via email with any concerns or difficulties you may encounter throughout your communication journey.
For more information about speech and language milestones and guidance on when to seek out help from an SLT/SLP, read more here or contact our clinical team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tanya van der Merwe
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