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What Parents Need to Know About Speech Delay and Starting Speech Therapy

Guest post by Holly Sanford, RN, BSN, CPEN

If you find yourself wondering if your child’s language development is normal, you are not alone. Read the tips below to learn what parents need to know about speech delays and starting speech therapy.

Most parents regularly observe their little one’s speech and language development but may not always know when development is delayed. As parents we are often comparing our child’s speech to older siblings, peers, or extended family and friends children. Speech and language development delays may be caused by a variety of disorders, including oral-motor problems, hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, autism, etc. Identifying whether your child has speech delay can be challenging since children learn language at different paces and may go through stages earlier or later than peers. Thus, a wide range of normal exists even though children go through the same stages of speech development.

What Parents Need to Know About Speech Delay

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, or ASHA, a child’s language development will depend on the natural ability to learn language, other skills the child may be developing, how much vocabulary the child hears day to day and how others respond to the child’s words or actions. Children growing up in bilingual households often times are delayed as they are learning two languages at once! 

What Parents Need to Know About Speech Delay and Starting Speech Therapy

Read below to learn a few milestones and when to see a specialist.  All children should have hearing testing at birth, and if they refer on those tests, they need to be followed up.  If you worry that your child’s speech is not progressing, the first step is to get a hearing test at your pediatrician’s office or at an ENT office. 

If there is hearing loss, that needs to be identified and corrected prior to considering speech and language therapy.  When you see the speech therapist they will be interested in determining if your child has a receptive language delay (doesn’t understand what you are telling them or follow commands) or expressive language delay (can’t express themselves but able to understand and follow commands (e.g. pick up the ball).

Common Milestones

While this is not an exhaustive list, below are some of the speech and language milestones from birth through age five as provided by the ASHA.

0-3 months: makes cooing sounds, startles at loud sounds, smiles at people

4-6 months: moves eyes in the direction of sounds, makes speech-like babbling, giggles

7 months-1 year: turns and looks in the direction of sounds, babbles longer strings of sounds, uses sound to gain attention, points to objects, starts to respond to simple words

1-2 years: uses many new words, able to point to some body parts, responds to simple questions, asks simple questions, uses p, b, m, h, and w in words

2-3 years: understands new words, uses a word for most things, understood by people who know child, follows 2-part directions, uses k, g, f, t d, and n,

3-4 years: uses more pronouns and plural words, understood by most people, understands words for shapes and colors, talks about what happened during the day

4-5 years: understands words for time and order, names, letters and numbers, understands most of what is heard from others, follows classroom instructions, may still have trouble with sounds like l, s, r, v, z, ch, sh and th.

Speech Therapy

Starting Speech Therapy

If your child is beginning speech therapy, ask if you and your little one can visit the learning space prior to therapy. This may help your child feel more comfortable with the environment and the therapists. Visiting may also help ease your concerns as you experience the nurturing environment where your child will be learning.

While speech therapy sessions are incredibly helpful, parents play a key role in speech and language development. Sessions with the specialist are often short compared to how much time parents spend with their child. It is important for parents to be aware of what the child is learning in order to integrate strategies for improving language at home in everyday experiences. Exposing your child to language in the home through talking and reading is a great way to build upon speech therapy. The 30 million word challenge is a great way to build an environment where language and literacy flourish!

 f your child begins speech therapy, remember that it may take time to see progress. Each child’s learning needs and capabilities are different. Some children need only a short period of therapy whereas other children need ongoing therapy. Celebrate the small victories along the way to help your little one stay motivated and loved!

If you feel that your child is experiencing a speech delay, schedule and evaluation with a speech-language pathologist. Providing earlier treatment earlier may enhance your child’s academic performance, emotional health and social experiences. Observing the milestones and implementing therapy may be just what you need to get your child on the right speech and language development track!

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 Holly Sanford, RN, BSN, CPEN is a mother and a pediatric nurse of 9 years with a lifelong passion for helping children and their families. In her free time, she loves cooking new recipes, traveling to unique places and staying active with her family.  

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