During a parent-teacher conference, the teacher expresses concern that your son is having difficulty with certain speech or language skills. Or perhaps while talking to your daughter, you notice an occasional stutter. You're not sure whether your child has a problem. What should you do?
Knowing what's typical in speech and language development can help you determine whether you should seek professional help or whether your child is developing typically. Speech-language therapy, which is the treatment for individuals with speech problems, focuses on other concerns, as well.
"Many people think that speech therapy addresses only problems with articulation and intelligibility," said Sally Hertzog, speech-language therapist for Pediatric Therapy Services at Yampa Valley Medical Center. "How--ever, articulation focuses on a variety of concerns, including speech-language disorders, cognitive problems, oral-motor dysfunction and swallowing problems.
"There is a difference between a speech disorder and a language disorder," she added. "A speech disorder is a problem with voice, fluency (stuttering) or articulation. A language disorder refers to a difficulty with understanding and expressing language in a meaningful way."
Speech-language pathologists, who are often informally known as speech therapists, are professionals educated in the study of human communication, its development, and its disorders. They hold at least a master's degree and state certification/licensure in the field.
Speech-language therapy involves having a speech-language specialist work with a child on a one-to-one basis, in a small group or in a classroom or community setting to overcome difficulties involved with a specific disorder.
"Children develop speech and language skills at varying rates, and there is a broad range of what is considered typical," Hertzog said. "Parents may be unaware of speech-language development but may want to consult with their physicians if their children exhibit any of the following behaviors."
- Absence of listening to speech or making cooing sounds by 3 months
- Lack of word development by 18 months
- Poor intelligibility (unclear speech) at age 3 to 5 years
- Difficulty following directions, describing, or retelling stories by 4 to 5 years
- Underdeveloped play skills
- Inappropriate pitch, volume and resonance of voice for the child's age and gender
- Hearing impairment
Children with a medical diagnosis -- such as autism, cleft palate, or Down syndrome -- that is known to affect development also benefit from a speech-language therapy program, Hertzog said.
Speech-language therapy is a team approach involving the physician, family and therapist. Parent participation in a child's treatment program is extremely important. Hertzog says that parents' knowledge and input about their children's speech-language skills are invaluable. The process of overcoming a speech or language disorder might take time and effort, so it's important that all team members be patient and understanding with children.
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, a good time to spread awareness of the importance of detecting and treating any problems with speech and language. If you have questions regarding your child's speech-language or hearing development, talk to his or her teacher or visit the American Speech-Language Hearing Association Web site at www.asha.org. Local resources include Northwest Colorado BOCES, Horizons, our public school system and the Pediatric Therapy Services of SportsMed at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Mindy Fontaine is public relations coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.