How do I know if my child needs a speech therapist?

As your child grows and develops, they will hit many milestones: the first time they roll over, eat solid food, or take their first steps. One milestone many parents eagerly watch for is their child’s first word– the first time their child says “mama” or “dada.” However, all children develop at different rates, and some children learn to speak earlier than others. Some children may start babbling, but not progress to saying words until much later, while others may be early chatterboxes. So how do you know whether your child is just a late bloomer, or if they could benefit from seeing a children’s speech therapist? Here are a few facts to help you determine if your child would benefit from speech therapy.

Reasons for Speech Delays
There are several reasons children may have delayed speech, and they can be broadly divided into two categories: problems with expressive language (language your child produces) and problems with receptive language (language input your child understands).

Some speech delays may be due to a physical problem in the structure of your child’s mouth or tongue– for example, a cleft palate or weak tongue muscles may make it difficult to pronounce and form words. Some speech delays may be related to hearing loss, which can cause problems hearing and interpreting words. Other developmental conditions, such as autism or cerebral palsy, can also indicate a need for speech therapy.

Signs to Look For
The biggest flag that your child could benefit from seeing a children’s speech therapist is that their speech does not progress according to normal developmental milestones. Typically, children say their first words between 12 and 18 months, and progress to using simple two to four word sentences soon after. By the time your child is two years old, you should understand most of what they say, and they should understand and respond to you.

Your child is consistently hard to understand
If no one seems to understand what your child says, despite their best efforts, this can be a sign of an expressive language disorder, or problems with the tongue or mouth muscles. Speech therapy for children may provide exercises to strengthen the tongue and lip muscles and improve speech clarity.

Your child does not seem to interact socially with others
Even at a young age, babies will naturally turn towards their parents’ voices and respond by cooing or babbling. If your child does not respond to speech cues, seems uninterested in play with other children, or has a wide social skills gap when compared to their peers, these may be signs of a speech-language disorder such as autism.

Your child struggles to make certain sounds
Although some parents may think it endearing when their child mispronounces certain letters or continues to speak in “baby talk,” if this persists beyond the age of three, your child may need help from a speech therapist. Some of the most common problems include pronouncing ‘s,’ ‘th,’ and ‘r’ correctly, or having dysfluent speech filled with pauses or stuttering. A speech therapist can help correctly diagnose your child’s speech problem and provide treatment or exercises to correct it.

Production of sounds and words is reduced compared to peers
Your child should attempt to say words by the time he or she is 12 months old, and should try to put two words together by the age of 18 months. If your child does not talk at all or only says a few words by 18 months, you should consult a speech therapist who specializes in providing speech therapy for children.

These are not the only signs your child may need to see a speech therapist. If your child struggles with almost any aspect of speech, language, or communication, a speech therapist can help.

Although it may be hard to know that your child needs to see a speech therapist, many speech and communication disorders can be resolved with just a few visits. Children’s speech develops most within the first three years of life, so seeking proper intervention promptly gives your child the best chance to treat and resolve any speech or language problems. Early treatment is key. With proper treatment, your child will soon be talking up a storm before you know it!

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