What Your Child’s Speech Language Pathologist Wants You to Know
Does your child see a Speech Language Pathologist? According to ASHA, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 40 million Americans have communication disorders. By the first grade, 5% of children have a noticeable speech disorder. The ASHA defines speech disorders when a person is unable to produce speech sounds correctly or fluently, or has problems with their voice. Language disorders occur when a person has trouble understanding others (receptive language) or sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings completely (expressive language).
Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems.
I sat down with my beautiful friend Diane Williams, owner of Absolute Speech to learn more about Speech Language Pathology and what she wants parents to know.
1. What is a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)?
A Speech Language Pathologist is a highly trained professional who works with people across the life span with delay or difficulties with speech, language and swallowing. Speech, or the motoric act of speaking include articulation (pronunciation), voice and fluency. Language deals with the vastness of semantics (vocabulary) syntax (grammar), pragmatics (communication with others) as well as memory, cognition and even literacy. Swallowing and Feeding are also within the scope of practice of SLPs. SLPs are typically charged with executing very specific segments of a broader, multi-faceted treatment program, meaning they work hand in hand with multi-disciplinary teams of professionals.
2. How do children benefit from working with SLPs?
Children with delays in feeding and swallowing and communication benefit from work with an SLP. Sessions focus on specific needs as defined during comprehensive evaluations. Depending on the child’s needs, articulation, speech fluency, voice concerns, expressive language, receptive language, social language, literacy, feeding and/or swallowing are all areas that an SLP can target to improve. Improved communication clarity, stronger reading and writing skills, social connections and even improved behaviors can all be outcomes following work with speech therapists.
3. What is the biggest piece of advice you give to your students/clients?
I always start the therapeutic process by educating the student/client on why they are working with me. We review their goals/needs and what they need to do in order to “graduate” or complete the program. I want (need) them to understand why they attend therapy; their buy in and self-advocacy is crucial to their success.
4. Is there a specific dietary lifestyle that helps with a child’s speech or behavior?
Communication centers in the brain begin developing in utero; therefore, a diet of clean, whole foods is always recommended for parents and then for the child during the early years of life. While little research is available about specific foods and their impact on speech and language development, one can infer that a nutrient rich diet would benefit children.
5. Can you share an experience with a student that affected you in some way?
Yes! These are the stories that keep you going as a professional! A few years into my career I began working with an 18 month old who was non-verbal. He was born at 30 weeks and had a “rough” few months of life in and out of the hospital. While premature babies are typically slower to reach developmental milestone, we still hope for children to begin verbalizing and then talking as close to 12 months of age as possible. Working closely with the parents, and even an older sibling, we created a print rich, language rich environment for the toddler to thrive in. Seeing the “ah-ha” moments for the parents was what originally excited me about the case. They learned how their attempts to “help” their child and deter frustration could prolong the communication delay. However, a few months and many hours of work late, I received a text message. The message contained a video of the client requesting “more” verbally, as opposed to signing. I teared up hearing the client’s older sister saying “Yay!!!! He did it!” The words came like a waterfall in the years to come. The boy is now school aged, and, while still slightly behind in school, he loves talking with others, reading and engaging in the world around him.
6. What is a common myth that battle every day?
Speech Language Pathologists are not teachers. While we “teach” new skills to children, and often work in schools, we are not teachers. SLPs are not well versed in pedagogy, rather developmental norms. We are not experts in all content areas, rather the language underpinnings within those academic realms. Teachers are responsible for teaching the same standards to all students, while SLPs are responsible for evaluating communication needs and then using that information to drive therapy goals and sessions. SLPs do not teach math or geography, while teachers do not remediate a lateral lisp, swallowing dysfunction or stutter. There are areas of overlap, but speech language pathologists are not teachers.
7. What kind of advice do you have for parents with young children?
I’ll limit this advice to three, even though we could write another post of advice!
- The development of language starts on day 1 of life. There are pre-linguistic skills that develop prior to any words spoken. My advice is know these milestones as you would crawling, teething and eating milestones because early intervention is the key to success with communication delays and difficulties.
- Reading, talking and listening to your child is paramount to healthy communication development. Make every event, even the mundane like grocery shopping, driving around town and cleaning up, about language and communication. Sure, a day at the beach or a vacation to the Grand Canyon fosters vocabulary development, but so does making breakfast. Lastly, model specific language and reading skills yourself. Listen to stories they tell and read to, or with, them every single day.
- Modeling strong communication is not easy, but necessary. Use specific language with your children (i.e. Please pick up your backpack, shoes and binders) as opposed to generic terms (Pick up your stuff.) I joke with my clients that the words “stuff,” “things” and “something” are not allowed during therapy.
8. Are speech issues in children something we can prevent as parents?
Yes and no. Creating a healthy in-utero experience can promote typically development, but is not a guarantee, as with all things in life. Creating a print-rich and language rich-rich environment helps promote language and literacy, but does not mean your child might be a “late talker” or struggle with reading. Articulation delays occur in children with all levels of intelligence and ability levels. There are behaviors that promote and inhibit communication develop, and then there is just science, genetics and chance. Regardless of the cause, early intervention is always the best action plan.
Book recommendation: Beyond Baby Talk