Last updated Oct. 10, 2017
As adults, many of us take the ability to speak for granted. But for children, the journey of speech can be quite difficult and confusing.
Just as a musician must learn every aspect and nuance of his musical instrument, so do children need to learn and perfect their ability to not only learn to speak but to do so fluently, and to use cognitive and auditory skills to appropriately communicate with the world around them.
It is a daunting task for little ones. Doubly so, when there may be a physical or mental stumbling block to overcome. That is where a speech therapist comes in to play.
Speech therapists help the child. They will assess the child’s ability and diagnose the problem then set sessions to correct the problem. Many of the exercises include games or other fun things to do to get the child comfortable, ready and willing to communicate.
Problems that children experience in speech can be categorized in the following ways:
Does your child have a hard time forming the words? The physical ability to speak involves many components and muscles.
The main articulators that control the words and pronunciations are the lips, tongue, palate, and jaw.
These as well as their ability to move to form individual sounds and words are the focus of articulation.
When the articulators cannot move correctly, they can cause the speech to be unclear. Speech therapists will work with the child to help him to form the words and sounds that he/she finds difficult.
2: Speech Intelligibility
Is your child’s speech unclear? A toddler’s words may appear unintelligible and this may be normal, but when an older child is still having those same problems in clarity then they need to be addressed.
Speech intelligibility is how well the child’s words are understood. If the articulation skills are impaired, then his intelligibility may be reduced.
Speech therapists can help the child develop ways to improve articulation which will then improve intelligibility.
3: Expressive Language
Is your child’s vocabulary limited to a noticeable degree?
There is a difference between speech and language. The ability to speak well is different than the words used.
Expressive Language focuses on the words used to convey thoughts and feelings. These are the words that your child chooses to use to speak.
Speech therapists can help by teaching semantics and syntax. They help the child to learn new words and then how to put them together to form sentences. This helps the child learn to communicate more efficiently with family and the outside world.
4: The Voice
Each child has a voice. There are vocal disorders that unable the child to use their voice effectively.
Such disorders often reside in the vocal folds and can create cord paralysis, polyps or nodules, hoarseness or loss. The resonance of the voice can also be affected.
Resonance is the balance of sound vibrations in the nasal, oral, and pharyngeal cavities. If there is an abnormality or obstruction in one of the cavities it can cause a dysfunction.
Speech therapists will pinpoint these obstructions and work with physicians to correct the problem.
Does your child have a hoarse voice that is different than the norm?
This is a common problem that can happen in young children. This disorder is caused by abuse or strain of the vocal cords.
Abuse can stem from damage to the vocal folds which is caused by excessive talking or coughing, clearing of the throat or yelling, and other negative habits. Children will sometimes set these bad habits within themselves.
Speech pathologists who specialize in voice and resonance can work with the child to break through these bad habits and improve the health of the voice.
Does your child have a stutter? Stuttering is a common problem for a lot of children.
Clinically, it is a disorder in communication that often affects the fluency of speech. Stuttering often begins in childhood and is known as a disfluency in the speech pattern.
It is important to note that everyone experiences a certain degree of speech disfluency. These are normal and many grow out of them over time. But some disfluencies remain, grow worse and need to be corrected by a therapist.
If the child is stuttering to the point of growing repetitious, or experience blocks in the flow of speech or prolongations, then they need to be seen by a speech therapist.
More severe cases of stuttering will show clenched fists, stomping of feet, tension in the neck and physically jerking to try to get the words out.
Speech therapists can work with the child and teach him strategies to control the stutter and improve speech fluency.
7: Listening Skills
Is there a problem with your child’s ability to listen to someone speaking and understand what is being said?
Often times, a young child will have a better understanding of what people are saying than they have of speaking back and communicating.
If this seems to be a definite problem with your child, a Speech Therapist can help them to learn ways to communicate, answer questions and follow directions.
8: Hearing Impairments
Does your child have a hearing impairment? There are many causes and degrees of hearing loss or impairment.
This can be a very scary thing to a child as they try to navigate their world.
Speech therapists work with other trained medical personnel to help the child learn to speak and have a clear voice through their inability to hear. This is done a variety of ways with a lot of time, understanding and attention.
9: Cognitive Skills and Development
Does your child seem to have a problem with their cognitive abilities?
Speech can also be affected by disorders in cognitive development such as memory, abstract reasoning, attention and awareness.
The child can be born with these disorders or they can be gained through illness, injury, or degenerative diseases. Speech Therapists can work with the child to help build up skills to compensate or reroute processes to overcome.
10: Social Skills
Our voice changes according to what we are saying and whom we are speaking to. We use different inflections when we ask a question than when we greet someone or engage in conversation.
We talk to adults differently than when we talk to kids or when they talk to each other. These are all social skills that impact our speech.
Speech Therapists help children to learn how to engage in conversation with peers and with adults. They also help to teach the inflections needed for normal speech flow.
11: Alternative Communication
Does your child use alternative forms of communication instead of speech?
Alternative communication is non-verbal. Facial expressions, body movements, drawing, are all examples of alternative communication.
However, these are not meant to replace speech merely a bridge to speech. Speech therapists use these methods to teach speech.
12: Swallowing Difficulties
Does your child have a problem physically swallowing liquids or food?
This doesn’t seem to be an area for a Speech Therapist, but it is. Some Speech Pathologist’s are trained in pediatric feeding issues or swallowing problems.
The reason is because the speech therapist has extensive knowledge on the structures and functions of the oral cavities and all things related to the muscles of the throat.
For children diagnosed with Autism, speech may be a monumental barrier.
People with autism may not talk at all and may only utter sounds. They can hum or they can talk with musical flow and may even babble or issue words in a monotone.
They might mimic another person’s words or use small phrases in an unexpressive tone. It is estimated that about one in three people with Autism has speech related issues.
There are Speech Therapists who are specifically trained to work with Autism.
These therapists are a key component in the therapy process as they teach the child how to communicate with those around them.
Does your child have a problem with reading or writing? There may be a speech related issue involved.
This area works along with the cognitive development but is different in some ways. Reading, writing, listening, gesturing and speaking are all related to the learning process.
Speech and language is crucial to literacy.
Speech therapists can help the child through stronger speaking skills and ways to learn and grasp the written word in a way that works for the child.
15: Teaching Parents
Children need their parents to be involved. The parent is with the child more than the speech therapist is and they need parents to continue at home what the therapist does during sessions.
A Speech Therapist will work with the parents to give speech instruction in the home and help the child when the therapist isn’t there.
Speech therapists work tirelessly to help each child with their language barriers.
These therapists are nurturing and patient, they are highly skilled and know how to relate the children in a calming and comfortable way.
Each child deserves the chance to have a voice - to clearly communicate with the world they live in.
Speech therapists are that chance as they give a ray of hope to children and bolster their self-esteem through the gift of communication.
They help the child in each area to talk and/or communicate better to improve their quality of life and bolster their self-esteem.
Contact us if you have any questions.