Does Your Child Need Speech Therapy?
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
It is not uncommon for schoolchildren to have problems with speech pronunciation or language usage. Most school districts have speech and language therapists to help students with these problems, specifically difficulties in articulation (for example, problems with the “r” sound), speech fluency (for example, stuttering), or voice characteristics (for example, volume). In addition, students may have problems expressing themselves or understanding what others are saying.
Students with articulation problems are often self-conscious and insecure about their speech and thus early intervention may be crucial. If you suspect your child has a speech problem, call your school and request a “screening” or evaluation by the speech and language therapist. If the therapist does not invite you in to discuss the results of the evaluation, request to meet with her. You are entitled to know the results.
The speech therapist will help you determine whether the problem is developmental, suggesting that with time it will correct itself as many do by age eight or nine, or whether it warrants therapy. If the therapist identifies a problem, find out what exercises, if any, you can do at home with your child.
Some school districts evaluate preschoolers exhibiting communication difficulties and provide help, if necessary. Preschoolers with speech problems may be prone to behavioral problems because of frustration expressing themselves. Early speech intervention can sometimes minimize these behavioral difficulties.
If the school identifies your child as having a speech or language problem, it will likely recommend therapy with a speech therapist. The teacher plays a part in helping your child with a speech problem but her role is not to remediate her specific problem but rather to give her experience and confidence speaking with her classmates. Both you and the teacher may find the following strategies helpful with your child if she has a speech problem:
- Do not draw attention to her articulation errors. In responding to what she says, focus more on what she has said than how she has said it. If she mispronounces a word, do not continually correct her, supply the word for her, or have her imitate your pronunciation. Frequently commenting on her speech will likely discourage her from talking. Instead respond to the content of what she has said.
- Be patient in your response. A child with speech problems may need more time than normal to express her thoughts. She may have trouble retrieving the right words, and her speech may be slow and labored. If so, allow her more time to answer by extending your wait time after asking her a question and avoid showing impatience.
- Support her self-esteem. A child with speech problems may feel different from her peers and have little social confidence. Find ways to enhance her self-esteem by giving her opportunities to shine and spotlighting her talents and accomplishments.