You may have some concerns about your child’s speech and language skills, but you aren’t sure what to do about your concerns. Perhaps your child is having difficulty saying certain sounds, does not have the vocabulary you think they should have at their age, or is having difficulty producing words verbally at all. Maybe they are having difficulty with fluent speech, and stutter when they are speaking. Or they could be able to say their sounds correctly, have a good vocabulary and sentence structure, but are having trouble with communicating with adults and/or peers in socially appropriate ways. What do you do with these concerns? Who do you talk to?
First, it is important to remember that your concerns are valid. If you are worried about your child’s ability to communicate, there are professionals available who can discuss your concerns and guide you in the right direction. Having a concern does not necessarily mean that your child has a speech and/or language disorder (problem), it just means you have a concern, and are looking for help in determining if your child might need help. So where should you turn?
First, it is always a good idea to talk to your child’s pediatrician. They know your child, and their medical history, and have basic knowledge of normal speech and language development. Consider making an appointment to talk to them about your concern’s, and see if they recommend a further course of action. In many cases, if your child is experiencing delays and/or differences with their speech, your pediatrician will be able to guide you on next steps. Please keep in mind that some pediatricians have a very cautious, wait and see approach. If your pediatrician suggests you wait and see, but you still feel like something is going on, by all means, pursue additional help.
The next step you can take, (or you can do this in the first place!!) is to contact a speech language pathologist (SLP) and consult with them about your concerns. After talking to them, they may suggest your have your child’s speech and language skills evaluated to determine if there is a speech and/or language disorder, and if there is, what course of treatment/therapy they recommend. SLPs (also commonly referred to as speech therapists) have specialized training in a wide variety of speech and language disorders, including how to both evaluate and treat speech and language disorders. But where should you look for an SLP to help you?
There are two main types of environments where SLPs work, the medical environment and the school environment. Depending on the difficulty your child is having, if they are having difficulty, you may choose to seek out assistance in one, or both environments. But which environment should you look to for help?
There are SLPs that work in the education environment through the public school system. The public schools are required by law to evaluate children ages 3+ with suspected speech and language disorders. If a child qualifies (states have varying state specific criteria for qualifying for services), the schools are then responsible for providing speech therapy. All of this is free. So although I now own my own private practice in speech therapy, as an SLP who spent the first twenty years of her career working in the schools, I highly recommend you start here first if your child is at least 3 (information on children under three in a moment). If your child is currently enrolled in school, let his or her teacher, (or school counselor), know that you would like to request a speech and language evaluation. I highly recommend you do this in writing. If your child is not yet enrolled, call your local school district special education department (you can just call the school district main line and ask for the special education department) and tell them you want to request a speech and language evaluation for your child. They will take you through this process at that point.
If your child is under 3, services that are available to them publically are provided through a program called Early Intervention (EI). Early Intervention services are available to you as a parent, and cost varies based on a variety of factors such as your income. You will want to contact your local EI service coordinator to request an evaluation for a child under 3. If you are not able to find their contact information, your local school district will be able to get you that information. Keep in mind that unlike services to children 3 and up, EI services are not necessarily free. They are however, typically available at a reduced cost.
SLP’s also work in a variety of medical environments including hospitals, outpatient clinics, home health (they come to your house), and in private practices (some are clinic based, some home based). Families who are interested in seeking evaluation, and potentially speech therapy services in the private environment simply call or email local practices to schedule an evaluation. Some, but not all SLPs in private practice offer short phone and/or email consultations (I do within my local area!) But why would you seek out the services of an SLP in a medical environment if school services are free? This is a very good question, and there are varied reasons families make this choice. Here are some of the reasons they do:
- They want their child to get additional services outside of the school environment to maximize their potential for success.
- Their child was evaluated by the school system, but was not eligible for speech and language services. Simply having a speech and/or language disorder does not always mean that a child will qualify for services. There are many reasons they may not, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t need help. Sometimes, there is a need, but the school district isn’t able to meet that need because of state eligibility criteria.
- Their child was eligible for services in the schools, but is embarrassed to be pulled out of class and the family prefers the private afterschool environment private therapy can provide.
- Their child was eligible for services in the schools, but the family does not want them to miss any academic classes so they choose afterschool private therapy.
- The family has chosen to homeschool, and as such, is not eligible for services in the schools. (Note: this is state specific. Some states do offer speech therapy services to children who are homeschooled and some do not. Texas WILL offer speech therapy to children who qualify who are homeschooled, however it is almost always offered at the local school building).
- It is summertime, and families want their child to continue to receive the benefits of speech therapy over school break.
- They want their child to receive the expert services of a private therapist who has dedicated their career to focusing in on specific types of speech and language disorders, and as such, can provide more specialized speech therapy for their child.
So there you have it. Some basic information on what to do if you are concerned about your child’s speech and/or language skills. Do you have specific questions that I might be able to answer for you? Please contact me and let me know, and I will do my best to help you help your child. Your concerns are valid, and your questions are welcomed.