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What To Do If You Suspect A Speech Delay

I volunteer regularly at a special needs school that specializes in early intervention for speech delays. As I deal mainly with the parents of such children, I am regularly asked, “I think my child has a speech delay. What should I do?” Speech delays can be rather emotional for parents, so below are some tips to navigating a suspected speech delay.

Go with your gut, quickly, but calmly.

It’s no secret that speech delays are easier to treat the younger your child is. If you suspect a speech delay, immediately seek an evaluation. Sometimes parents hesitate in the hopes that a child will “grow out of it,” or because they want to avoid labeling their son or daughter. Sometimes parents are just afraid of what they will find out. An early evaluation (and therapy, if needed) helps children tremendously: At best, you can be reassured your child is within the normal range of development; otherwise, you can take steps immediately to get your child the help he or she needs to succeed.

Evaluation first; diagnosis can wait.

A thorough speech evaluation by a trained speech therapist is a great first step for parents to take for two reasons. First, a speech therapist will be able to tell parents if there actually is a gap in the child’s communication skills, and if so, how large the gap is. Second, the therapist can begin working with your child at once, even without a formal diagnosis. A diagnosis is provided by a child psychiatrist or neurologist, and sadly, it can often take months to get appointments with these busy specialists. In the meantime, don’t delay; speech therapy should begin as soon as possible. Don’t let fear of a label hold you back from getting help for your child. The diagnosis, or “label” (if there is one), can wait; an evaluation and speech therapy (if needed) cannot.

Befriend your child’s therapist.

Speech therapy is normally only a few hours a week, so the bulk of learning happens at home with the family. Choosing a speech therapist with whom both parents are comfortable and who supports your home efforts is critical to helping your child develop his or her language skills. An initial evaluation will typically span a few days to give the child a chance to become comfortable with the therapist. Afterwards, the therapist will explain to you how your child’s language skills are developing compared to similarly aged peers, if and where there are gaps, and how to fill those gaps if necessary. The therapist will make a speech therapy plan that will include an at-home component; make sure you understand it and are comfortable with it. Ask if you can call the therapist if you have trouble with your home program (or, if not the therapist, who else you can call for help). You can also ask to do a joint speech therapy session with your child, so the therapist can offer tips and help troubleshoot your home program in person.

Try your best to not compare.

Often, speech delays are identified right around the time other, similarly aged children are starting to chatter away. It can be very difficult to see your child’s peers speaking easily and to avoid making comparisons with your own child. Talk with your child’s speech therapist about what specific goals you and your child should aim for and focus on those alone. Celebrate each goal once your child achieves it and don’t forget to acknowledge and praise all of the other things at which he or she excels.

Don’t panic.

Remember that a speech delay does not define your child. Your anxiety can increase your child’s anxiety, which can lead to behavioural problems that may hinder speech therapy and development. All children excel and struggle with different things. Keep to as normal a routine as possible and always remember to have fun with your child.

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