A child getting speech therapy.
If a toddler's speech is still difficult to understand with age, speech therapy is used.

Speech Therapy for Toddlers

Parents often get giddy when they hear a child speak their first words. Hearing a child's first formal efforts at communicating feels like witnessing a miracle. As they get older, their speech quirks can be adorable and endearing. “Bumpa” in the place of “grandpa” or “thithter" in the place of "sister." These may be cute but could be a problem if they do not grow out of it, which is why speech therapy for toddlers is an option.

When the speech quirks remain as toddlers get older or if their speech continues to be challenging to understand, it may indicate a speech problem. Speech therapy may be required.

Speech and Language

Speech and language are the skills we use to communicate with others. We form these skills during the first years of life. Humans begin to learn how to communicate from inside a mother's womb. Most of the basics of speech are acquired by the age of six and much of what is learned occurs from ages two to five years.

Speech is the physical act of talking. It's the sounds that we make to form words others recognize. Language is the system of using words to communicate. Language is the words and gestures we use to provide meaning to the sounds we make.

Speech Milestones

Speech and language milestones help indicate whether a child is developing skills as expected. Milestones are established through years of scientific research and include such factors as when a child begins to babble or when they start to put two words together.

The determination of appropriate milestones matching expected actions is based on the child's age. Usually, a child has to meet one milestone to progress to the next, like rungs on a ladder. Each child progresses at their own pace. Females, in general, tend to be more verbally inclined than males and progress faster.

Babies begin to coo and make sounds at two months of age. At six months, they start to babble and make different sounds. At the age of one year, children are usually beginning to speak, though sometimes it can sound like gibberish. At about 15 to 18 months, a child is typically able to understand more than they can speak but may start to try to string words together. By 24 months, children are using about 50 or more words and attempting to string two words to make understandable phrases.

Helping a Child with Speech

When a child is consistently encouraged to speak and interact or is surrounded by speech all the time, they are more likely to learn to talk earlier. Talking to a child and reading to them, even if it seems as if they do not understand or comprehend, goes a long way in helping children meet their milestones. Caregivers can provide children with just as many opportunities for exposure to speech and language.

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Speech and Language Problems

There are times when a child may experience delays or problems with speech or language. It's vital to understand speech milestones because delays can indicate a variety of issues, both physical and mental. For example, a child may have an unidentified hearing problem or oral issues, which results in speech delays. Speech or language delays may also indicate cognitive issues or autism.

Because the basics for speech development occur in such a small window of time, up until the age of six, it is essential to identify speech problems as early as possible. The more time there is to establish treatment interventions, the more successful the outcome can be for the child. If a child is not meeting speech milestones appropriately, parents or caregivers should consult with a pediatrician. A pediatrician may refer the child to a speech therapist.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy is the identification and treatment of communication and speech disorders. Speech therapy is conducted by a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP), which is called a speech therapist. This speech therapist works with the child and the child's family to address speech and language issues as soon as possible.

For children, speech therapy may be the difference between a lifelong struggle to communicate and successfully managing speech problems. Because communication is integral to success in school and their comfort in social situations, speech therapy is an essential intervention.

Determining the type of speech therapy a child's needs requires an assessment and an individualized treatment depending on a child's disorder, age and requirements. Therapy may occur in a classroom or small group with other children, or one-on-one with an SLP in individual appointment sessions.

Speech therapy for a child may consist of:

  • Interactions through talking and playing with an SLP and other children.
  • Using books, pictures and toys to stimulate language development and encourage speech.
  • Modeling and repetition of correct sounds and syllables for a child during play to teach.
  • Homework assigned to families for the child and parent or caregiver on how to do speech therapy in the home environment.

Importance of Speech Therapy

There is a “sweet spot” in age where the basics of speech are established within a child. Setting this foundation correctly can enable a child to integrate successfully in school and social situations to the best of their ability. Early identification of problems during the ages of six months and five years old can help establish good speech basics in children.

Caregivers need to become familiar with speech milestones and be able to identify when a child is or is not meeting their milestones. Concerns should be brought to a child's physician's attention for further assessment. If required, speech therapy can help with identifying the causes of and improving a child's speech problem. Communication is a significant part of a child's mental well being and coping with future life skills. Speech therapy can set them on the right path for success.