Talking and 'fixing' speech. They are probably what most people would say if they were asked what a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) does.
It sometimes is, by the way, it's just not ALL we do! (personally, I also drink tea and eat cake)
There is a well researched and established pattern of typical speech development in children, sometimes called 'developmental norms'. Babbling of noises and random sounds comes first then speech-like sounds begin to be put together at around 12-18 months. Some sounds like 'd' and 'a' tend to appear fairly early on - which is why 'dada' can be one of the early words. Sorry to all the Dads, it's not necessarily because a child loves their Daddy best!
Like most developmental milestones (e.g. learning to walk) there is a typical range - children do not development at exactly the same rate and an overall picture of a child's development should always be assessed and taken into consideration - which is what a SLT is specifically trained and qualified to do.
Often a parent will ask something like -
"My 4 year old can't say 'r', do they need speech therapy?"
Generally, in an otherwise typically developing child, the answer will be -
"No, they don't"
Sounds like 'r' can take much longer to master so no need to worry at 4. However, if a 4 yr old is struggling with sounds that would be expected at their age then that SHOULD be flagged up and checked out. If you have any concerns, a SLT can advise on whether your child's speech is age appropriate or not.
So why does learning to speak sometimes not go smoothly?
Please remember, there is often NO identifiable reason at all, but lots of things can and do impact on speech development;
Hearing - children need to hear spoken language to use it. Lots of young children suffer from glue ear at any given time, which can reduce their ability to hear. There are strategies that can be put in place to limit the impact of glue ear. A Blog post for another time I think! If you have any concerns about your child's hearing, you should consult your G.P.
Attention - Children need to be able to focus and attend to speech to be able to process it and learn how to use it themselves.
Physical - one of the first things a SLT will do is an oro-motor examination to make sure there are no physical reasons why speech is not developing as it should be.
Environment - children need to be exposed to a rich and positive language environment. That means being immersed in people talking, singing, playing games, having conversations and telling stories over and over and over again.
Personality - yes, some children are just not keen to talk as much as others. They usually will though. Eventually.
Family History - there is research to show that a child is more likely to have speech difficulties if there is a family history of issues but not always. It's also more likely if your child is a boy.
Additional Needs - this is perhaps obvious but, if there are already identified issues or other developmental milestones are not being reached, speech may well be affected too.
What can you do to help your child's speech and language development?
If you take one thing from reading this blog, please make it this - talk to your child. From birth. Talk to them in the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the car, on the bus, walking down the street, while they're in a supermarket trolley, while they're getting dressed. You may feel a little strange at first talking to a baby that can't talk back but, trust me on this...
Talk to them. Talk to them. Talk to them.
What should you say?
Anything at all! Tell them that you're going to peel the potatoes and boil them for dinner. Tell them that you're putting their seat belt on so they're safe and then you're going to drive to the soft play. Tell them that you're going to put your bus fare in the slot and then get a ticket. Tell them that you like the purple flowers in that garden and that you're going to stop before you cross the road at the end. Tell them you want them to help you find the cornflakes in the supermarket. Tell them you're going to put on their vest and then their trousers.
And when they start making noises back, stop talking, start listening and respond to what they say, even if it's nonsense!
That is how children learn about words, concepts, turn taking, communication and the rules of conversation. It is REALLY important!
Children are excellent imitators, so if you model it, they'll copy it. Sometimes, of course, it's the words you didn't think they had heard you say...
When speech is developing or if your child has a speech issue, don't constantly correct them. Put yourself in their shoes - imagine you're just learning a language, trying your best and every time you say something someone tells you it's wrong. Pretty soul destroying? Yes. It probably wouldn't be long before you just shut up completely.
Instead, just repeat back what they say in the correct way and try and expand it-
So, if they say "bue tain"
"Yes, there's a long, blue train!"
It's a good idea to limit background noise when you can so, switch off the tele sometimes and make sure your child is looking at you. Ahem, maybe make sure your iPhone is out of YOUR reach too so your child knows you value what they say and are paying attention to them.
Listen, this isn't a lecture - I'm a realist and I'm also a mother of 2, I know very well that there are times when you just want to be silent, can not answer any more inane questions that day, want to listen to radio in the car and call on an electronic babysitter for some respite.
And that's ok.
I'm not saying you must ALWAYS be blethering away. In fact, stopping to listen is also very important. Just try and make sure that you talk to your child often and in lots of different situations about lots of different things. The link between good early language skills/vocabulary and reading/writing skills later on is well documented.
If you have any concerns about your child's speech development, you can choose to self refer to your local NHS SLT Dept and/or seek advice privately. Details of your NHS dept should be on the NHS website. You do not need to go through your G.P.
Forward Speech Therapy is an Independent Speech & Language Therapy Service for children up to 18 years old. Initial consultation is free.