Speech Language SLP’s, as they are called for short, are the specialists that help your child with speech, talking and communication. However you may be surprised at how broad this field of speech-language pathology really is and just how many skill areas SLP’s are trained to build and expand in young children.
Speech Language therapy can help your child with:
Articulation is the physical ability to move the tongue, lips, jaw and palate (known as the articulators) to produce individual speech sounds which we call phonemes. Intelligibility, refers to how well people can understand your child’s speech. If a child’s articulation skills are compromised for any reason, his intelligibility will be decreased in compared to other children his age. Speech therapy can help your child to teach him how to produce the specific speech sounds or sound patterns that he is having difficulty with, and thus increasing his overall speech intelligibility. You can read more about articulation development and delays here.
While speech involves the physical motor ability to talk, language is a symbolic, rule governed system used to convey a message. Symbols can be words, either spoken or written. We also have gestural symbols like shrugging our shoulders to indicate “I don’t know” or waving to indicate “Bye Bye” or the raising of our eye brows to indicate that we are surprised by something.
Expressive language then, refers to what your child says. Speech therapy can help your child learn new words and how to put them together to form phrases and sentences (semantics and syntax) so that your child can communicate to you and others. You can read more about the difference between speech and language here.
Receptive language, refers to your child’s ability to listen and understand language. Most often, young children have stronger receptive language skills (what they understand) than expressive language skills (what they can say). Speech therapy can help teach your child new vocabulary and how to use that knowledge to follow directions, answer questions, and participate in simple conversations with others.
Stuttering is a communication disorder that affects speech fluency. It is characterized by breaks in the flow of speech referred to as disfluencies and typically begins in childhood. Everyone experiences disfluencies in their speech. Some disfluencies are totally normal but having too many can actually significantly affect one’s ability to communicate.
Speech therapy can teach your child strategies on how to control this behavior and thus increasing his speech fluency and intelligibility.
Voice disorders refer to disorders that affect the vocal folds that allow us to have a voice. These can include vocal cord paralysis, nodules or polyps on the vocal folds, and other disorders that can cause hoarseness or aphonia (loss of voice). Resonance refers to “the quality of the voice that is determined by the balance of sound vibration in the oral, nasal, and pharyngeal cavities during speech. Abnormal resonance can occur if there is obstruction in one of the cavities, causing hyponasality or cul-de-sac resonance, or if there is velopharyngeal dysfunction (VPD), causing hypernasality and/or nasal emission.” A common voice disorder in young children is hoarseness caused by vocal abuse. Voice therapy can help in these conditions.
Social/ pragmatic language refers to the way an individual uses language to communicate and involves three major communication skills: using language to communicate in different ways (like greeting others, requesting, protesting, asking questions to gain information, etc), changing language according to the people or place it is being used (i.e. we speak differently to a child than we do to an adult; we speak differently inside vs. outside), and following the rules for conversation (taking turns in conversation, staying on topic, using and understanding verbal and nonverbal cues, etc).
Speech language therapy can help your child learn these social language skills so that they can participate appropriately in conversations with others.
Cognitive-communication disorders refer to the impairment of cognitive processes including attention, memory, abstract reasoning, awareness, and executive functions (self-monitoring, planning and problem solving). These can be developmental in nature (meaning the child is born with these deficits) or can be acquired due to a head injury, stroke, or degenerative diseases. Speech therapy can help your child to help build these skills and/or help your child learn compensatory methods to assist them with their deficits.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, also known simply as AAC, refers to “…all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas.
We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures, use symbols or pictures, or write” . When speech therapists are working with children, our number one goal is always communication. Sometimes, a child may have such a severe delay/disorder, that traditional oral speech is not possible or is not practical. In these circumstances, a speech therapist may work with a child and his family to come up with an AAC system to use instead of, or along side of, speech.
It is very important to note, that these AAC methods are not always used to replace speech. In many circumstances, AAC is used as a bridge to speech. Children can use the AAC methods to communicate while still working on developing speech skills (when appropriate).
Hands down, the best thing an SLP can do for your child, is to educate you and empower you on how to best help your child. A speech-language pathologist may spend an hour or so a week with your child, but you spend hours and hours a week interacting with your child. You wake your child, get him ready for his day, read to him, talk to him, bathe him, and put him down to sleep at night. It is during these everyday routines that your child is learning the most and is given the most opportunities to communicate.
When you are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and confidence YOU can be the best “speech therapist” your child will ever have. So ask questions, take notes, do the homework, and work closely with your child’s SLP. Together you can make an amazing team and change your child’s life, one word at a time.