“I don’t want her to ever feel there’s anything she can’t do.”

Early intervention speech therapy helps little ones find their voices

One of the most anticipated milestones for any parent is hearing their child’s first words. Some children are content to take their time, while others begin with their first word and seem to never stop talking.

There comes a point, however, when the wait is a little too long for some parents. Or perhaps the child uses one or two words, but his vocabulary is not growing. This is when an evaluation by a speech language pathologist, or speech therapist, is often prescribed by the child’s doctor.

“When a child comes in at a young age – usually between 18 months and two years – our goal is to determine what is causing their lack of speech. The child may have a developmental delay, a hearing problem or he is just slow to talk,” explains Inessa Levine, speech language pathologist.

As part of that evaluation, the speech therapist will look at the following areas:

  • Hearing testing (with audiologist)
  • History of ear infections or chronic fluid in the ear
  • Prematurity
  • Chronic medical issues
  • Any other developmental delays (walking, eating, sitting up)
  • Family history
  • Autism screening

It is estimated that up to nine percent of young children (one to five years) have speech sound disorders, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. By first grade, about five percent of children have noticeable speech disorders.

For Mariah of Hamilton, it became apparent early on that daughter Amirah was going to be slow to speak. “By 18 months, she only spoke one word,” explains Mariah. “She wasn’t doing what other babies her age were doing.”

Neurologic testing determined Amirah did not fall on the autism spectrum, which was a relief to Mariah. Still, Amirah, like many children her age, had an important journey ahead.

Earlier the Better

The first three years of learning can have a significant impact on a child’s future. According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, the foundation for learning, behavior and health are created by neural circuits, most flexible during the first three years of life. As we age, these become increasingly difficult to change.

“Amirah is language delayed. Our goals for her include improving upon her attention span, listening skills, ability to follow directions, using words to interact with others, her vocabulary and asking for things by name.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, fewer than half of children with developmental delays are identified before starting school. By then, significant delays already might have occurred and opportunities for treatment might have been missed.

For parents with children who are experiencing delays in speech and language skills, early intervention programs and subsidized services are generally quite accessible, Levine explains.

“Early intervention services are available for children under the age of three, often through the county or state. For children older than three, school services are typically accessible locally through the district. For any parent looking for these services, it’s a good idea to check into every available resource because the programs are out there” she says.

One of the keys to successful speech therapy in the young child, Levine emphasizes, is parental involvement throughout the process with young children.

“Parents who are compliant with recommendations can help improve a child’s communication skills every day by working with them at home. Involved parents have kids who often make faster progress,” explains Levine.

Already, Amirah has made vast improvements. Mariah has reported a significant uptick in Amirah’s vocabulary. Additionally, Amirah has begun to communicate more and state her wishes, such as food, drink or toileting.

“She is a bright little girl,” says Mariah. “I don’t want her to ever feel there’s anything she can’t do.”