A speech-language pathologist (SLP), also known as a speech therapist, works with individuals who experience difficulties with their speech, language, or voice. Pediatric speech-language pathologists specialize in working with children who have speech and language difficulties. There are also speech therapists that specialize in working with adults.
Speech therapists assess, diagnose, and provide therapy to assist these individuals. Speech therapists must be licensed to practice by the state that they are working in, and many speech therapists are also certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). ASHA is a professional organization that oversees speech-language pathologists within the United States.
In general, speech therapists aim to improve both their client’s “Expressive” and “Receptive” language skills. Receptive language refers to the ability to understand spoken language and follow directions. For example, a child’s ability to listen to and follow the directions, “point to your shoe,” relies on their receptive language. Typically, children are able to understand language prior to being able to produce it, themselves. A child who is unable to comprehend language may have receptive language difficulties.
In contrast, expressive language refers to the ability to communicate verbally or with written words. Children that have difficulty communicating their wants and needs may have expressive language difficulties. For example, children might be experiencing expressive language difficulties if they are unable to inform their caregivers that they are hungry. It is important to note that this is just one example of an expressive language difficulty. If you have concerns about your child’s speech and/or language development, you should consult with a pediatric speech-language pathologist.
Pediatric speech-language pathologists work with children exhibiting either or both receptive and expressive language difficulties. Receptive and expressive language can be improved by providing language stimulation. Parents of young children (ages 1-3) can improve their children’s receptive and expressive language by repeating what their children says, and expanding on those utterances. If the child says, “Ball,” the parent can then expand on that utterance by saying something like, “Yes, you have a big ball.” The child will then begin to learn from their caregiver’s model, and should gradually begin to combine multiple words together to form phrases.
The sequence in which children reach their speech and language milestones is fairly consistent. However, the age at which children reach these milestones can vary based on a number of factors. Accordingly, it isn’t necessarily alarming that your child isn’t speaking yet, but it’s important that you begin to work with him.
There are several warning signs that parents can look for to determine whether their child has a language problem.
- Parents should be able to notice some development in their child’s speech and language abilities each month.
- Even if your child is not verbally speaking, he/she may rely on hand and body gestures to communicate wants and needs.
- If your child’s speech and language is not developing, and/or you haven’t noticed gestures being used, you should consider seeking a speech and language evaluation.
Hearing & Understanding Milestones
- Child points to a few body parts when prompted.
- Child follows simple commands and understands simple questions (e.g., “Roll the ball,” “Kiss the baby,” “Where’s your shoe?”).
- Child listens to simple stories, songs, and rhymes.
- Child points pictures in a book when they’re mentioned.
- Child’s vocabulary grows every month.
- Child begins using some one- or two- word questions (e.g., “Where kitty?”, “Go bye-bye?”, “What’s that?”).
- Child puts two words together (e.g., “More cookie,” “No juice,” “Mommy book”.)
- Child uses many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words.
For a complete guide to children’s milestones, visit:
The frequency that adults communicate with their children, and the quality of their responses to their children greatly influences speech and language development. Parents & caregivers should talk to their children as much as possible. When adults talk with children, they provide a good model for children to emulate. Kids can learn about language, intonation and speech patterns when they listen to adults’ voices.
There are many opportunities for parents to help stimulate their children’s language and speech development every day.
- Parents should make a concerted effort to narrate their family’s daily routines to stimulate their children’s speech and language development. Such occasions include, but are not limited to feeding, dressing, play-time, and bath-time.
- Counting steps as you walk up and down them is an easy way to begin to teach your child how to count.
- Singing songs, finger play, and traditional games like peek-a-boo teach children both language skills and appropriate social interactions (e.g., eye contact and turn-taking).
Bilingual children develop speech and language normally. Typically, learning two languages can take a longer time. However, bilingual children should still reach developmental milestones such as producing their first word at 12 months and using two-word phrases by two years of age.
The majority of these children will go through a period where they combine words and grammar from both languages in the same sentence. Additionally, once the second language is introduced, children may go through a stage where they do not speak as much. As their language skills develop, children will begin to produce more speech and language.
Bilingual children develop speech and language normally. Typically, learning two languages can take a longer time. However, bilingual children should still reach developmental milestones such as producing their first word at 12 months and using two-word phrases by two years of age. The majority of these children will go through a period where they combine words and grammar from both languages in the same sentence. Additionally, once the second language is introduced, children may go through a stage where they do not speak as much. As their language skills develop, children will begin to produce more speech and language.