When it comes to treating injury, illness, or disorder, the earlier the intervention, the better. Speech and language therapies are no different. But how do you know when to consult a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)? There may not be an obvious sign like a broken bone that shows up on an x-ray or a fever clearly seen on a thermometer. The symptoms may be subtle or easily dismissed.
What does an SLP do?
The first step is understanding what an SLP does. These therapists are trained to assist patients with speech, language, voice, swallowing and cognition impairments, which may be the result of a birth defect, medical disorder or injury, or delayed development. Common causes include developmental disorders, cleft palates, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, stroke, head trauma, ALS/MS, etc..
Speech vs. Language
Understanding the difference between speech and language is also key.
Speech: How we say sounds and words.
- Articulation: Making sounds with the mouth, lips, and tongue. For example, using the “r” sound to say “rabbit” instead of “wabbit.
- Voice: Using the vocal folds and breath to make sounds. These sounds can be loud or soft, high- or low-pitched.
- Fluency: The rhythm of our speech. When sounds are repeated, or pause taken while talking. When done a lot causes a stutter.
Language: The words we use and how we use them to share ideas and get what we want.
- Meaning: Some words have more than one meaning. For example, “star” can be a bright object in the sky or someone famous.
- Making New Words: We can say “friend,” “friendly,” or “unfriendly” and mean something different.
- Putting Words Together: “Peg walked to the new store” instead of “Peg walk store new.”
Appropriate Responses: What we should say at different times. Being polite and saying, “Would you mind moving your foot?” But, if the person does not move, we may say, “Get off my foot!”
Common Signs – Children
For the parents of very young children, relying on your instincts and the expertise of your pediatrician is paramount. Start by knowing the general developmental milestones in speech and language, and asking questions during routine check-ups and visits.
Three primary signs to watch for are:
- 50 Words By Age 2: Babbling and finding their voice starts at different times during the first year of life. But by the age of two, most children should have a vocabulary of around 50 words that they can clearly say and understand.
- Easy Consonants: Some consonant sounds are more difficult than others. But there are 11 that are considered relatively easy — P / B / M / H / W / K / G / F / T / D / N. Children struggling after age two with these consonants, may need intervention.
- Understood By Others: By the age of 3, a child should be able to be understood by adults that are not the primary caregivers.
For older children, difficulty with memory and recall, organization, and written communications can often be linked to underlying speech and language difficulties; targeted therapy can help improve. If a child is struggling in school, or has a diagnosed learning disability, evaluation for a possible additional speech and language impairment is often recommended.
Common Signs – Adults
An adult’s need for speech therapy can be necessary to address the mental and physical declines that come with aging, disease (such as Parkinson’s), or stroke. The signs to watch for primarily focused on noticing a change. These include changes in cognition, eating or swallowing, and speaking.
- Cognition: Forgetfulness, inability to find the right words, or trouble understanding speech.
- Eating and Swallowing: Unable to swallow, or repetitive coughing when attempting to swallow.
- Hoarseness and Difficulty Speaking: Unable to find their voice, or weakened vocal ability.
If any of these signs are triggering bells, it may be time to consult your doctor and request a speech therapy evaluation. SPGCT is here to help. Reach out with questions on how our evaluation process works, what to expect, and how to schedule an appointment. Speech therapy may be the right next step for your loved one, and if so, we are ready to walk with you on the road through treatment.