On a January morning in 2021, on a cold, sunlit stage in Washington, D.C., a 22-year-old woman from Los Angeles stood before the world and delivered a poem she wrote for the inauguration of a new president.
Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” drew critical and popular praise, and captivated the world. Many people might not have guessed that Gorman, who gave a powerful and flawless recitation, has faced speech and auditory processing difficulties that affected how she heard and pronounced certain words, and she has been in speech therapy much of her life.
Gorman wasn’t the only one on the world stage that day who had dealt with speech difficulties. The new leader of America, the 46th president, Joe Biden, has a stutter. 
If you’ve been told your child has speech pathologies and will need speech therapy, you may have many questions and fears. Speech and hearing problems can lead to difficulty socializing and making friends, as well as difficulties in school. It’s natural to be concerned.
But the good news is speech therapy can have many benefits for children. And as we saw on inauguration day, there’s no reason a speech issue means your child can’t enjoy every success in life.
How to Know If Your Child Needs a Speech Evaluation
Sometimes it’s hard for the people closest to a child to know if a speech evaluation is needed. After all, you hear them talk every day and can interpret your child’s meanings. It might come as a surprise that your child has speech difficulties. Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out a potential issue.
Parents or guardians, you can pay attention by tracking how your child communicates. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has charts by age range showing when children should be developing specific communication skills. Every child is different, but the charts are a good guideline.
If you suspect an issue, your child’s pediatrician will likely be the first stop. They may have your child take a hearing test first. Children who have had multiple ear infections might be prone to temporary or intermittent hearing loss, making it difficult to hear and learn correct speech patterns.
If your pediatrician suspects a different cause, they may refer you to a pediatric speech language pathologist (SLP) for an evaluation. These specialists help children who have problems with speech, language, and other skills. They also work with parents on ways to help children at home.
What are Common Types of Speech and Communication Disorders?
There are many types of speech impediments that could be responsible for delayed language development in children. KidsHealth lists several common types.
Some language disorder types are:
- Receptive disorders: These language processing disorders involve problems understanding or processing language.
- Expressive disorders: These include problems putting words together, having a limited vocabulary, or being unable to use language in a socially appropriate way.
- Cognitive-communication disorders: Problems with communication skills that involve memory, attention, perception, organization, regulation, and problem-solving.
Speech disorder types can include:
- Articulation disorders: Problems making sounds in syllables, or mispronouncing words so people can’t understand what’s being said.
- Fluency disorders: Problems like stuttering or prolonging sounds and syllables.
- Resonance or voice disorders: Problems with pitch, volume, or quality that distract listeners from what’s being said. These can also cause discomfort or pain in the speaker.
How Speech Therapy May Work In Your Child’s School
There are several ways speech therapy in schools may work. Your child’s school will work with you to develop goals and a plan for therapy. Parents or guardians are an important part of this process, and you should know you can ask any question and review any documents before you sign papers.
While speech and language services are considered part of special education, that doesn’t necessarily mean your child’s class placement will be affected. Often, your child’s SLP may schedule several short sessions a week.. Schools will often try to schedule sessions that do not interfere with the child’s classroom learning.
Your child’s SLP may work with your child individually or in small groups. An SLP or paraprofessional might work with your child in their regular classroom by observing activities and reviewing information with them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated in-person speech therapy sessions. Many in-person schools now have plexiglass partitions and issue face shields to students and SLPs as they work together. Meanwhile, distance speech therapy is possible over Zoom or a similar video conferencing software.
SLPs might use different strategies, depending on a child’s particular issue. These include:
- Language intervention activities: Building skills through modeling and feedback. The SLP might use pictures, books, or play-based therapy and language drills to practice skills.
- Articulation therapy: The SLP models sounds the child has difficulty with and demonstrates how to move the tongue to create specific sounds.
- Feeding and swallowing therapy: Teaching the child exercises to strengthen muscles in the mouth.
How Soon Can a Child Get Speech Therapy?
What might be surprising to many parents is that children younger than school age can qualify for early speech therapy. Ages may vary by state, as might the agency responsible. It could be the school district, or local health department, or some cooperative. Your pediatrician should be able to outline how it works in your area. Generally speaking, the earlier the intervention, the better.
Results, Expectations, and Advice for Parents and Guardians
Speech therapy can help a child’s communication abilities. Depending on the issue, your child might be in speech therapy for a few months or for most of their academic career.
The important thing is for parents or guardians to be involved in the process. Home practice is a critical part of the therapy process. Especially with preschoolers, SLPs may focus on how parents can use strategies to help your children in everyday situations. This site has some example activities.
You might feel awkward, since you’re not the professional, but you have several important qualifications here: You spend the most time with your child, and you know them best. You can help them learn in natural situation during all the time you’re together. And your child is most comfortable in the home.
It’s also important to be an involved partner with your child’s SLP. You can help set goals, report changes and progress, and learn strategies together.
Together with your SLP, you can work to help your child reach the full, amazing potential you know they have.
- Miller, Korin. “Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman Has Speech and Auditory Processing Disorders—Here’s What That Means.” health.com January 21, 2021. https://www.health.com/mind-body/amanda-gorman-speech-auditory-processing-disorder
- Taddonio, Patrice. “Biden’s Stutter: How a Childhood Battle Shaped His Approach to Life & Politics.” Frontline. September 22, 2020. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/bidens-stutter-how-a-childhood-battle-shaped-his-approach-to-life-and-politics/
- Cleveland Clinic. “How to Know if Your Child Needs a Speech Evaluation.” July 2014. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-know-if-your-child-needs-speech-evaluation/
- American Speech-Lanugage-Hearing Association. “How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?” https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/chart/
- American Speech-Lanugage-Hearing Association. “What Should I Do if I Think That My Child May Have a Speech, Language, or Hearing Problem?” https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/sldisorder/
- Hartnett, Julia K. “Speech-Language Therapy.” KidsHealth. September 2019. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/speech-therapy.html
- Hardee, Rhian and Kayla Chalko. “5 Things to Know About Speech Therapy With School Districts.” May 29, 2020. https://walkietalkiespeechtherapy.com/5-things-to-know-about-speech-therapy-through-public-school-districts
- American Speech-Lanugage-Hearing Association. “School-Based Service Delivery in Speech-Language Pathology.” https://www.asha.org/slp/schools/school-based-service-delivery-in-speech-language-pathology/
- American Speech-Lanugage-Hearing Association. “Resuming Services in Schools During COVID-19.” https://www.asha.org/practice/resuming-services-in-schools-during-covid-19/
- Patino, Erica. “What You Need to Know about Speech Therapy.” Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/treatments-approaches/therapies/what-you-need-to-know-about-speech-therapy
- O, Chris. “What Can We Expect from Speech Therapy in School?” Speech Buddies. August 26, 2013. https://www.speechbuddy.com/blog/speech-therapist/what-can-we-expect-from-speech-therapy-in-school/
- Lowry, Lauren. “Parents’ Role in Language Intervention.” The Hanen Centre. http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Parents%E2%80%99-role-in-language-intervention.aspx
- SLP Now. “The Importance of Parental Involvement (And How Teletherapy Can Help).” April 9, 2020. https://blog.slpnow.com/the-importance-of-parental-involvement-and-how-teletherapy-can-help/