The ability to effectively communicate is paramount to human development. Communication plays a vital role in the early formative years of a child’s life. For children who lack essential communication skills, this can present obstacles in development. It can also hinder them from gaining the necessary educational experiences and learning the skills that they will need as adults. For parents, this can be a stressful experience, and for children, it can be a debilitating one.
Nearly 40 million Americans have some form of speech or communication disorder, and one-in-five Americans have reported some sort of hearing loss in one or both of their ears. Even more staggering, is that 5 percent of U.S. children will exhibit some form of speech disorder by the time they enter the first grade.
What are the Causes of Childhood Speech Disorders?
While there is no one cause for all speech disorders, they can be the result of a number of different conditions, including:
- Apraxia of Speech – a motor speech disorder that makes it hard for people to speak.
- Dysarthria – difficult or unclear articulation of speech that is otherwise linguistically normal.
- Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders – these are disorders of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth. OMDs may affect, breastfeeding, facial skeletal growth and development, chewing, swallowing, speech, occlusion, oral hygiene, stability of orthodontic treatment, facial aesthetics, oral hypersensitivities, speech impediments and more.
- Speech Sound Disorders – communication disorders in which children have persistent difficulty saying words or sounds correctly.
The Importance of Pediatric Occupational Therapists
According to ASHA, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, “Children develop at their own rate. Some children walk and talk early. Others take longer. Most children learn skills within an age range, such as between 12 and 18 months. A child who takes longer to learn a skill may have a problem.”
ASHA recommends that speech language pathologists, or SLP’s be actively involved with the team responsible for evaluating and supporting the child. This can include behavioral analysts, speech therapists, pediatric occupational therapists, parents, educators and other healthcare professionals.
Professionals in the SLP field, such as pediatric occupational therapists can help identify speech disorders in children, and actively work towards making sure children have the speech, language, and communication skills that they will need in order to become productive and independent individuals in adulthood.
Benefits of Pediatric Occupational Therapy and SLP’s
For children in need of speech therapy, there are a number of potential benefits that they can gain from participating in speech therapy programs. These include:
- Better Articulation
- Ability to Effectively Communicate
- Reduction in Stuttering
- Decrease in Stress and Anxiety
- Improved Confidence
Signs of Language Disorders
In pre-verbal children and infants, it may be difficult to tell if they have a speech disorder. According to identifythesigns.org There are some early signs of speech disorders that parents should watch for, including:
- Infant does not smile or interact with others (birth and older)
- Infant does not babble (4 to 7 months)
- Child makes few sounds or gestures (7 to 2 months)
- Does not understand what others say (7 months to 2 years)
- Child says only a few words (12 to 18 months)
- Words are not easily understood (18 months to 2 years)
- Child does not put words together to make sentences (1.5 to 3 years)
- Child has trouble playing and talking with other children (2-3 years)
- Child has trouble with early reading and writing skills* (2.5 to 3 years)
While speech disorders can prevent great difficulty in development for children, and a great deal of stress for parents, with modern understanding and therapeutic practices, speech disorders do not mean that the child cannot grow up to lead a full life. If addressed early on, some speech disorders may diminish over time, and the child can become a well spoken, and independent adult. If your child displays any of the above signs of pediatric speech disorders, contact a pediatric occupational therapist today.