What you need to know about speech therapy
At a glance
The speech therapist can help children with different kinds of speech difficulties, as well as language problems such as dyslexia and dyspraxia.
Speech therapists have at least a master’s degree and must be licensed to practice their profession.
Speech therapy can improve communication skills in children who have language difficulties.
If your child has trouble reading and spelling, speech therapy may not seem like the obvious answer. Many people think that speech therapists only work with people who have trouble producing certain sounds (articulation), who stutter or have a lisp.
Speech therapists address these speech difficulties, but they also help children who have other types of problems with spoken and written language, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and auditory processing disorder. In fact, a speech therapist is more accurately called a speech-language pathologist (SLP).
How speech therapy works
Speech-language pathologists find out what kind of language problem a student has, determine what is causing it, and decide on the best treatment. They can help children develop their skills by working with them individually, in small groups or in the classroom.
Speech-language pathologists can help with:
Articulation problems: Not speaking clearly and making mistakes with sounds.
Fluency problems: Difficulty with the flow of speech, such as stuttering.
Resonance or voice problems: Difficulties with voice pitch, volume and quality.
Feeding problems: Difficulty eating, swallowing and drooling.
Speech-language pathologists can help treat:
Receptive language problems: Difficulty understanding (receiving) language.
Expressive language problems: Difficulty in speaking (expressing) language.
Pragmatic language problems: Difficulty using language in socially appropriate ways.
Speech-language pathologists use strategies designed for each child’s particular problems. These strategies may include:
Language intervention activities: These activities develop skills in a variety of ways, including modeling and giving feedback to children. The therapist may use pictures, drawings, books, or play therapy. He or she may also use language exercises to practice skills.
Articulation therapy: The pathologist models the sounds with which the child has difficulty. This may include demonstrating how to move the tongue to pronounce particular sounds.
Feeding and swallowing therapy: The pathologist teaches the child exercises to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. This may include facial massage and various types of lip, tongue and jaw exercises. He or she may also use different food textures to make the child more aware of eating and swallowing.
Speech-language pathologists should have at least a master’s degree in the area of speech-language pathology. It is advisable to look for a therapist who is a member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Membership in this association means that the therapist is certified after passing the national exam.
Licensure requirements vary by state. Sometimes speech assistants, who have an associate’s degree (two years) or a 4-year degree (B.A.) in speech-language pathology, assist the speech therapist with professional services.
The benefits of speech therapy
Speech therapy can help children speak more clearly and therefore feel more confident and less frustrated when talking to others. Speech therapy can benefit children who have social, emotional and academic language problems.
For children with reading difficulties, such as dyslexia, speech therapy can help them hear and distinguish specific sounds in words: the word bat is divided into the letter sounds “b”, “a” and “t”. This can improve reading comprehension and encourage children to read.
Speech therapy is especially beneficial when children start at an early age. In one study, 70 percent of preschoolers with language problems who received speech therapy showed improvement in their language skills.
What results can you expect from speech therapy?
Working with a speech therapist can take months or even a few years, depending on your child’s needs. You will probably notice your child improving. However, remember that therapy cannot “cure”. Your child’s underlying problem continues.
The therapist should provide you and your child with strategies for coping with obstacles more effectively. He or she may assign activities to practice at home that reinforce the skills your child is learning. Children who make the most progress tend to be the ones who participate the most in treatment.
It is important that the speech therapist is the right one for your child. The therapist should have professional experience working with children who have the same problem as your child. Speech therapy is only one way to help your child with learning difficulties related to language and speech.
Speech therapy is not a quick fix. It requires effort over months or years.
It is helpful if the speech therapist has experience with children who have the same difficulties as yours.
Your participation, for example by practicing the exercises at home, can make speech therapy more effective.