Before Even Considering SLP Services
As you can imagine, knowing the difference between what is and what isn't standard regarding a child’s speech and language development is vital. While important at every stage, it's perhaps even more so for a preschooler. If problems can be nipped in the bud, a tender young child could be spared potential life-altering challenges as she grows. Here are some of the signs:
1 - Mispronunciation
One of the most common (and often adorable) hallmarks of preschoolers’ speech are mistakes with pronunciation. For the most part, this is completely normal. Who hasn’t heard a little child substitute an f or d sound for th ("I'm taking a baf" for "I'm taking a bath") However just be aware that these cute mispronunciations are common (and normal) only until about six years old.
What is key is to watch your preschooler's pronunciation gradually improve over time. The truth is that by the time she is 3, most of what comes out of her mouth should be understandable, give or take a lapse here and there. But if your kid isn’t talking so much, not to mention remaining pretty silent, this is your cue to solicit SLP services.
2 - A Lisp
A lisp is pronouncing the "s" sound like a "th." The correct pronunciation of an "s" is produced with the tongue behind the top teeth. A kid who lisps incorrectly pushes his tongue out. This may push air out the side of his mouth. Don’t worry! Many children lisp as they're learning to talk, and will self-correct by 7. But seek SLP services by age five before the lisp becomes habitual.
3 - Language Expression
It isn’t uncommon for kids to struggle with their language and speech until the age of 3. Often this can be attributed to the child’s eagerness to communicate, which causes her to stumble when she feels that she isn’t being understood. However if when she turns four years old, her thoughts aren’t flowing in complete sentences with less effort there may be cause for concern.
4 - Stuttering
It is quite common for young children to go through a phase where they stutter–perhaps even painfully. Stuttering at this age is a function of the child’s brainpower overwhelming verbal dexterity. So excited to tell you what he’s thinking, or so tired, or so angry, or so upset, the words just don’t come out so easily. But for most kids, the stuttering won’t persist.
5 - Childhood Apraxia of Speech
Childhood Apraxia of Speech, or CAS, is a nervous system disorder that impairs a child's ability to speak and may require intensive SLP services. This disorder isn’t due to muscle weakness, but the brain’s inability to direct the body to produce speech. If you hear your kid inconsistent in enunciating simple sounds, this may be a sign of apraxia.
Difference Between Speech and Language Disorders
Speech and Language, while often used interchangeably, are entirely different. Speech refers to the sound of spoken language whereas Language refers to the expression of meaning. A child with a language disorder may have difficulty either understanding what’s being said or communicating thoughts. This may be seen in learning new words or having conversations.
Why it is Important for an SLP to be an Educator
It is important for therapists that provide SLP Services be keenly aware of these warning signs and educate parents. The SLP who sees herself as an educator, above and beyond the clinical session, will become a valuable resource for her clients and others. Parents feel more confident with those who educate them and more likely to refer such a clinician to others.