This question could be one of the most important ones that you ask when bringing your child to begin receiving speech therapy.
If you ask your SLP this question and you receive anything resembling a definite answer, then perhaps you need to keep looking for an SLP to deliver the speech therapy. How could anyone know?
But several questions may help you to make an educated guess. They are:
What is the nature of your child’s speech deficit?
How severe is your child’s problem?
Does your child have any other behavioral or learning challenges that could impact the speech problem?
How experienced and competent is your therapist?
To what degree are you as the parent willing to get involved?
The answer to these particular questions will yield a composite that will give you a better handle on the speech therapy process to which you are submitting your child. The duration of the therapy isn’t only a matter of time and money. Your child’s staying power, as well as yours, becomes an increasingly important factor over time.
When you maximize the success of speech therapy for your child, you stand a better chance of helping to maintain your child’s motivation. If the process seems endless to the child, there is a very real danger of burnout. It’s quite simple; maximizing understanding will increase the odds of reaping optimal results. Isn’t this what it is all about?
1. What is the nature of your child’s speech deficit?
First, you need to be clear about the primary speech or language problem that your child is experiencing. Is she having trouble producing her words clearly? Is she finding it difficult to process language? Or is your little girl finding it difficult to express her thoughts or feelings clearly? Is there a stuttering problem or some other challenge with fluency?
Each of the challenges will involve a goal-oriented therapeutic approach. However, different therapists will approach it differently. There are various schools of thought. Another factor to consider is whether or not the objective is to eliminate the speech deficit or to make a significant improvement short of absolute elimination.
When working with a language processing problem, one therapist may be teaching strategies to improve the issue while another will be heading for a cure. The goal of the therapy will have a significant bearing on its length, so parents should consider this when determining their expectations.
2. How severe is your child’s problem?
At first glance, it would seem to be a no-brainer that the more severe the problem, the longer the therapy should take. However, many experienced therapists have seen otherwise. They have seen kids with more severe issues achieve the desired results in less time, due to a commitment to do the work and stay at it.
And it could work the other way as well. Sometimes the problem will be relatively mild, and the therapy just isn’t proceeding as planned. While there are no guarantees, it is generally safe to assume that there will be a direct correlation between the severity of the problem and the duration of the therapy.
3. Does your child have any other behavioral or learning challenges that could impact the speech problem?
When you have a particular concern related to your child’s development, you should refer your child for a full evaluation. There may be more than just that specific problem playing a role. For example, a speech-language deficit may warrant learning, neuropsychological development, and behavior evaluations as well.
If it turns out that there are other issues, it would be prudent to inform your SLP. Sharing this information is about more than just raising awareness. Armed with this vital information, the SLP can craft a more effective treatment plan when taking into account these other challenges as well. If indeed there are other problems such as behavioral, learning, or attention, you can expect the child to be in therapy longer.
4. How experienced and competent is your therapist?
When choosing an SLP, rest assured that, as long as the therapist is certified by ASHA (the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association), and licensed in your state, the clinician is competent. But you still need to vet out the specific therapist you have chosen, especially if your child has a more severe problem.
You would be wise to find out whether or not the clinician you have chosen has extensive clinical experience in your child’s deficit area. While you don’t necessarily need to work with an expert, you do want to ensure that your SLP knows what she is doing. After all, this is your precious child! Understandably, the more competent the therapist, the more likely you will see the desired results in less time.
5. To what degree are you as the parent willing to get involved?
There is a general rule that is helpful to know. It goes something like this: “the earlier on and the more involved the parents become in their child’s therapy, the quicker the therapy will progress.”
It will usually take at least a couple of weeks for the SLP to establish a working rapport with your child and develop a routine. After that point, the therapist should inform you of the high-priority goals and give you direction as to how you can be helpful and reinforce those advancements that are made in the sessions.
A rule of thumb is that you should be implementing the exercises the SLP has assigned, by sitting down with your child and employing these strategies two to three times per week, or whatever is agreed upon by the parent and the child. In addition, it’s essential to assist your therapist in finding out what motivates your child. Clarifying this will help your child to remain engaged in the process.
So, after all is said and done, it is quite difficult to predict with any certainty how long your child’s speech therapy will take. A 2002 study concluded that meaningful gains in speech clarity take approximately 14 hours of therapy, on average.
This estimate is only for speech clarity and not applicable to gains in expressive language or fluency. Still, after several sessions, you should see progress. The better you understand the factors mentioned above, the better handle you will have on managing your expectations of how long your child’s speech therapy will take.