What is speech and how does it develop?
Speech production describes how a person coordinates the movement of their lips, tongue, teeth and voice to create clear, easy to understand speech. Speech development occurs most rapidly from birth to five years, as the muscles of the face become more capable of precise and coordinated movement. Errors in speech production in early childhood is a normal part of all children’s development.
As children hear and practice new sounds, the errors in their speech will disappear and their speech will naturally become clearer. Watching, listening to, and practicing the production of speech is the best way to support natural speech development. Engaging regularly in conversation, play, stories, songs and nursery rhymes will support a child’s speech development. Face to face interactions with caregivers from early infancy also plays an important role in supporting speech and communication development throughout childhood.
What is speech delay/disorder?
Difficulties with speech development is not uncommon and can effect children from 2 years up to 18 years of age. Speech delay describes speech difficulties that follow the expected sequence of development, but are behind other children of the same age. Speech disorder describes speech difficulties that are not seen in typical development and are generally more severe in nature. Speech difficulties and the types of errors that a person uses may be a result of articulation disorder, phonological delay/disorder or motor speech disorder (such as Apraxia of Speech).
How do I know if my child is having speech difficulties?
Learning to talk is a step by step process and all children develop differently. However, if your child sounds different to other kids of the same age, it is important to identify if their difficulties are cause for concern and are unlikely to resolve naturally. Speech delay/disorder is diagnosed by a qualified Speech Pathologist through the use of specialised speech assessment tools.
Through research studies performed on large populations of children, the expected ages and stages of speech development have been identified. Knowing the typical ages for when different speech errors resolve allows us to identify when a child is having difficulties that are not appropriate or expected for their age. Delayed or disordered speech errors may not resolve on their own and often require therapy from a Speech Pathologist. If you have concerns with your child’s speech development it is recommended that you seek advice from a qualified Speech Pathologist.
What is articulation disorder?
Articulation disorder describes the difficulties that a child has with clearly producing a speech sound in isolation. Incorrect placement of the articulators will result in a distorted production of the speech sound. Articulation errors are not considered part of typical development and may not resolve on their own. A block of articulation therapy delivered by a qualified Speech Pathologist will use explicit instruction techniques and guided practice to effectively resolve most articulation difficulties.
What is phonological delay/disorder?
Children with phonological delay or disorder will use predictable patterns of error that involve the substitution, omission, and/or addition of sounds in words. The patterns of error that a child uses are referred to as phonological processes. For example, a child who uses the phonological process Gliding will substitute an ‘r’ sound with a ‘w’ sound and say “wed wabbit.”
Phonological processes are part of normal development and follow an expected sequence of development. Error patterns that are seen in typical development but are expected to have resolved by a child’s current age are classified as delayed phonological processes. Disordered phonological processes are error patterns that aren’t seen in typical development. Phonological processes can effect a large number of sounds and can impact considerably on a child’s intelligibility. Speech therapy from a Speech Pathologist may be recommended if your child has delayed or disordered phonological processes present in their speech.
What is Apraxia of Speech?
Apraxia of Speech is a motor speech disorder that effects a child’s ability to say sounds, syllables and words clearly. Children with Apraxia of Speech often use many different errors in their speech production and are difficult to understand. Apraxia is not a result of muscle weakness or paralysis, and is not associated with cognitive impairment. Apraxia of Speech is a neurological deficit that causes problems with the brain’s ability to plan muscles movements. A child with Apraxia of Speech will know what they want to say, but will have difficulty co-ordinating the movement of their lips, tongue, and jaw to produce the desired speech sounds.
How is speech assessed?
The assessment and diagnosis of speech impairment is performed by a qualified Speech Pathologist. Learn & Grow Speech Pathologists use a combination of formal assessment tools and observational assessments to evaluate the nature and severity of speech difficulties. A comprehensive speech assessment usually takes around 60 minutes to administer and may be conducted over one or two assessment sessions.
A parent interview to gather case history and background information is also an important step in the assessment process. If there are any concerns with your child’s hearing, a referral for a hearing assessment will be made. Additional literacy and language assessment may be recommended if difficulties are identified in these areas.
For children with articulation disorder, the initial goal of therapy is to teach the child how to say the speech sound correctly. A range of kinaesthetic, tactile, visual and auditory feedback techniques are used to help elicit the speech sound correctly. Once your child has mastered ‘sound level’ production, the Speech Pathologist will guide them through a hierarchy of speech production practice levels until they are able to use the sound easily and naturally in ‘conversational level’ speech.
When treating phonological delay/disorder, a range of other teaching approaches may be used in combination with regular speech production practice. The aim is to raise a child’s awareness of the speech error patterns that they use, and increase their understanding of how these errors impact on their ability to be understood.
Therapy for Apraxia of Speech targets improved planning, sequencing, and coordination of muscle movements for speech. Multi-sensory feedback during practice sessions has been demonstrated to assist in achieving best treatment outcomes. Visual cues (such as modelling and mirrors), touch cues (such as PROMPT) and verbal cues (such as verbal directions and auditory feedback) are helpful techniques that are used in therapy.
Learn & Grow Speech Pathologists are trained in PROMPT therapy which uses specific tactile and kinaesthetic “touch” cues to support muscle planning and coordination for different speech sounds.
What does therapy involve?
In order for a person to learn a new motor skill, they must be exposed to frequent and repetitive practice. The more the child practices the new skill, the more natural and automatic it becomes. Learning to say a speech sound in a new way may be compared to learning to how write with your left hand. Initially, it will feel awkward and will require a great deal of concentration. However, with repeated practice, the new skill will become easier and more automatic over time. Regular weekly practice is therefore an essential part of successful speech therapy. The frequency, intensity and duration of therapy required will be dependent on the nature and severity of your child’s difficulties.
During each therapy session, the Speech Pathologist will guide your child through practice activities, monitor how your child is progressing and determine what level of production is appropriate to target in your home practice program. Home practice programs are included in all Learn & Grow therapy fees. It is important that home practice goals are monitored and adjusted by a Speech Pathologist to ensure that your child to experiences success and builds confidence with practicing their speech skills. As a child improves and progresses through goals of therapy, the intensity and frequency may decrease.
How do you make therapy fun?
Learn & Grow Speech Pathologists believe that therapy should be fun, motivating and achievable for clients and their families. A huge selection of games, toys, and activities that suit all ages and interests are used to keep kids excited about coming to their next Speech Pathology appointment. Goals for sessions are constantly reviewed and adjusted to ensure kids experience success and continue to build confidence with their communication abilities.