Speech therapy for children has numerous benefits. Children with speech delays may have problems with the smooth flow of words. They may not be able to speak complete sentences as the words or syllables break when they convey their thoughts. They may stammer and may not be able to speak with clarity. Such problems could become a barrier to a child’s communication and may lead to issues with self-confidence and self-esteem. Read this post as we talk about the indications of speech therapy in children and more.
What Is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy is a language intervention method that focuses on improving a child’s speech, their ability to discern speech, and overcome problems like poor articulation, disfluency (repetition of a sound, word, or phrase), and phonological and voice disorders (1).
It helps a child express themselves better through verbal and non-verbal language. It focuses on (2):
- Articulation and fluency to form sounds, words, and sentences. Children affected with speech problems are not good at articulating words and speaking fluently. Speech therapy aims to work on this difficulty to help articulate words better.
- Regulation of the volume of speech. Often kids with speech problems speak in either low volume or high. Speech therapy focuses on helping kids articulate words clearly and regulate pitch and volume.
- Expressive language through pictorials, signs, and written forms. Children who suffer from speech disorders find it difficult to convey a message to others using words, sentences, and writing. They also struggle to use grammar correctly and frame words in a sentence and describe incidents. Speech therapy aims to work on these areas.
In general, children are reluctant to talk or talk with breaks. It is difficult to understand what they want to say. But it doesn’t mean the child needs a therapy.
How To Know If Your Child Needs Speech Therapy?
You need to understand the levels of the problem when speech therapy becomes necessary. Here are some criteria (3):
1. Your child needs speech therapy if:
- People find it difficult to understand what your child says as the speech is not clear.
- Your child struggles in uttering words or translating their thoughts into words.
- The child’s speech is disturbed with stuttering, repetition, prolongation, and blocks.
- The child utters only one or two words like mama, papa rather than two-to- three-word sentences.
- Your child has not developed on social skills like making friends, having direct contact, learning play skills, and engaging with others.
2. Your child may have perfect pronunciation and may also be an early reader. But they may still need speech therapy to hone their pragmatic language skills or the process of using language aptly in social scenarios to have a conversation, make new friends or simple requests to someone.
3. A child may also need speech therapy due to disabilities, or medical conditions like autism or hearing impairment as they affect the ability to communicate.
Consult a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in the above cases. The SLPs often begin services for these kids at a young age and continue through the school years.
Even if your child is enrolled in a speech therapy service, you may still practice speech therapy exercises at home to support the treatment.
If the speech, is delayed then the first thing to consider is if the hearing of the child is fine. This can be assessed at home to see if the child responds to loud sounds or turns towards the music or sound from the television.
Tips For Parents On Speech Therapy At Home
- Encourage conversation: Ask your child thought-provoking things like, “What would you do if you have a bird for a friend?” By asking questions that extort detailed response, you are encouraging your child to express their ideas.
- Listen carefully. Listen to your child with attention even if they are taking time to complete their sentences. When you are listening, your child gets the confidence to speak. They try their best to talk fluently.
- You can try this exercise: Get your child and their friends or siblings together and make a circle. Whisper a sentence to one child, and they will pass it on to the other and so on. Ultimately, the sentence announced by the last child should be the same that you told the first child.
- Make your child read: Buy some interesting story books or pick up a news piece that is of interest to your child and ask them to read it aloud. Tell them to repeat it twice or thrice. Such activities foster speaking as well as language skills.
- Do an assessment: Evaluate your child and see in which areas your child is delayed. This will help you know if speech issues are standalone or are connected with other developmental problems. You can analyze by comparing your child’s performance with the normal milestones in children of that age.
- Target areas: Choose specific problem areas that you want to address and resolve. Keep the goals achievable both for you and your child. Focus on age-specific goals that the children of that age normally reach.
- Address one sound at a time: Begin with breaking down a problem into simpler and smaller versions and then teaching them specifically.
If you want to teach your child how to use the f sound correctly, start by showing them how to utter the sound first (fff), then teach syllables (fuh/ oof), then move on to words (f for fish) and finally use those words in sentences and conversation.
You can try several activities to improve your child’s speech. But remember that your child should enjoy them. They may not cooperate if they feel bored.
Speech Therapy Activities And Exercises
Each of the exercises we share below engages the child and stimulates speech production.
1. Flashcards and question cards
Place a few flashcards with pictures in front of your child and ask them to say what they see on the card. Start with a few cards and increase the pictures as you progress. If your child struggles with certain words, you will understand where you need to invest more time.
Question cards have simple questions for children. Choose one card at a time and slow down to have a conversation. This can be a grand strategy to pull your child into a conversation.
The questions can be like, “If you were to receive one present right now, what would it be?”/ “If you could change one thing about school, what would that be?”
2. Mirror exercise
Mirrors provide visual feedback. Most children with articulation problem do not know how to move their mouth to form sounds accurately. Speaking in front of a mirror helps a child watch how they move their mouth when making that particular sound.
Stand in front of the mirror and produce each sound for your child. Then, help them discern the differences through the mirror.
3. Hop and speak
This game makes your child repeat the word nine times. Start with the words you want your kid to practice.
Draw hopscotch with 1-9 numbers and ask the child to utter the word each time they hop on a number. Once they complete hopping up to 9, change the word and let them hop again, this time with the new word.
You can begin with fewer words and increase them gradually.
Once they complete the game by saying the words correctly, reward them with a gift. This increases the child’s confidence.
4. Play catch
Take a ball and throw it back and forth. Play catch with your kid as they practice their words. This way they are doing two exercises at a time.
5. Go for a walk
If you are walking somewhere with your kid, have them take one step ahead for every correct repetition. You may try this when you are in a park or entering your house.
In addition to playing such games with your child, you need to make them exercise their oral muscles.
Oral Motor Exercises
Oral motor refers to the use of muscles inside the mouth, including the lips, cheeks, jaw, and tongue. All these parts are tied to muscles, which can be strong or weak, coordinated or uncoordinated.
We need strong oral motor skills to be able to talk, eat, swallow or drink. Here are different oral motor exercises for your kids to practice in the comfort of home.
1. Lip movements
These lip movements make for an excellent oral exercise for kids.
- Say ooo, then eee. Combine “oo-ee.” All these utterances have different movement patterns.
- Ask the kid to smile big, relax and repeat.
- The child can puff out their cheeks while not opening the lips. Alternatively, they may puff one cheek and rest the other.
- Ask the child to blow a balloon or whistle.
- The same can be done with lips. Puff the upper lip followed by the lower lip. Relax. Repeat.
- Make the child drink from a straw instead of a cup.
2. Tongue movements
Try these ‘tongue twisters’.
- Make your child practice tongue tip sounds like “t-t-t-t,” “d-d-d-d” “p-p-p-p.”
- Say “go” with exaggeration
- Have your kid hold their tongue and not rest it on the lips or teeth. They have to tighten the tongue and then relax.
- Ask the child to protrude the tongue and make circular movements.
3. Cheek movements
You can strengthen the child’s cheek muscles with these movements:
- Ask your kid to keep their lips sealed and contract the cheeks.
- Make an “o” with the lips and move them in a circular motion. Relax and repeat.
- Use a straw to drink water.
A few other exercises for oral motor skills
4. Blow bubbles
Let your child blow bubbles for breath-control as well as for the lips. It makes children purse their lips, which is an oral motor exercise.
5. Tune the harmonica
Blowing the harmonica helps in breath-control and lip-pursing. If your kid’s breath-control is weak, have them make louder sounds from the harmonica, and if their lip strength is weak, focus on playing one note at a time.
6. Peanut butter
Who doesn’t love peanut butter? Rub some on the child’s lips and have them lick it. Apply the butter from one corner to the other so that the tongue reaches from one side to another.
Besides these activities, you can encourage your kid to talk and develop their speech with simple activities right from their infancy.
Age-wise Activities For Speech Development
Here are some activities you can try at home.
Remember that children learn to speak naturally and hence you should not put any pressure on them. These activities may be taken up only if the child is liking them. Do not force the child to do these activities.
Birth to 2 years
At this age, the baby cannot speak but make some sounds. Hence you cannot know if they need any speech therapies. You can take up the below exercises if you want to encourage your infant to make sounds/ utter syllables.
- Make sounds like “ma,” “ba,” “da”. Eventually, your baby might repeat them.
- Pretend to have a conversation with your baby whenever they make sounds. Talkback and repeat whatever they say. This encourages them to ‘talk’ more.
- Teach your baby to clap hands.
- Talk to your baby while bathing, walking or feeding them. You may talk about anything.
- Use gestures like waving and pointing.
- Talk to your baby about animal sounds, like, “The dog says bow-wow”.
- Use vowels in the words.
2 to 4 years
- Speak with clarity so that the child learns that from you.
- Repeat what your child speaks to tell them that you understand.
- Add on to what they say. Example: “Mango juice? I have juice. I have mango juice. Do you want mango juice?”
- Help your child understand and ask questions. Play the yes/no game. You may have them come up with sentences like, “I can fly,” “A tree can walk”, and then you answer in yes or no.
- Put familiar objects in a box. Have your child take one out at a time and tell you what its name is and how to use it. “This is a pencil. I use a pencil to draw sketches. I also write using this pencil.”
- Ask the child to read aloud slowly, pronouncing each word separately.
You may also use speech development toys and speech therapy books.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. At what age should a child have speech therapy?
Some children might talk sooner than others. The pediatrician may advise you to wait until the child is 24 months old as children usually start talking between 18 and 24 months. However, if you notice the issues continuing beyond 24 months, you should contact a speech therapist (6).
2. What does a speech therapy session look like?
Speech therapy includes different activities. The therapist may use a picture book and engage the child in talking, playing, and repetition to build language skills. They may teach the child how to move the tongue while making certain sounds or pronouncing some words. Tongue, lip, and jaw exercises may also be taught. The speech therapy may also involve swallow therapy and oral feeding. These activities are offered either one-on-one or in a group (7).
3. What causes speech delays?
Speech delay may happen due to structural defects in the tongue, lips, palate, or frenum or may be a symptom of disorders such as hearing loss, expressive language disorder, psychosocial deprivation, elective mutism, autism, receptive aphasia, and cerebral palsy. It is also seen in children from bilingual backgrounds or may occur due to maturation delay (6) (8).
4. How long does speech therapy last?
Short-duration therapy interventions may be offered in segments, such as one hour a week for six weeks. Some therapists may prefer a long-haul, daily treatment approach, such as that given in schools. On average, most sessions are relatively short (about 20 hours) (9).
It takes patience and a positive attitude to deal with a child’s speech disorder. Before introducing speech therapy for kids, it is important to understand the specific area they face trouble with. Kids with speech problems may face issues with pronouncing words or regulating their volume. Speech therapy for kids is designed to target all of these problems associated with the disorder. You may try some practical activities to encourage your child to speak better and more fluently. Above all, remember to be empathetic for fruitful results.
- What is speech therapy?
- Speech Therapy.
- Speech and language therapy interventions for children with primary speech and/or language disorders.
- Speech therapy tips for parents to use at home.
- Delayed Speech or Language Development.
- At what age should speech therapy begin?
- Speech Therapy for Children: What are the Benefits?
- Evaluation and Management of the Child with Speech Delay
- James Law et al.; Speech and language therapy interventions for children with primary speech and/or language disorders
Dr. Ritika Shah
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Dr. Mubina Agboatwalla(MBBS, DCH, MCPS)
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