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Speech and Language Development Series from an SLP

Isn’t it fascinating to watch your child’s communication skills develop? As a mama of two and an SLP (Speech Language Pathologist), I am very passionate about early speech and language development. 

May is “Better Speech and Hearing Month” (sponsored by ASHA: the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association), which aims to build awareness of communication disorders and the resources available for treatment.

I thought this would be great time to kick off a series on early speech and language development. Since there is a lot to this topic, I’m going to start today with some frequently asked questions on speech and language. Next month’s post will cover what to do if you have concerns and where to find local resources. 

What does an SLP do?

According to ASHA, “(s)peech-language pathologists (SLPs) work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.”

SLPs can work with many different populations and across different settings (home, clinic, school, hospital, outpatient center, and more) to address communication disorders and improve speech and language. Because we have a wide scope of practice, we often specialize in a certain area. My area of specialty is in pediatric speech and language disorders.

What else do SLPs do?

SLPs can also support feeding/swallowing and literacy skills. We’re also here to provide information and support to parents who are navigating their child’s communication development.

What’s the difference between speech and language?

Although “speech” and “language” are often used interchangeably, in the speech pathology world we actually differentiate between the two.

What is speech?

How we produce sounds and words. Speech consists of:

Articulation (Artic): How we produce speech sounds.
Voice: How sound is produced by the vocal tract.
Fluency: How we produce fluent speech. Dysfluency is also known as stuttering.

What is language?

The way we express our wants, needs, emotions, and ideas. Language consists of:

Expressive language: How we use language to express ourselves (talking, sign language, etc.).
Receptive language: How we listen to and understand language. 
Pragmatic language: How we use social language to interact with others.

What skills should my child be developing and when?

There are many different opinions and sources of information on this and it can be a somewhat controversial topic. The first thing to know is that every child develops in his or her own way and that is part of what makes them unique and special! We all have areas of strength and areas of difficulty. 

SLPs are trained to gather information (using speech and language norms, standardized tests, case history, parent input, observation, etc.) to assess if there is a delay in communication skills. There are resources that allow parents to look at “typical” communication development but these vary and do not always reflect the whole picture. It’s important to keep in mind that milestones are not a hard and fast rule, but more of a general guidepost. I highly recommend consulting with an SLP if you have concerns. 

The next post in this series will cover more specifics on what to do if you have concerns and local resources. Feel free to comment below with questions that I can answer in that post. 

If you have concerns, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There is a wide range of “typical” development and every child has areas of strength and areas of need throughout development. In reality, no one is “typical” because we are all unique individuals.
  • Every child is special in their own way and we should celebrate that and build upon their strengths!
  • Trust your mama gut. I was once told that parents are often their child’s best expert and I truly believe this.
  • If you have concerns and consult with your pediatrician or an SLP- please never feel silly about asking questions. It is a good idea to have your child screened by an SLP if you have concerns. Screening is a quick process that determines if a full evaluation is needed. 
  • If you are consulting with your pediatrician, keep in mind that they may not know all of the signs of communication disorders – just as SLPs don’t know how to diagnose the flu. Even if they are not familiar with all of the communication milestones, they can be a wonderful resource and can refer you to an SLP if you have concerns. You can ask for a referral even if the pediatrician hasn’t recommended it.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone in your support system and most of all don’t be hard on yourself or feel guilty. You are doing your best and I bet you’re are an amazing parent! 🙂

This post is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for assessment and/or treatment from a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. To find an SLP near you, visit https://www.asha.org/findpro/.

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