Does my Child Need Speech Therapy?
I graduated from Utah State University with my Bachelor’s Degree in 2014. I studied Communicative Disorders with an emphasis on Speech-Language Pathology and truly loved learning about the wide variety of topics in this field. I had my first baby later on in 2014 so I decided that rather than continuing my education right away (in order to become an actual Speech Pathologist a Master’s Degree is required), I would pursue my next task of becoming a SAHM without the stress of homework and studying in the midst.
Whether or not I decide to go back and get my Master’s is still up in the air, but either way - speech, hearing, facial anatomy, and language will always be something I am fascinated with. Particularly with children. Coincidentally, I’ve run into a few situations since becoming a mom that have made me grateful for the things I do know about this subject, but also really wishing I had learned more/could remember things I was taught.
The first situation, which I’ve written about in more detail here, explains the slight-mild hearing loss that both of my children were born with. The second, and seemingly unrelated situation, is my four-year-old’s recent enrollment in speech class. I’ll gladly give more details about our speech experience on a later date, but for now I’ll just briefly mention a few developmental pointers and things to look out for in every child.
There are definitely milestones for babies when it comes to speech development, things like cooing, babbling, consonant-vowel repetitions (mama, dada, baba), first words, etc. And there is SO much to be said about the importance of language in the first few years, heck I’ve just given myself a lot to write about later on. But for today’s purposes in answering the question of “does my child need speech therapy?” I’ll just stick to children ages three and up.
But before I go on, remember that in no way am I sitting here writing this to diagnose your child. That is for you, your child’s teacher, and a licensed speech pathologist to do. The statistics, phonological development rates, and numbers I’m about to throw at you are simply guidelines for you to look at to gauge where your child might currently fall. I may not be one thousand percent correct because of my faulty memory and the lousy internet that likes to throw a gazillion items of information at me. So basically, I’ve taken what I’ve learned, what I’ve recently studied up on, and what I’ve experienced with my son’s speech class and made somewhat of an average of these calculations. So take from it what you want, but keep in mind that I am no expert.
Okay, moving on...
By a child’s third birthday, he/she should have these sounds mastered: p/m/h/w/n/. In college, I learned a mnemonic to help remember this one: Prissy Missy Hates Wet Noodles. Although, in some brief researching I’ve done this week, the /b/ sound is also thrown in this category; so I guess we can also describe the noodles as brown? Anyway, these 5 sounds should come easily to your three-year-old, and not just at the initial sound of a word, but also the medial sound AND the final sound of a word. For instance, a three year old should be able to correctly say the /p/ sound in the words Pizza, hiPPo, and stoP. Along with mastery of these sounds, a three-year-old should be 75% intelligible. Meaning a stranger who has never talked to your child before should be able to understand about ¾ of what your child is saying.
By age four, the added sounds that should be very well-pronounced are: /k/g/d/t/f/. And the reason I only ever learned one mnemonic is because (understandably) things become pretty grey from here on out. Sometime between the ages 4 and 5, a child should be 100% intelligible, but that doesn’t mean they have to have every sound perfect to achieve this. Also, in this timeframe, the sound /y/ typically gets polished, and many other sounds may very likely be spot on as well.
Some of the very latest sounds to become mastered are /r/s/z/ng/v/th/zh (zh is the sound the s makes in the word “meaSure”). These are more complex sounds that require a whole lot more control of various parts of the mouth and therefore take longer to get just right.
Which leaves us with the middle mastery sounds, sounds that some kids have figured out before age 5 and some kids not until well into 1st or 2nd grade to get figured out. These sounds include /l/sh/ch/j/ and various “blends” like st, cl, gr, and so on.
It is true that boys typically develop at a slower pace when it comes to speech. Girls not only tend to speak sooner than boys, but also reach some of these phonology milestones quicker as well. Just something else to think about.
It’s important to keep in mind that out of everybody in the entire universe, you’re best equipped to understand your child because you’ve been there every step of the way of that language journey. Pay attention to how well other adults and other children understand your child. Are you frequently needing to interpret or clarify? That’s a pretty good way of figuring out overall intelligibility.
Again, everything I’ve mentioned above is basically a general range of development that shouldn’t be taken as doctrine, but should be used as a helpful guideline. Chances are, if you’re in a position where you’re slightly concerned or starting to wonder whether your kid would benefit from some speech therapy, you should probably go ahead and get your child tested! If you’re not quite ready to take that leap, talking to your child’s teacher or instructor would be a great place to start.