What is Pediatric Speech Pathology?
Speech Therapy for pediatrics is more than just “speech”…Speech Therapists may address not only a child’s ability to communicate, but also a child’s ability to breastfeed or to safely swallow food and liquid, a child’s ability to listen and comprehend directions or a child’s ability to function in a variety of social settings. A comprehensive evaluation is conducted and a treatment program is developed based on each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses. A play based approach is often the most appropriate for young children while a more structured setting may be best for older children. A speech therapist may recommend treatment for any of the following disorders:
Expressive Language Disorder
A child may have difficulty using words to express himself. A speech therapist will create a learning environment to require him to produce a communication attempt. The child’s response may be as simple as a single sound, gesture, or eye contact with a specific picture to indicate his desire. The level that the child begins to communicate is referred to as his baseline. Language expansion techniques are then implemented to expand the child’s communication system. This allows him to become more effective and more efficient in relaying his wants and needs to others.
Receptive Language Disorders
When a child is unable to understand what is being said to him, he may exhibit frustration or disinterest while interacting with others. A Speech therapist will assess where the breakdown in comprehension is occurring and simplify the task or language concept so the child can successfully interact at his level.
Auditory Processing Disorders
Some children may exhibit academic difficulty related to auditory processing problems. When auditory perception is distorted—whether through illness, injury, developmental or other challenges—auditory processing problems can emerge and lead to academic, emotional, cognitive and social challenges. Who should be referred for an evaluation? Children suffering from inattentiveness, hearing loss, difficulty hearing in noisy environments, educational difficulty, reversals in reading or writing, difficulty in fine motor coordination, and difficulty following verbal directions. A speech therapist will evaluate the nature of the auditory processing disorder, develop a treatment plan and collaborate with your child’s teacher to minimize auditory distraction in the classroom.
Feeding / Swallowing Issues
Infants and very young children may have difficulty coordinating sucking, swallowing and breathing. This difficulty significantly impacts a child’s ability to eat by traditional means such as bottle or breast feeding. A toddler may have difficulty transitioning from baby foods to more complex food textures. A speech therapist works to strengthen the muscles of the face, mouth and tongue to promote appropriate sensory awareness of food textures in the mouth while enhancing safe feeding experiences.
Some children with neurological issues demonstrate a weakness of the mouth which contributes to inaccurate placement of the tongue, lips and jaw for speech. A speech therapist works strengthening the muscles of the mouth and face, increasing oral awareness and improving accuracy of placement so speech is understood.
A child may exhibit difficulty with planning the movements of the mouth for connecting sounds into words and words into sentences. This can create unintelligible speech, as well as, a delay in language acquisition. The words they want to say may be in their brain but they can’t find the plan to verbalize them. A speech therapist works to simplify the words into smaller sound components. These small sound segments are then linked together to form words, then phrases and finally sentences.
Some children may be referred for speech services by their orthodontist due to a pattern of disordered oral habits that disrupts the alignment of the teeth despite braces or orthodontic appliances. Since this is not considered a medical condition, it is not typically covered by your medical insurance. The term “tongue thrust” or interdental lisp may be used to describe the child’s speech. The purpose of referral to speech therapy services is to help coordinate, strengthen, and improve the oral and facial muscles so that they can perform the needed tasks of speaking and swallowing. Completion of an orofacial myology program leads to better speech production, better breathing patterns and reduces the likelihood of orthodontic relapse.
A child may experience dysfluent speech at any time in their development. Some children have normal non-fluency for which therapy is not needed. Dysfluency becomes a concern when it is a noticeable frustration for the child and it interrupts the social process. When a child begins to avoid situations or when he changes his words to avoid stuttering on a problem sound, it is time for intervention. A speech therapist identifies the type of dysfluency the child is producing and develops a specific program for him. Family involvement is necessary to insure success and carryover of learned techniques.
Some children have difficulty responding appropriately in social situations. A speech therapist would work with the child on appropriate greetings, conversational skills, phone skills, and role-playing various situations in order to help the child function in broader social settings.
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) addresses the expressive communication needs of people with significant speech disability. AAC interventions range from no technology (gestures and signs), low technology (communication board) to high technology (voice output communication systems). The speech therapist helps determine the best system to allow the individual to say exactly what he wants to say in a timely manner.