How do I know if we need a speech-language pathologist (a.k.a. speech therapist)?

Well…simply put, if you are asking that question, the answer is probably, “Yes.” If nothing else, you may need a speech therapist (also called a speech pathologist) to evaluate your child and tell you that they are developing within normal ranges so don’t worry! If there is an issue of concern, the sooner you start intervention, the better for your child.

Most states in the U.S. provide free or low cost developmental evaluations with a basic speech screening for children birth to three through an Early Intervention program. You can usually get information about these programs from your pediatrician’s office or by searching for “early intervention services” in your area on the internet.

Speaking of pediatricians….do not rely on your pediatrician to tell you if your child’s speech or swallowing is “normal.” That is not their area of specialty and often, though they mean well, they are wrong. You wouldn’t expect a speech therapist to tell you if a strange head lump was a problem or not, would you? Pediatric medicine is too broad a field to expect expertise in all areas of child development.

If your child is between the ages of three and five, your local school district will usually do a free speech screening and then recommend whether or not a full evaluation is required. Often children who are found to have a speech delay qualify for the school district’s preschool program to help give them a “head start” on learning and communication skills.

Also, your local or state universities often have speech departments that can evaluate your child and sometimes provide therapy if needed (often at a reduced rate based on a sliding scale) to help with communication skills. Sometimes they partner with the education and/or psychology departments to provide preschool classes to help with educational, communication and social development.

Or, you may seek an evaluation with a private speech therapist (this can be a single individual with a private business or a therapist from a larger therapy company). Your health insurance may or may not pay for this. You will have to call them to find out. Be sure to carefully document and save the dates and names of anyone you speak with as well as a summary of the conversation. It usually helps to have a prescription from your pediatrician for a speech-language evaluation. Always look for someone who is currently certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). ASHA is the national governing body for speech-language pathologists. ( Also, check to be sure they are licensed by your state (if your state offers licenses).

Generally, parents (or primary caregivers) know a child better than anyone. If you are concerned, investigate thoroughly. Ask questions, do research, and seek second opinions. Sometimes parents fear the answers they might find, but there is no better way to conquer the dark unknown of concern than to shine the bright light of investigation and knowledge on them. A speech pathologist will help you do this; and the sooner you get started, the better for your child!

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