I studied communication disorders in undergrad, have my masters in speech language pathology and I’ve worked with children with communication disorders for the last six years and I take my kid to speech.
Our son was always just a little behind the developmental milestones for speech.
His first words came around 14 months and his developmental milestones were always something I was very aware of.
He has a language rich environment at home, he is in a great preschool, and we were doing all the things “right” when it came to fostering development and communication.
He was still a little behind.
My actual favorite thing ever was to watch him sing baby shark, he substitutes the /k/ sound for /t/ so he would run around the house yelling baby shar… well you can figure that one out.
This past year he was approaching three, which is a pretty significant age for speech.
At this age, a child’s speech should be understood about 75% of the time by unfamiliar listeners.
Our son was closer to 50%, even with some people he knew well.
As he started to get closer to his third birthday, I started to amp it up at home.
We read more, I encouraged him to speak when requesting things, and was very intentional about making sure he had enough space to speak, all with very little improvement.
The more I listened to him speak and the specific errors he had, the more confident I was that he had a phonological processing disorder and not just an articulation disorder.
I don’t want to get too into the weeds here but a very basic generalization is that phonological processes are patterns that reach across classes of sounds. Since it’s a pattern it can actually become a unique language for the child and is an embedded rule in their brain vs an articulation disorder which is more simply the incorrect production of a sound.
The kicker here is that with it being phonological, it can impact learning and reading in a big way.
I was able to watch him interact with a few friends his age and I noticed he had a hard time communicating with them effectively and eventually after failing to get across what he was trying to say, he went and played by himself… which he does a lot.
All of these things led to me reaching out to our local school district to get him evaluated in speech.
Is it something I could address with him at home? Sure.
But I didn’t (don’t) want to have that interaction with him.
I don’t want to be his speech pathologist. I want to be his mom.
I’m actually hiding the point here though.
I didn’t write this so you can learn more about our equal parts goofy and handsome three year old, about our decision to pursue speech, or to affirm to all the speech pathologists out there that it’s okay to take your kiddo to speech-
I wrote this so one mama reading might feel confident enough to take the next steps or feel equipped to help a friend take the next steps in intervention.
Being both a speech pathologist and a mom I often see development from both sides.
I see moms wrestling with concerns they have for their child and not knowing where to go or who to reach out to.
I see moms just trying to do the right thing for their kids and well-meaning strangers saying things like: “He’s just a boy!” “Give him some time to mature.”
…and I also see students in the 6th, 7th, even 8th grade still working on communication skills.
I’m not saying those people are wrong, I’m also not saying that seeking out help is going to be the sole thing that prevents special services later on, but what I am saying is that concern you have, that little twinge you have in your gut, don’t ignore it.
There is no shame in getting your child the help that they need. There’s no shame in exploring a concern you have and getting more information.
As a friend, (we’re all friends here right?) let me tell you this:
Whether your concern is in speech/communication, emotional, developmental, physical, social, or even if you can’t quite put words to it-
Identifying a need early and addressing it early drastically improves long term outcomes.
Don’t wait for them to grow up or mature. Don’t let the fear of what they might find keep you from getting them help. Don’t ignore that gut feeling.
Next Steps and Resources
Putting my speech path hat on for a moment here to tell you the earlier intervention takes place, the more effective it is.
Let that sink in for a moment if that gut feeling I mentioned earlier resonates with you. Ignoring something or putting it off can get in the way of improvement.
The good news is there are resources available to you.
Many people don’t know what’s available or what next steps to take if you have a concern. (Symbolically grabbing your hand in mine through these words) Let’s walk through it together!
If you feel comfortable with your doctor, start there.
We have an amazing pediatrician who I adore and trust, however, I have heard of several physicians writing off concerns and encouraging waiting until school age years, which I can’t discourage enough.
If this happens just know that you have options.
There is a difference between a medical diagnosis and an educational need. Sometimes these two can mirror each other but other times they do not.
You can have a medical diagnosis that doesn’t show up as an educational need and you can also have an educational need that doesn’t show up as a medical diagnosis.
Each state does early intervention (birth to three) differently. You can find out what your state offers here.
If your child is three or older, the public Elementary school that your family is zoned for can help.
In some cases the special education offices are separate from the Elementary school. You can usually find this information on your local school district’s website.
It’s as simple as calling them, let them know you have a concern and want to pursue testing and they complete a full assessment looking at all areas of development.
You also have the right at anytime to get your child evaluated by an independent party which you may have to pay out of pocket for.
More than anything I want you to know that equipping yourself with information about your child to make informed decisions has no space for shame and you have options for what that looks like.
What to do if it’s not your child
If you’re reading this and it’s not your own child that you have a concern for, let me say I’m sorry. That’s a a difficult place to be.
I would encourage you first to research your concern.
Look up developmental milestones and the specific concern you have on trusted evidenced-based websites and see if your concern is valid.
It’s important to know that different does not = a disorder and sometimes a child’s differences are just that.
Other times, a family member or friend may not see what you see and my friend and that can be very hard conversation to have.
What I would encourage here is after researching, don’t assume and instead ask questions:
“I notice that sometimes __ gets frustrated when he/she speaks, I wonder if that happens a lot?”
“I notice that sometimes __ has a difficult time with ___. I wonder if you noticed that too?”
Even something like speech can feel overwhelming for a parent and what they need from you is to approach them with empathy and a genuine curiosity, not by flooding them with opinions and information.
Hear what they have to say and ask permission to ask more questions or explore this topic with them.
Let them know that you read this blog post and come back to this if you need help with resources and next steps.
Seeking out help for your child or loved one can be hard.
It often takes swallowing pride, dismissing fear, and stepping out in faith as you’re gathering information.
But let me encourage you in this:
If you’re putting your child and their needs above everything in this discovery process you’re doing it right.
If you’re ignoring the well-meaning comments and trusting your intuition, you’re doing it right.
If you’re loving that baby of yours well by wanting the world for them and knowing that the first step in that is reaching out for help, you’re doing it right.