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By Lisa RobertsonPublished: May, 2013

Local speech and language pathologist Miché Almeda shares the signs to look for and where to get help.

Stacey Johnson’s son, Trevor,* began to receive interventional therapies for a number of developmental delays at 9 months old. When he turned 2, she and her husband changed their health insurance plans, hoping their new pediatrician would advocate for the occupational therapy they thought their son needed.

During Trevor’s first visit, Stacey was shocked when the pediatrician said he wanted her son to immediately start receiving intensive therapy from a private speech and language pathologist.

“We were surprised,” Stacey says. “We were so focused on his fine-motor-skill development, we hadn’t realized there was a problem with his speech.”

Stacy is not alone. Parents often don’t realize when their child has a speech disorder or delay. Since Trevor was Stacy and her husband’s first child, they didn’t know what to look for.

Speech and language impairments are communication disorders that can affect a child’s educational performance, ability to clearly communicate with others or capacity to process incoming information. Although often grouped together – and occasionally diagnosed at the same time – speech disorders and language disorders differ in an important manner.

A child’s speech disorder involves a problem in one (or more) of three areas: fluency, articulation or voice. Children with a fluency disorder typically speak in an irregular flow or rhythm. Those with articulation disorders have difficulties with the ways in which they form sounds and string together words. Voice disorders can be manifested in a number of different ways, including inappropriate pitch or volume and poor voice quality.

A language disorder may be tougher for parents to pick out because it can often be confused with a child being shy or not listening or following directions. Language disorders are present when a child (or adult) struggles to understand or correctly use spoken words.

There are two main forms of language disorders: those dealing with receptive language (understanding what others have to say) and expressive language (the ability to share thoughts, ideas and feelings). 

When a child is very young, it’s easy for his parents to assume that his speech and language “quirks” are cute and part of his developing personality. While some imperfections in a child’s communication improve or go away through time, persistent delays in speech development should never be ignored. Not seeking treatment can lead to very serious consequences.

“Children with speech or language delays in the first five years typically have marked struggles in their academic performance, especially in reading and writing” says Miche’ Almeda, a speech and language pathologist and co-owner of South County Pediatric Speech. “There are also a number of social and behavioral ramifications that can result from untreated speech and language disorders, including frustration, anger, embarrassment and further erosion of the child’s confidence in communicating his or her wants, needs and feelings.”

Stacey’s son, Trevor, will turn 5 in October. He has been receiving private therapy for almost four years and began getting additional therapy through his school district shortly after his third birthday.

“Speech therapy has made a tremendous difference in our son’s life,” Stacey says. “Although he continues to get therapy to make sure he is having meaningful conversations with his friends and family, he’s speaking very, very well. I don’t know where we would be today if it weren’t for the incredible therapists he’s had privately and through the school district.”

 * Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.

Warning signs

Parents of preschool-aged children should look for the following signs that their child lacks age-appropriate communication skills, says Miche’ Almeda, a speech and language pathologist and co-owner of South County Pediatric Speech:
• Limited vocabulary, difficulty linking words together and an inability to use common language details, such as adding “-ing” to the end of verbs when appropriate.
• Stuttering that lasts more than one month, particularly when associated with traits such as facial grimacing, repeating part of a word or repeatedly stretching out a word
• The inability of family members, peers or teachers to understand what the child is trying to say
• Echoing back words and phrases said by family members and friends instead of engaging in conversation
• Limited or lack of social interaction with eye contact, emotional contact and reciprocity in communicating with others
• Not hearing or responding to verbal communication or following directions when given

Get help
Think your child may have a speech or language delay?
• Speak with your child’s pediatrician about getting a speech and language assessment. The evaluation and therapy may be covered by your medical insurance.
• If your child is younger than age 3, contact the Regional Center of Orange County for an evaluation for services. If he is 3 years or older, contact his local school district for an evaluation and follow-up services. Kids who receive speech and language therapy through their insurance typically also qualify for the same therapy through their school district.


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