Speech and Language skills are the vital foundations for learning and development. They are the pathway through which information is passed from the outside environment into the learner and from the learner back to their environment.  

A child who is experiencing difficulties with either the receptive (input) or the expressive (output) parts of language can experience a great deal of frustration in many situations. What’s worse is that these frustrations can often be misinterpreted by others as misbehavior or laziness. This of course feeds the cycle, which can make the problem worse. 

That’s why it’s important to understand if your child needs speech therapy, which is why we’ve put together this guide for parents and caregivers.

Common difficulties present in children with speech and language deficits  

While every child is of course unique and develops at their own pace, the following is a list of common difficulties that are often an indicator of a speech or language problem:  

  • Difficulty finding the right word when talking, often uses placeholder words such as “um”
  • Using tenses (past, present, future) incorrectly 
  • Difficulty understanding what other people have said
  • Difficulty organizing their thoughts when relating something
  • Appearing overly sensitive when with peers due to constant ‘misunderstandings’ 
  • Pronouncing certain sounds incorrectly
  • Seeming overly shy or awkward when approaching others
  • Difficulty turn taking, giving in, winning or losing gracefully when involved in group activities
  • Struggles when conversing and interacting appropriately with peers
  • Difficulty completing a task within the regular allotment of time
  • Struggles when following directions
  • Difficulty finding good solutions to everyday problems

Understanding speech and language milestones 

Knowledge of the basic speech and language milestones can also help you determine whether or not your child has problems with speech or language. Below we’ve compiled a list of milestones for children aged 3 to 6, to help you understand when a child may need speech therapy (courtesy of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association).

By 3-4 years of age your child should be able to:

  • Talk about activities at school or at friends’ homes
  • Talk about what happened during the day, using about 4 sentences at a time
  • Be understood by people outside of his/her family
  • Answer simple “who,” “what,” and “where” questions
  • Ask “when” and “how” questions
  • Say rhyming words, like hat-cat
  • Use basic pronouns, like “I,” “you,” “me,” “we,” and “they”
  • Use some plural words, like “toys,” “birds,” and “buses”
  • Talk easily without repeating syllables or words

By 4-5 years of age your child should be able to:

  • Attend to a short story and answer simple questions about it
  • Understand and retell a basic story sequence
  • Speak using imaginary conditions, such as “I hope”
  • Use the past tense correctly
  • Identify basic colors (red, blue, yellow and green)
  • Identify basic shapes (triangles, circles and squares)
  • Understand basic time concepts such as “In the morning”, “next”, “nighttime” 

By 5-6 years of age your child should be able to:

  • Use basic adverbs and prepositions in running speech
  • Understand the concept of “same” and “different” and be able to compare how things are the same and/or different
  • Relate common opposite pairs, like “big/little”
  • Use basic adjectives when describing
  • Ask questions to gain information
  • Retell simple stories
  • Distinguish left and right hand in their own body
  • Define object function (you eat with a fork) and tell what objects are made of
  • Express spatial relations like “on top”, “behind”, “far” and “near”

How to access help

If, based on the above, you believe your child could benefit from speech therapy, then there are a number of ways to access help. You can make an appointment with your family doctor, who will be able to rule out other potential causes and can then refer you to a specialist. 

Or alternatively, you can book a speech and language assessment directly with a pediatric speech therapist. In terms of coverage, some plans provide cover while others don’t. Read our guide to insurance coverage for speech therapy for more information.  

If you’re looking for a speech therapist in Ocean County or Middlesex County NJ, you can contact us here

Featured image photo by Ben White on Unsplash