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What age should a child start speech therapy?

Jun 23, 2023

Speech Therapy for Kids

It’s never too late or too early to get started. Often if your toddler is not meeting speech and language milestones by 18 months, your child’s pediatrician will recommend an evaluation with a licensed speech therapist.

Parents are often told or assume that waiting to see if their little one improves is the best option. Waiting is the main ingredient for problems worsening over time. The longer you wait and the longer a problem worsens, the harder it is to correct. If you notice your child struggling with speech or language, it is time to talk to your child’s pediatrician. Signs to look out for include:

  • Not being well understood when speaking
  • Poor voice projection such as inappropriate pitch (too loud/too quiet)
  • Decreased/loss of hearing
  • Possessing a limited vocabulary
  • Struggling to build relationships with peers 
  • Difficulty staying on topic, paying attention, or following directions
  • Has a history with a developmental disorder, genetic disorder, stroke/brain injury, or progressive neurological disorder 

You’ll be interested to know that speech therapy for kids reaches well beyond speaking skills. We’ve broken down four interesting facts about this essential therapy.

#1 Speech is Different from Language and Vice Versa

That’s right! We often hear speech and language used as interchangeable terms. However, there are distinct differences between the two that you should know. Speech, quite simply, refers to how we say sounds/words. Language, on the other hand, refers to our ability to comprehend and express through communication, which can be verbal (ex: saying complete sentences) or non-verbal (ex: waving). 

You can count on speech to include:

  • Articulation: How we make sounds using the tongue, lips, and mouth. For example, saying “yellow” over “wellow.”
  • Voice: How we make sounds with our breath and vocal folds. This includes making use of high/low pitches.
  • Fluency: The flow of our speech. Stuttering, for example, interrupts our speaking rhythm as does pausing between sounds or words.  

You can count on language to include knowing what words mean (their/there/they’re), forming new words (friend to friendly), putting words together to form complete and accurate sentences, and using verbal/nonverbal communication skills across various situations. For example, you’ll be much more likely to use the word “please and thank you” multiple times at a fancy dinner than say at a friend’s house. 

Of course, speech and language have overlapping qualities in how they both deal with communication, they are ultimately very different. Kiddos who struggle in any of these areas can get benefit from a speech therapist. 

#2 Speech Therapy for Kids Can Help Improve Social Communication Skills 

Social communication skills may come naturally to many of us, but they shouldn’t be overlooked with your little one. We’ll define social communication skills as using language differently depending on the situation and person that you’re communicating with. Kids, or adults, that struggle with social communication skills may speak at inappropriate times. Let’s say you’re telling a very serious story about your friend’s broken leg. Laughing in this situation would be considered socially inappropriate. Additionally, kids’ speech therapy can help those little tykes that struggle to stay on topic, tell stories that do not make sense, or tend to dominate conversations. In this way, speech therapists do a lot for kids to improve the way that they develop relationships with their peers and problem-solve through appropriate conversational styles.

#3 Speech Therapy is More than Spoken Communication 

Kiddos that find language challenging will often find extra difficulties with developing their reading and writing skills. The good news is that speech therapists can also help kids improve their literacy skills, making it easier to navigate the complexity of language. Many find it surprising that speech therapists do more than just help kids with spoken communication and sounds. It’s not just reading skills though. Speech therapists help with what is known as cognitive-communication skills as well. These skills include communication that involves memory, attention, organization, executive function, regulation, and more. Ultimately, cognitive communication relates to how our minds work. Some speech therapists even help with feeding/swallowing issues. At the end of the day, we want you to know that speech therapy for kids goes far beyond! 

#4 Speech Therapy Uses Play to Help Kids Learn

All play and no work? Not here! It’s true that kids thrive while playing, but speech therapists (just like any pediatric therapist) will make sure to keep things both fun and thoughtful. Balance really is key, and our professionals know how to make sessions engaging while giving growing brains a boost. Speech therapists are trained to really bring words and sounds to life in a creative way. You’ll often see a speech therapist make great use of books, storytelling, turn-taking games, and interaction as a whole.

Pediatric speech therapy helps kids’ communication skills blossom! We’re here for you to make an appointment or if you have questions. 


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2022 and has been updated to reflect the most up-to-date information for parents and caregivers.