Does My Child Need Speech Therapy?

My first two children both started talking at an early age. They were relatively intelligible by eighteen months and speaking full and complete sentences by two (complete with articles and prepositions). That was my normal.

Then came my third child.

At eighteen months? He was almost silent. At two-years-old? He was clearly trying to communicate, but I could hardly understand a word of it.

I tried not to worry too much about it. After all, shouldn’t we do our best not to compare our younger kids to our older ones? I reminded myself that children’s speech develops on different timetables, and I brushed my fears aside.

My pediatrician reminded me that as a third child, his older siblings probably talk for him much of the time. “I’m sure he’ll catch up,” he assured me.

I loved and trusted my doctor.

Ruling Out Hearing Difficulties

Fast forward another year. We decided to consult with an ENT specialist to explore the possibility of having tonsils and adenoids removed. His tonsils were large, which meant his adenoids likely were as well. Maybe that was the reason for his speech difficulties?

The ENT took one glance and confirmed that his adenoids were huge. According to the ENT, the amount of fluid build-up was also probably affecting his hearing. He needed both tonsils and adenoids removed. Due to an upcoming move, we delayed surgery until we were settled in our new city.

Two months later, he had surgery. It was rough, but we looked forward to speech improvement after a couple months.

But his speech didn’t get better.

Now, I am a fairly laid-back parent as far as medical procedures go. I don’t love early medical intervention and tend to wait as long as possible before pursuing any medical advice or medications. I was convinced that with time, my son’s speech would improve.

We just had to be patient.

An Encounter That Pushed Me to Find Answers (Even When Doctors Said He Was Fine)

A few months later we decided to participate in a homeschool co-op park day. While chatting with other homeschool moms, I overheard one older child talking with her mom. Her speech was just like my son’s but in a child five years older than him.

That was a defining moment for me. I knew that I couldn’t ignore the problem any longer. I saw what could happen if I continued to ignore my son’s obvious speech problems.

At age four, his speech had improved tremendously, but I still couldn’t understand him ten to twenty percent of the time. I decided to begin pursuing help and advice from professionals.

My first stop was our pediatrician. At my son’s well-visit, I asked her what she thought about his speech. After talking with him for a few minutes, she brushed off my concerns. “His speech is normal for his age. I’m sure it will get better with time. Don’t worry about it.”

Generally, I would happily take advice like this and move on. Another doctor also said my child was fine. But my mom radar was on high alert, and red flags once raised, do not lower easily.

I didn’t have a great next step in the process, but thankfully, the next step came to us.

Answers From an Unexpected Source

Does My Child Need Speech Therapy?It was a pediatric dentist who finally helped us to determine that our son needed speech therapy, as well as an additional surgery. After he completed his examination, he said, “Did you know that your son has a tongue tie? I noticed he struggles to form certain sounds, such as r’s, l’s, and y’s, and that’s why.”

Finally, we had an answer to my son’s ongoing speech problems. We know now that he does indeed need speech therapy, and likely a minor surgery to clip the tongue tie.

This past year as we’ve debated about speech therapy, I’ve done a lot of research and learned so much. Here are three questions to help you decide whether or not to pursue speech therapy for your own child:

Note: See this post for a list of how speech and language should be developing by age. If your child is far behind those guidelines, consult with your pediatrician, a pediatric dentist, or skip straight to a speech therapist for an evaluation.

Four Questions to Ask While Considering Speech Therapy

  1. Does my child’s frustration negatively affect his daily interactions with family and friends?
    Even just a few months ago, our son still experienced daily frustrations because he couldn’t be easily understood by others. We tried to have patience and wait for him to slow down and sound out the word in question, but he started to realize that he should be able to be understood by now. For me, that was a clear sign we needed to find a solution and seriously consider speech therapy.
  2. Is there a physical problem preventing clear speech? We had just started working with my son on a few harder sounds. We encouraged him to form his r, showed him where to put his tongue to say l, and explained how to form your mouth for words that start with y. Nothing worked, no matter how hard we tried. We made it fun, gave rewards, and explained with unwavering patience. He still said over and over, “It’s too hard, Mama. I cannot make that sound.” According to our dentist, this is a clear sign that something else is going on behind the speech problems. It might not be a tongue tie, but when a child states that he cannot—not will not—make a certain sound, we need to listen.
  3. Have you ruled out hearing as a possible cause of your child’s speech problems? At first, we thought that the adenoids and tonsils were the real problem. After all, the ENT mentioned that my son probably wouldn’t pass a hearing test before his adenoidectomy because of the fluid build-up. He didn’t, however, actually administer a hearing test. Once my son healed from the surgery, it was very clear that hearing was no longer a problem.
  4. Could he have learned how to make certain sounds incorrectly at one point because of hearing problems? Maybe. But we gave him months to see signs of improvement, and his speech improved only the slightest bit. In our case, the hearing wasn’t the main problem; the tongue tie was. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a factor for your child. Because hearing tests are scheduled at different well-visits depending on your doctor, your state, and your insurance, you may want to inquire about a hearing test just to rule it out.

Speech Therapy Could Be Life-Changing

Before researching speech therapy, I never thought about how speech could dramatically affect my son for the rest of his life. Realizing that it could affect his relationships and even his career path pushed me to get the answers I needed.

Do your research, ask your questions, but ultimately, trust your instincts. Even when everyone else (including medical professionals) says your child is fine, you are your child’s best advocate, and speech therapy could be truly life-changing.

About the Author

june doranJune loves deep discussions about homeschooling, parenting, and minimalism. When she’s not homeschooling, decluttering, or blogging at This Simple Balance, she loves to enjoy perfect silence while sipping a hot cup of coffee and thinking uninterrupted thoughts—which, of course, with four kids ages eight and under doesn’t happen very often!

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