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What Speech Language Pathologists Want You to Know

Tips from three local SLPs

Speech therapy is often misunderstood, primarily because most parents don’t know much about it. For example, where is speech therapy available? Is there a minimum or maximum age for kids to get therapy? In what way is it therapy? You get the picture—there are so many questions out there, and we feel your confusion.

So we spoke with three local speech language pathologists (SLPs)—Laura Avara of Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD, Eva Papendorf of MHMR Early Childhood Intervention Services in Fort Worth, and Nikki Rustad of Monkey Mouths in Fort Worth—and asked them to answer some of our questions as well as give us their top tips they want parents to know, just so we can clear all this up for you (and us).

Where Speech Therapy is Available

Fortunately, one doesn’t have to search far and wide to find speech therapy. In fact, it’s available in public school districts, early childhood intervention centers, private practice and outpatient practices. In Texas school districts, therapy is available as early as 3-years-old with early intervention available as early as birth.

“Kids can come in to the schools before the age of 3 for what they need prior to school age,” Avara says. For kids that are school-aged, their therapy happens during the school day. At specific times during their day, the kids are taken out of class to go to their therapy session (but don’t worry, they aren’t missing too much of their studies). Also, since it’s within the school districts, the therapy comes at no cost, which is a huge plus.

Private practices are similar to the school districts, in that they serve the same age range but operate in a slightly different way. Rustad explains that Monkey Mouths, and other private practices like it, are structured so the parent or caregiver brings the child to them as opposed to your child taking part in therapy within their school. “[This] alone demonstrates a level of commitment and participation,” Rustad says. “We get to see you and talk to you every time you bring your child.”

Additionally, both Avara and Rustad add that just because your child is receiving therapy at one place or the other, additional help is never a bad idea. In other words, if your kiddo is receiving therapy at school, find a private practice to supplement what they receive during the day (and vice versa).

For early childhood intervention (ECI), finding a place for your little one under age 3 to receive therapy is just as simple. Papendorf says the program is available all over the state as it’s a state-run program. It’s worth noting that because of that, payment is structured as a family cost-share that accepts insurance as well as Medicaid. Further, with ECI, Papendorf primarily makes home visits—super convenient.

What SLPs Treat

Overall, SLPs treat any type of delay or hindrance that involves speech or language. In the school districts, Avara says the majority of cases involve articulation issues as well as treating kids who have trouble putting sentences together because they that don’t have the words they need.

In ECI, Papendorf primarily works with little ones who are verbally behind. “Our primary focus is just getting them to talk,” Papendorf says. “When kids are 2-years-old, they’re expected to have at least 50 words in two-word phrases.”

In Rustad’s environment, services pretty much run the gamut. Specifically, Monkey Mouths offers therapy for everything from traditional speech and language services to feeding services. They also offer more specialized areas of treatment, such as occupational therapy or preschool preparation.

Not sure if your child needs speech therapy? Consider taking them to get an evaluation, just in case. For the younger ones, their pediatrician will do a test around 2-years-old. For the older kids, they can get an evaluation done within their school district, or you can take them into a private practice and have one conducted there.

When Kids Should Receive Speech Therapy

Essentially, there’s never a wrong time—but the earlier, the better. “When the kids are little, one year of therapy can prevent the possible five years of therapy later,” Papendorf says.

What Does Speech Therapy Involve

In a word: fun—all three SLPs stress that therapy should look like play. “If I’m working with a child who struggles with articulation, we’ll do some repetition and games,” Avara says. “We want it to be fun, we want them to enjoy coming.”

For example, Papendorf might put a child’s toy just out of reach to encourage the child to use their words to get the toy back. What the therapist view as a tool, the little ones view as a game.

Similarly, in private practice, Rustad says they tend to use toys, music, books and play activities to work on skills. “By keeping therapy fun and interesting, children stay focused and engaged,” Rustad says.

How Long Does Speech Therapy Last?

All three SLPs agree that the length of therapy depends on the child. “For the little ones, or those who are just late talkers, it can last only five to six months, depending on how motivated and willing the parents want to be in the process,” Papendorf says. But babies who spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may be in therapy up to age 3, ECI’s max age.

For the older kids, Avara and Rustad say some kids require brief episodes of care while others have ongoing or more long-term needs. “[We] conduct reevaluations at least once a year,” Rustad says. “This allows us to closely monitor progress [and] make appropriate changes to plans of care.”

But regardless of what the duration of therapy may be, these SLPs want you to remember that any progression is a big deal.

Tips for Parents

Come in with questions—communicate. All three SLPs expressed how important your input is. They also expressed how important it is to work with your kids outside of therapy. “Play; expand their language rather than just test their ABCs and state capitals,” Avara says. “Over explain things with them, talk with them, give them social opportunities.” In other words, get back to basics—blocks, cars, play outside, get active.

Give it a chance.  When a child first sees a speech therapist, there’s a lot of pressure, and that means there can be pushback. “If we can keep the parents involved, they’ll see the kids interact differently after a few sessions, and then they’re more at ease,” Papendorf says. “Especially with the little ones, it’s more about establishing a relationship with the parents.” Papendorf says.

Participate in therapy with your child. Rustad stresses that the more you participate, the more you can help your child. “This allows you to see what works and what doesn’t,” Rustad says. “Your carryover at home strengthens your bond with your child, reinforces new skills…we can’t do it without you.”

Know you’re not alone. There are many kids receiving speech therapy, so there are many parents going through the same thing as you. “There’s a large community out there when the kids are little—community activities, resources, Mother’s Day Outs and playgrounds; get involved,” Papendorf says.

Finally—and these SLPs can’t stress this enough—limit screen time. For kids, too much exposure to screen time can hinder speech and cognition. As this is still a new area of research, Avara, Papendorf and Rustad all recommend that parents be mindful about the effects of too much screen time. “While some games and apps do have educational value, they are no substitute for person-to-person learning and overall relationship building,” Rustad says.

RELATED: Why (and How) Parents are Cutting Back Screen Time

For more information on speech language pathology, visit the Texas Speech Language-Hearing Association (TSLHA) as well as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). For ideas on outdoor and seasonal play, visit Tinkergarten. Finally, for current research, parenting tips and more, check out the Child Development Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This article was originally published in October 2019.

Image: iStock