Speech therapy

1. What Does a Speech-Language Pathologist Do?

Parents often perceive speech-language therapy as solely helping a child articulate challenging sounds. However, a speech-language pathologist’s role is broader, encompassing the entire speech system’s development. This includes articulation, not just the pronunciation of sounds. A child might need assistance from a voice specialist, that is, a speech-language pathologist who manages voice disorders.

A child may encounter difficulties in phonemic perception – distinguishing similar sounds like “b” and “v”, “s” and “sh”, or “f” and “th”. It’s worth noting that good phonemic perception is vital for successful literacy development. A speech-language pathologist focuses on grammar and vocabulary. Their state not only influences our writing skills and spelling proficiency but also overall learning success. Pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar – these are all components of the speech system that a speech-language pathologist oversees. However, some speech difficulties are not related to linguistic tools, but their application – for example, stuttering or social communication challenges. Everything about speech, whether spoken or written, falls within the domain of a speech-language pathologist’s work.

2. When to Visit a Speech Therapy Pathologist

Speech development varies widely and is known to develop differently among boys and girls (with boys generally developing slightly later) and across various social environments. Speech development is influenced not only by an individual’s inherent neurobiological characteristics but also by their surroundings, including their upbringing, living conditions, social interactions, and even parents’ socioeconomic status.

It’s not advisable for parents to independently make decisions regarding their children’s speech development or assess the development of their speech system. Speech diagnostic procedures are often not included in routine check-ups, meaning that a diagnostic consultation with a speech pathologist will only occur if the parent specifically requests it. This is a significant oversight: adults may not always realise when their child needs help, making it essential to reinstate speech-language screenings within education and health systems. Visits to the speech pathologist and paediatric neurologist should occur at key developmental stages.

Primarily, a visit is advisable at eighteen months – when phrase speech is typically expected to emerge. At three years of age – when children start preschool and an educational program is selected. A visit to the speech pathologist is also beneficial at age five when articulation should be well-formed. Before starting school (at around six or seven years), it’s good to assess the need for psychological and educational support, as well as prevent potential school difficulties. A visit in the second grade can help understand the state of written speech. Each age has its own “speech milestones”, and it’s crucial to follow these check-points.

3. What Other Problems Should Lead You to a Speech Pathologist?

If a child is struggling with English: mixing up or skipping letters when writing, making spelling mistakes, it means that a consultation with a specialist is warranted. Underachievement is always a reason to see a speech pathologist, as specific writing disorders, such as dysgraphia or dysorthography, could underlie it.

While it’s common to attribute a child’s reluctance to read to an excessive engagement with gadgets, the child may simply be struggling with reading. We tend not to enjoy activities we’re not proficient at. How can you tell if there’s a problem? A straightforward approach is to measure the reading speed and observe for mistakes. In addition, the speech pathologist may ask the child to retell a text and monitor the completeness of the retelling, detail preservation, and cause-and-effect relationships. This process can reveal whether the child properly comprehends what they read. If there are difficulties concerning the technical or semantic aspects of reading, it could be dyslexia.

Speech pathologists work with writing and reading problems not only in elementary but also in middle and high schools. Free speech pathology therapy and special conditions for exams in 9th and 11th grades can be arranged if the child undergoes a psycho-medical-pedagogical evaluation. However, it’s crucial to do this timely: either before starting school or as soon as learning difficulties are noticed.

Within professional circles, there’s a higher awareness of dysgraphia and dyslexia than one might think. Practically all speech pathologists and 70-80% of school teachers are familiar with specific difficulties with speech, reading, and writing that hinder children’s learning. However, the general public’s awareness is significantly lower – only about 13% of adults are familiar with conditions like dyslexia.

4. Where to Obtain Speech Pathology Assistance in Melbourne

Parents have several options available for obtaining speech pathology assistance. These options include turning to public health centres and specifically Child Development Units or departments within community health centres. These facilities offer speech pathology services often free of charge. However, if a child requires prolonged learning support or an adaptation of their learning program, an endorsement from a professional health and educational assessment panel might be necessary. This panel can provide a conclusion regarding the child’s learning difficulties or disability status. With such endorsement, the child would have access to speech pathology sessions throughout their entire educational journey, be it in childcare, schools, or public health centres.

In addition to in-person assistance, in today’s interconnected world, children can also have access to educational and psychological consultations remotely. Although remote sessions might not always be ideal for speech correction due to potential delays in sound or video signals, they can still provide valuable assistance, especially for families who lack access to professional in-person services.

Parents can also consult with specialists online and attend parent training sessions, where they are taught specific techniques for assistance. Remote consultations provide a solution for families who lack access to professional in-person services in their locality.

There are also numerous private practice Speech Pathologists across Melbourne offering both face-to-face and telehealth services. These services may have a fee but several funding schemes are available to assist children with speech and language difficulties.

Furthermore, Melbourne hosts a network of universities and training institutions that offer speech pathology programs. These institutions often have on-campus clinics where students, supervised by fully qualified and experienced Speech Pathologists, provide services to the community at reduced rates.

In essence, the key principles in resolving speech and language issues involve leveraging both in-person and online resources, seeking professional evaluations for targeted assistance, and utilising both public and private services available.

5. Can a Parent Address the Issue Themselves

First and foremost, it’s essential to remember that as parents, your primary responsibility is to pay close attention to your child. It might seem like a given, but it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and forget the basics. So, whether it’s their favourite hobby or an emerging speech issue, your attention makes all the difference.

Now, if you’ve noticed your little one having some difficulties with their speech, don’t worry – you’re not alone, and there’s a lot of help out there. Sure, the first step should be a chat with a speech pathologist. They’re the experts, and they can help identify if the challenges are part of the normal language development process or if there’s something else going on that needs more attention.

But hey, don’t think you’re off the hook once you’ve seen the specialist. There’s plenty of room for you to roll up your sleeves and get involved. In fact, it’s not just a good idea – it’s really part of the deal when you’re a parent.

So, here’s the good news – there’s a treasure trove of resources out there to guide you, and they’re all just a few clicks away. We’re talking about things like literature or online resources (including webinars and training), board games, massage techniques, or respiratory exercises—practical stuff that you can get started with right at home.

And even better? All this information is free! Speech Pathology Australia’s website, for example, is chock-full of useful stuff. Your local library is another great source, and even the kids’ toy store can be a gold mine with all the games and activities that can help with speech and language development.

Just remember, there are no quick fixes here. Your child’s speech development is a journey, not a sprint. It will take time, but with consistent effort and the right support, you’ll see progress. And remember, if it gets tough, it’s okay to reach out. You’re part of a community, and we’re all here to help each other out.

6. What can parents do?

What part do you play in your child’s language development? You are the first, and arguably the most influential, language model for your child. So what advice can be given here? It’s simple – talk, discuss, debate, and don’t forget to read literary texts aloud to your child. This is the best way to expose your child to good English language models, something that can’t be achieved through other means such as games, exercises, or guidebooks.

It’s crucial to demonstrate to your child your appreciation for eloquent speech. Show your passion for literature, for poetry, share this sense of joy and empathy. A great practice to follow is reading together. It’s not just about reading aloud to your child but engaging in a shared experience, exploring illustrations together, discussing the plot, the characters. This quality time is irreplaceable.

At the end of the day, speech pathology is not only about practising standards and speech models. Speech pathologists should also take an interest in children’s reading habits and literature and actively engage with parents. The most effective way to support a child’s language development is to work together. You, as parents, and speech pathologists as specialists, can collaborate to foster an environment that encourages healthy speech and language development in children. So let’s join forces for our kids’ sake and watch as their language skills blossom.