Many children that are beginning to talk are incredibly easy to understand…by their parents. Anyone from outside the family has difficulty making out what your child has to say. This is very normal for emerging communication, from the ages of 1-3.
By the age of three if your child is not talking, putting words together, or his speech is highly unintelligible, you do have cause for concern.
In the state of Pennsylvania, these concerns can be addressed by contacting ChildLink for 0-3-year-olds, or Elwyn for 3-5-year-olds. These agencies can send out a team of professionals to evaluate your child, and you may be eligible for therapy services, at no charge to you.
If your child is talking, and putting words together into short phrases, but is hard to understand, this is an articulation problem.
Articulation challenges are usually caused by oral motor deficits. This means the muscles of the mouth, lips, and tongue have not developed the ability to accurately produce certain sounds.
In some cases, as with dyspraxia, the problem may be caused by the brain’s having trouble coordinating messages to the muscles.
In most cases of severe articulation challenges, a skilled Speech and Language Pathologist can work with your child to correct the problem and improve the intelligibility of your child’s speech. At the same time, you as the parent can often help your child as well.
Children who are not severely challenged by an oral motor disorder, learning disability, or dyspraxia can respond very well to parental intervention, with or without the additional help of an SLP. A parent can simply teach the child to produce sounds accurately by following a few simple steps.
- Identify one sound your child has trouble producing. Is s/he leaving off the final /s/ in every word? Is he saying /d/ instead of /f/? This may take a few hours of sitting and interacting with your child, paying close attention to his speech patterns, and taking notes if necessary.
- Once you have identified a target sound, think about what you do with your mouth in order to make that sound. Look in the mirror while you are talking. Watch your mouth carefully. Do you move your upper jaw over your lip? Are you thrusting your tongue against your front teeth?
- Find a relaxed time of day to sit with your child and teach him how to make the sound. Say “look at my mouth” and ask him to imitate what you are doing. Encourage and praise any efforts, even if the end result is not perfect.
- Practice the sound with your child 4-5 times a day, every day. You will need to be creative to make this fun and enjoyable or your child will not cooperate. Be as encouraging as possible. Give only positive feedback. If your child is performing poorly, just say. “That was a great try! Let’s do it again.” Remember, his articulation problems are not his fault.
- It may take weeks to gain mastery of a sound. The more you practice, the more naturally your child will produce the target sound.
- Please remember that success is not guaranteed. If these mini lessons are not working, or they are causing your child to feel angry, frustrated, or depressed, do not continue! If you are having a hard time with your own frustration, do not go on! Consult a skilled speech therapist to find out how to proceed.