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What is Child Speech Therapy?

Children with lisps or other speech disorders might need speech therapy.
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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2014
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Speech therapy is the treatment of disorders that adversely affect a person’s speech, or voice. It is generally undertaken by speech language pathologists in the United States and Canada, but who are called speech pathologists, speech and language therapists, or similar terms elsewhere. In the United States, speech language pathologists treat broader communication issues, as well as problems with swallowing, besides treating speech disorders. Speech therapy can assist people of nearly any age, but child speech therapy is limited to assisting children.

Examples of conditions for which child speech therapy is helpful include specific sound problems, such as lisps. Physical problems that result in speech issues, such as cleft palate or cleft lip are addressed with surgical procedures as well as speech therapy, Hearing impairments, and voice disorders that affect articulation, fluency, intonation, or other aspects of speech are also treated with child speech therapy.

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Lisps in children generally require only a short period of speech therapy. There are at least four types of lisp, each giving a slightly different pronunciation of the sound /s/ or /s/ and /z/. They are dentalized, in which the tip of the tongue touches the back of the front teeth, interdental, in which the tongue’s tip protrudes between the top and bottom front teeth, lateral, in which air is misdirected laterally around the sides of the tongue, and palatal, in which the sound is produced with the tongue against the palate. If there is some physical or psychological problem that is prompting the lisp, then this will be identified and addressed.

In therapy for a lisp, the child characteristically learns to say the sound or sounds correctly in isolation. After this is practiced, the child learns to use the sound or sounds in the context of shorter and then longer settings, and then in spontaneous speech. If the child’s name contains the sound, this may be practiced specifically to help the child avoid embarrassment.

Child speech therapy is delivered in different ways. A child who is not yet in school may be treated at home or at a clinic. If the child is in school, a speech therapist on the school staff may provide screening and treatment for all students, as necessary. With a physical problem like cleft palate, in which the treatment may unfold over a long period and surgery is necessary, speech therapy may be ongoing, and some of it may be delivered in the hospital where the child is being treated.

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Speechie
Post 9

@snickerish - You are exactly right (in your second question) the word speech therapy is mostly used to describe any type of therapy that a speech therapist is performing.

Just as I have seen in the comments, many people think of speech therapy as typically fixing articulation which is a speech thing (because that is one of the most common things we do) so that may be part of the reason why people say speech therapy most of the time instead of saying language therapy or voice therapy (which speech language pathologists are also trained to do).

But I think it is important for people to know that "speech therapy" means much more than just working on the articulation of sounds in some cases, so I really enjoyed this article.

I especially think it is important for people who are concerned with their child's use of language to know that we are trained to do language therapy as well because use of language can affect reading.

snickerish
Post 8

I have a friend who says her child goes to see a speech and language pathologist to work on language drills, and I was confused - Aren't language and speech different?

Or are all of these types of practices whether it is a voice problem, a speech problem, or a language problem considered speech therapy because it is done by a speech therapist?

sunshined
Post 7

When my son was not talking as much as his siblings did at the age of 3 I didn't think that much about it for awhile. I just figured that his siblings did all the talking for him, and he didn't need to say very much to communicate what he wanted and needed.

As time when on though, I realized that there might be a problem with his speech and needed to have it checked out before he began school. We saw a child speech therapist who was amazing.

She was very understanding and able to comprehend what my sons issues were. I am so glad that I did not wait until he started school to get help for him. I think if a child gets behind in school from a young age, it can effect many years of their schooling.

It took about 8 months of speech therapy to get him at the level he should have been at, but it made a big difference in him and our family dynamics.

LisaLou
Post 6

When your child speaks with a lisp or has a hard time pronouncing their r and s sounds, it is hard to know how soon you need to seek out some help for them.

Many times this is something they will outgrow, but a lot of kids need some extra help with speech therapy. Young kids can be quite cruel when it comes to someone who is a little bit different, and I think it is worth the time and money that you might have to put in to it.

I saw a huge difference not only in my sons speech, but also in his attitude towards school when he saw a speech therapist for his lisp. This was worth much more than the out of pocket money that was required for him to get the help he needed.

honeybees
Post 5

I am very thankful for the child speech therapist who works at my daughters school. My daughter had a problem with stuttering and for a long time I just thought it was something that she would outgrow.

Once she began elementary school, it was not any better, and I did not want kids to begin making fun of her.

After discussing it with her teacher, we agreed it would be beneficial for her to have some speech therapy. I was amazed at how quickly she was able to help her.

This resulted in my daughter feeling much more confident about herself and is something I would not hesitate to do again. I am glad I did not wait any longer to get her the help she needed, and would have started sooner if I had been aware of the options to do so.

comfyshoes
Post 4

@Sneakers41 - I agree with what you are saying, and I know that some teachers might go a little overboard in their assessments and you can tell if your child’s teacher is like this, but I also think that most teachers give enormous insight because they are with a number of children all day long and they can tell the difference between clear speech and inarticulate speech.

Lisps can be very embarrassing to a child especially the older he or she gets. That is really the target for a lot of teasing among the child’s peers. So at least the teacher was trying to be proactive in her assessment to make sure that the kindergarten child does not develop incorrect speech patterns that will be harder to break later on.

sneakers41
Post 3

@Subway11 - I think that everyone’s speech develops at their own pace. I recently read that one of the most problematic sounds that most kids have trouble with is the letter S, but this sound is really not expected to be mastered until the age of 9.

So those of you that invested in speech therapy, how do you know that your child had a speech impediment and the speech was not a result of lack of childhood development? You really have to be careful when a kindergarten teacher makes an assessment like this because most kids that age talk like that.

I was talking to a friend of mine that happens to be a speech therapist and she said that she sees cases in which children come to see her that really don’t need therapy. She gives the parent’s guidelines of expected milestones with respect to various sounds and tells them if they have not mastered certain sounds by a certain age then they should bring their child in for an evaluation. She was very honest that way.

Sunny27
Post 2

@Subway11 - I know what you mean. My daughter had the same problem with the letter S and the TH. With the letter S she learned to keep her teeth clenched in order to pronounce the sound correctly.

The reason why she used to mispronounce the S was because her tongue was protruding when it should have remained behind her clenched teeth. The TH sound was the total opposite and I had to be careful that she did not mix these sounds up.

With the TH the tongue is supposed to protrude outward. My daughter was a thumb sucker up until the age of five so I don’t know if this is why she had these speech impediments.

Speech therapy was sort of fun and my daughter really looked forward to it because the speech therapist would play different games with her in order to get her to practice the target sound.

subway11
Post 1

I just wanted to say that when my daughter was five, I had her see a speech therapist because her teacher felt that she had some articulation issues because she spoke with a lisp. Since she went to a private school, I had to find a speech therapist that could do an evaluation because the school did not have one on staff. I checked with a great children’s hospital nearby, but the waiting list was six months long.

I finally made an appointment with a speech therapist in order to correct the sounds that my daughter had problems with. She needed to focus on the S, R, and TH sounds. The speech therapist started with the S sound which is typically the hardest to tackle and the one that creates the lisp.

My daughter went to speech therapy twice a week and each session was $75 which wasn’t cheap. I eventually bought an articulation book that offered all of the sounds so that I could work with my daughter on my own because after about two months and $1,200 later it just got to be too expensive because the insurance company would not cover this expense on a child this young.

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