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A question you likely never imagined yourself asking — Does my toddler need speech therapy?!
I know I never saw myself asking this question. I also failed to recognize that it was even a thing!
Now, as a mom with a toddler in both speech and behavior therapy, I can’t even believe how long it took me to learn about all this!
But hey, thats what parenting is, right? Learning as we go!
So lets take a closer look into what the heck speech therapy is and whether or not your toddler could benefit from it!
Disclaimer – I am not an expert in this topic! Simply a mom sharing her experiences and opinions in an effort to provide support and resources for other moms!
How do you know if your toddler needs speech therapy?
Understanding what a speech delay is and how it affects your toddler and their ability will be the first step to determine if they need speech therapy.
To put into a more clear perspective, speech therapy is MORE than just speech, it includes your little one’s ability to socialize, use receptive/expressive language, master cognitive skills and more!
However, it’s also important to understand and pay attention to what is referred to as ‘prelinguistic skills‘ when it comes to our children’s communication. Prelinguistic skills are important because they are the starting foundation skills our babies need to have before they’re even ready to take on ‘words’ and ‘talking’.
Examples of some prelinguistic skills include:
- Baby’s ability to imitate and take turns
- How they respond to people around them
- Building their attention span
- Properly playing with toys
- Using gestures to communicate
Please note, these are just SOME of the prelinguistic skills your baby should be able to do before talking. If you notice your toddler is unable to do some of these skills (the full list can be found on Teach Me to Talk), that is a good indicator they’re NOT ready for words or speaking and instead would benefit from speech therapy.
Other signs that may indicate your toddler could use speech therapy include:
- Lack of social interactions (ex. baby or toddler doesn’t react when you smile at them, they’re not pointing, waving, or clapping their hands)
- By 18 months old, they should be able to say a minimum 10 words (it won’t sound very clear, but the word will be distinct enough to know what they’re referring to)
- You child simply doesn’t talk much or often at all
- Is unable to open their mouth to speak and mumbles or ‘closed mouth talks’ instead.
Lastly, in addition to speech therapy, you will likely be advised to have their eyes and or hearing evaluated if it hasn’t been done yet. This is to ensure that there is no underlying problem causing these delays in the first place!
But in the event you do suspect your child could benefit from speech therapy, be sure to bring it up to your pediatrician right away!
How many words should a toddler know & by what age(s)?
Below is a pretty basic chart by one of my FAVORITE speech pathologists regarding how many words your little one should know by each age.
However, it’s important to know that these don’t necessarily mean 100% clear words you say, but can include words your toddler can say with meaning (ex. “BA” for “BALL”) sign or gesture for as well!
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Many children begin talking within the expected time frame but then struggle maintaining the expected rate of language acquisition. These kids often miss out on early intervention because they are talking, so it’s not as clear that they are behind. This chart is just about vocabulary, so please know there is SO much more to language development! It’s also important to know this is the average amount of words- not the minimum amount. There is a wide range of what is considered typical, but I think a major key here is the very quick increase in vocabulary words in a relatively short time frame. • • • • #slp #slpeeps #speechtherapy #igers #instagood #instalike #instaslp #love #favorite #slpbloggers #instadfw #preschoolslp #autism #parents #parenting #toddlers #earlyintervention #specialeducation #ashaigers #sped #iteachtoo #languagedevelopment #speechdelay #slp2be #specialneeds #expressivevocabulary
What causes speech delays in toddlers (children)?
You’re probably wondering, what even causes speech delays in the first place?! I know I did.
Turns out, there’s a quite a few factors that can be a cause, such as:
- Tongue ties (which our son had both a lip AND tongue tie)
- Oral impairments
- Hearing or Vision problems
- Lack of socializing or play
- Too much screen time
But the ONE thing I want to really emphasize is that by NO MEANS does having a toddler with a speech delay make you a bad parent.
I remember the day we found out our son was struggling with his speech and development – I instantly started to internalize everything.
I blamed myself for not catching it sooner, I blamed myself for him having the delay, I felt like a horrible mom, but ultimately all that negative self-talk wasn’t helping me and it sure as hell wasn’t helping my son.
So if you are in that boat, let out those emotions, and then move forward with seeking out the help you need.
When should a toddler start speech therapy?
The second you have ANY concerns about your toddler’s development, you should look into speech therapy. Why? Because it can never hurt to help them!
Plus, in the US, Early Intervention Assessments are free!
The therapy itself may have a cost associated with it, but for the most part, it is all very affordable if not free of charge or covered by your medical insurance plan.
The earlier you are able to get your child the help they need, they better able they’ll be to “catch up” with their speech (or other areas of) development.
In addition, by not seeking help, there are long-term effects that could have a potential to cause issues such as cognitive delays, emotional issues, socializing issues, and learning delays as they get older.
To help summarize this by an actual expert, here’s a helpful graphic from one of my other Speech Pathologist(s):
Can autism be mistaken for speech delay?
A lot of people don’t fully understand autism, making it easy to mix up with speech delays, developmental delays and other behavioral issues.
However, there are some pretty key points when it comes to autism AND autistic speech delays that differentiate them from the rest.
- Show more interest in their own interests vs. social interests/interaction
- Be content with self-play
- Show no interest in imitation play
- Struggle with gesturing (pointing, facial expressions, signing)
- Displays repetitive behaviors (like flapping arms around, repeating the same words or activities)
To get into a bit more detail, this video below explains some of the ‘Red Flags of Autism’ in a lot more depth!
What does speech therapy for toddlers at home typically look like?
I want to say that depending on your therapist, this may look different for everyone.
However, our experience so far has been limited to teletherapy due to the COVID pandemic. Our teletherapy sessions look like:
- Log online to the learning platform to meet with our therapist.
- We set up in our ‘play area’ where our son has about 3-4 options of toys/activities.
- Together, we discuss any progress or setbacks we had the week before.
- We initiate play with an emphasis on modeling language & signs (based on the progress we’ve made).
- Our therapist coaches us through activities, play, language modeling, and signing.
- She leaves us with homework for the following week to work on in order to build on existing skills to further them or strengthen them before moving on.
In an at-home setting, we’ve been told the model itself would be very similar with the exception that our therapist would come to the home with her own set of toys and activities. She would then be the one to initiate the play and begin modeling language or communication with him. Then we’d get involved and would practice all together.
What are the best toys for toddler development?
Since starting speech therapy, we’ve definitely done a bit of a ‘revamp’ to our toy collection. Some of the areas we’ve really focused on are getting toys that promote:
- Imaginary Play (his ability to take his toys and ‘make them fly’ or ‘make them talk to one another’ or ‘feed them’, etc…)
>> The toys that have worked out really well for this area are toy story action figures (since those are his favorite characters) and pull/push cars!
- Cognitive Development (their ability to think, problem-solve, imagine, understand and communicate)
>> The toys we bought that worked out well for us were some basic puzzles, stackable wooden blocks (perfect for building and sorting colors or shapes), shape sorter, coloring books, and hand-eye coordination toys.
In addition to the toys above, if you’re looking for something a little more basic, to begin with, one of my all-time favorite toy companies has lots of FREE PRINTABLES to keep your little ones occupied. You can check out their printables here!
Can you give any toddler speech delay exercises or resources for parents needing additional support?
Before we connected with our therapist (through a pretty long process thanks to the COVID pandemic), we were desperately looking for any kind of resource we could find.
Below, are some of the pages I came across that really helped us to understand speech delays and begin to implement small changes in how we interacted with our son before therapy could begin.
In addition – I do want to point out that your individualized therapy will be 100% based on where your kiddos progression is at.
For example, our son when we started, fell into a language level of a 6-9 month old. So the activities we would do, were aimed to help him reach that age group milestones and progress from there.
So, just be mindful that random activities may NOT be what your little one needs if they aren’t at that specific level yet.
Speech Language Therapists/Pathologists to follow on Social Media:
- Hablemos.bilingualslp (for bilingual children/parents)
- Mama.Terapista (for bilingual children/parents)
- Paola Lugo (bilingual SLP)
Youtube Activities/Speech Therapists to Check Out:
There you have it, if your toddler has been struggling learning to talk due to a speech delay, I hope this post has helped you identify if therapy can be beneficial for you!
If you have any speech delay tips or advice you’d like to share, feel free to drop a comment below & share some encouragement for other parents going through the same thing!
Thanks for reading: ‘Does my toddler need speech therapy?’
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