Many conditions, including cerebral palsy, autism, hearing loss, developmental delays, may cause difficulty with speech and language development. Some children may not understand language. Some children may understand language but be unable to communicate effectively due to difficulty with speech. Sometimes children experience challenges in other areas of communication, such as hand gestures and facial expressions.
Speech therapy is a clinical program aimed at improving speech and language skills and oral motor abilities. Children who are able to talk may work on making their speech clearer, or on building their language skills by learning new words, learning to speak in sentences, or improving their listening skills. Children who cannot talk may learn sign language, or how to use special equipment such as a computer that speaks for them. Children who talk but have challenges with more discreet communication issues such as facial expression or gestural language use, may work on these areas of communication.
What are some of the Methods Speech Therapists use?
There are many different methods used by speech therapists. The method used will depend on the particular speech or language challenge.
For articulation problems, for example, speech therapists in medical centers may work “inside the mouth” using Popsicle sticks, fingers, whistles, straws and other items to help the child gain control over the muscles of the mouth, tongue and throat. For children with more global language issues, a play based approach to stimulate communication may be used. For children with disorders that impact the coordination of the mouth to produce language (e.g. “dyspraxia”) an approach may be used where the child attempts to produce/imitate certain sounds repeatedly. Speech therapists can also help children with severe disabilities learn how to use special communication devices, such as a computer with a voice synthesizer, or a special board covered with symbols of everyday objects and activities to which a child can point to indicate his or her wishes. This is known as assistive technology. There are all sorts of ways to encourage the production of speech, and they can be integrated into other types of therapeutic systems.
When doing speech therapy with children, motivation can be a roadblock. Speech therapists may then use speech games, flash cards, toys, hand puppets and reinforces of all sorts to keep sessions on track and encourage children to work harder. Since each patient with a speech disorder is unique, such therapy will have to be tailored to the needs of the individual. If a child has difficulty saying words that begin with “b” the therapist may suggest daily practice with a list of “b” words, increasing their difficulty as each list is mastered. Other kinds of exercises help children master the social skills involved in communicating by teaching them to keep their head up, maintain eye contact and repeat themselves when they are misunderstood.
For most children with severe communication disorders, one-on-one treatment is essential. Many children may also have a home program which the therapist asks the family to continue between therapy sessions. Speech interventions often use a child’s family members and friends to reinforce the lessons learned in a therapeutic setting. This kind of indirect therapy encourages people who are in close daily contact with a child to create opportunities for him or her to use their new skills in conversation. In a school setting, some children may receive group treatment and some children may have a program which is designed by the speech and language pathologist but implemented by the teacher or an aid.