Communication plays an important role in every aspect of our life. Difficulties in expressing oneself clearly can trigger anxiety, create stressful situations and upset our quality of life. Thankfully, a professional trained in speech and language therapy can make effective communication possible – be it an adult or child. But, how? To know, let’s delve into,
- What is speech therapy and how does it work?
- Speech therapy techniques and techniques you can use at home
- What are the symptoms of speech and language delay and why speech therapy?
What is speech therapy?
It is a treatment that helps deal with difficulties in speech, language, communication, and/or swallowing.
Speech therapy is done by speech and language pathologists (SLP) who are often referred to as speech therapists.
What is done in speech therapy?
Speech therapy involves a variety of activities and techniques to help the patient develop and improve their communication skills. A speech therapist may,
- Use pictures, story books, various toys for play based activities and other language based activities along with auditory, visual and tactile feedback to improve speech and language skills.
- Teach therapeutic exercises to strengthen oral structures that help in speech production.
- Demonstrate and teach how each individual sounds are produced to improve speech clarity.
- Provide strategies and home programs to help reach goals.
- Use assistive devices such as communication using pictures, gestures, softwares or other speech generating devices, which are collectively called as augmentative and alternative communication devices to aid speech and language development.
- Make use of various techniques to address swallowing difficulties in adults and children.
- Teach conversational strategies to improve social communication.
- Engage various strategies to address conditions that can affect speech fluency such as stuttering.
- Employ different strategies to address voice disorders.
- Use strategies to address motor planning and coordination required for speech production.
How does it work?
Speech therapists start by evaluating the child or adult. Assessment helps to understand a patient’s strengths and barriers in communication. On identifying the problem, therapist sets goals and designs a treatment plan.
In certain cases, speech therapists will work in collaboration with other medical and health professionals such as doctors and surgeons, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists etc. to ensure the best treatment course for the patient.
Sessions are held one-on-one or in small groups depending on patient’s skill level and needs. Therapists train parents/caregivers and make them part of the whole therapy program. A child learns skills only when home programs are pursued as advised. Therapists regularly review the progress and change, modify or alter the program to make sure of positive results.
How successful is speech therapy?
Success of speech therapy depends largely on the patient’s age, severity of the problem and quality of practice.
Below factors also play an important role in making speech therapy successful:
- Early intervention
- Strict adherence to home programs and
- Involvement of parents/caregiver
In children, early intervention is crucial as this is the period when a child’s brain is most developing. Significant improvements in their speech and language skills can be made possible during this stage. When delayed, the effort required will be more and the results may also be delayed. So, the earlier you seek intervention, the better!
Similarly, in adults, especially post-stroke or in cases of brain injuries, it is crucial to seek professional help within the initial 1-3 months. This is the critical period for recovery when most significant changes can be brought with an intensive therapy program.
Also, strict follow up of home programs and involvement of family members increases program success rate. Additionally, it helps build family relationships and boosts patient’s motivation and confidence.
How long do you need speech therapy?
Period of therapy may depend on
- Type and severity of the problem
- Underlying medical condition and its treatment
- Frequency of therapy and
- Quality of practice
Some diagnosis may require a prolonged period of therapy while some others may recover within a short span of time. In any case, therapy is a slow and continuous process and you should be patient and committed for the best outcome.
What is the best age for speech therapy?
The day you feel concerned that your child has fallen behind in reaching developmental milestones in speech and language, seek the advice of a speech and language pathologist without delay. Earlier the intervention, better the results!
What are some speech therapy techniques?
Speech therapists use different techniques based on the patient’s age and diagnosis.
Some of the techniques are:
- Articulation therapy techniques
- Language therapy techniques
- Techniques to address fluency issues such as stuttering
- Voice therapy techniques
- Swallowing techniques
How can I do speech therapy at home?
To improve your child’s speech, the best and the most important thing you can do, as a parent, is to pay attention to your child, speak to them and allow them to communicate. Give them opportunities to ask for their needs and encourage your child to use words to request what they want instead of just pointing fingers at it. Talk slowly so that your child can follow what you are saying.
Below are a few strategies you can use to help your child speak:
- Give choices – This motivates them to choose what they want and repeat the word. It helps in language development. For example, you can ask ‘Do you want milk or juice?
- Repetition – Making the child repeat words or sentences they have learned helps them practice repeatedly and it ensures better learning.
- Limiting – Curtailing your child’s access to things which he/she wants or loves the most will invariably make them ask for it. Create situations so that your child will be tempted to use language. For instance, give everyone a chocolate except your child, or, miss a routine task like put on only one sock and one shoe on your child and then proceed to go for a walk. This encourages your child to ask for their needs invariably aiding their communication skills.
- Shaping – Reinforce your child’s every approximate attempt of the target response by clapping, patting, giving stickers, tokens or something that your child likes the most as a reward for their attempt. This helps in motivating your child to achieve the desired result step by step.
Speech therapy at home is especially useful for kids with mild delays or articulation difficulties. If you feel you have tried everything possible but still have concerns, don’t take offence; reach out and seek the advice of a speech and language pathologist.
Why do you need speech-language therapy?
Speech and language therapy (most popularly known as speech therapy) may be needed for both children and adults with speech – language difficulty or in general communication difficulties and / or swallowing disorders.
Speech therapy helps treat:
- Speech-language delay
- Language disorder
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Articulation impairments (Difficulties in producing speech sounds)
- Global developmental delay
- Speech – language impairments associated with learning disability
- Speech – language impairments associated with ADHD
- Feeding and swallowing difficulties
- Motor speech disorders such as dysarthria or cerebral palsy
- Motor coordination issues such as in apraxia of speech
- Cleft lip and palate
- Stuttering or cluttering
- Voice disorders
- Speech-language impairments associated with hearing impairment
- Speech-language impairments post-stroke / brain injury
- Speech-language impairments secondary to dementia
- Restoration of communication skills post-surgery such as laryngectomy, glossectomy etc.
What are the benefits of speech therapy?
Benefits of speech therapy are many that include,
- Improved ability to express thoughts and feelings effectively by understanding others and being understood
- Improved clarity of speech
- Improved speech fluency
- Improved social communication skills
- Enhanced vocal quality
- Improved feeding and swallowing function
- Improved self-esteem and confidence
What are the symptoms of a speech and language delay?
Give attention to the below mentioned red flags of speech and language delay. If you notice any of the following in your child, do not hesitate to seek advice of a speech and language pathologist.
- If your child hasn’t started using words to communicate by 1-1.6 years of age.
- If your child hasn’t started using phrases by combining two words meaningfully by 1.6- 2 years of age.
- If basic sentence formation is not developed by 2.6 – 3 years of age.
Communication is vital in every aspect of life.
By improving communication and interaction skills, speech therapy directly boosts social, emotional and mental well being of an individual. Overcoming speech difficulties may take time. It needs sincere effort and commitment. To be able to express well and interact well can have an enormous impact on one’s sense of self. Never delay to seek help when you notice a speech or communication problem in your child or someone you love dearly.