When to take your child to a speech pathologist

If your child isn’t hitting speech and language milestones, should you get an expert to step in?

It started as a niggling worry but has blossomed into fully fledged, keep-you-awake-at-night anxiety – your child isn’t hitting the same speech and language milestones as all the other kids.

So, is time to see a speech pathologist?

Speech Pathology Australia national president Tim Kittel says parents need to trust their instincts.

“Listen to your gut and not what well-meaning friends or family are telling you,” Tim says.

“If you suspect your child has a speech or language deficit, early intervention is key.”

How common are speech or language problems?

Speech Pathology Australia says one in seven Australians has a communications disability, which equates to two children in every classroom.

This can take the form of problems with speaking; issues with using and understanding language; and difficulty with reading, writing or hearing.

The disability might be present at birth or can be acquired later in life.

Warning signs of speech problems

“Language is incredibly complicated, so it can be difficult to work out exactly what the signs are,” Tim says.

“With young children in particular, it can be difficult to judge, as every child is going to develop at their own pace.

“By three years old, however, kids should be able to understand a lot of what you say.

“They should also be able to speak in four or five word sentences, and have a conversation – although they might not take turns or stay on topic.”

Speech and language checklist

Tim recommends contacting a speech pathologist if your child:

  • Is using fewer words than other children his or her age
  • Is having trouble being understood by you (or others)
  • Is being teased or is frustrated because of the way he or she talks
  • Stutters
  • Struggles with reading or writing
  • Has a diagnosis such as hearing loss, auditory processing disorder, autism or a development delay that might be affecting their speech or language.

The impact of a communication disability

Speech and language difficulties can have serious consequences if they’re not addressed, with impacts that can last a lifetime, warns Tim.

“Even a mild impairment can affect learning at school and not just literacy and numeracy but also the ability to interact with other children,” he says.

“Long-term implications can include poor academic results, a risk to mental health, reduced employment opportunities and social isolation.”

Speech Pathology Australia has developed a range of materials specifically around communications milestones for youngsters.

speech pathology

How a speech pathologist can help

Tim says speech pathologists support kids, and those who care for them, in building communication and make sure they are developing “between the flags”.

“We have some very simple techniques that can make a real difference,” he says. “So get the help you need as soon as you have any concerns.”

There are various ways you can find a speech pathologist, including:

  • Through local community health centres and not-for-profit organisations.
  • Calling or emailing private practices.
  • The Speech Pathology Australia website (click on ‘Find a speech pathologist’). Contact Speech Pathology Australia on 1300 368 835.

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Written by Liz McGrath.