Communication is KEY, That's Why You Need an SLP
Hi mamas! I debated what my first blog post should be for the Speech/Language side of Mama Speech. And while I am excited to write about a variety of topics within the realm of speech and language, I felt it best to start off by explaining first and foremost who an SLP is and what they do.
An SLP is an abbreviation that we use in the speech world to refer to a Speech and Language Pathologist. SLPs are more commonly known as speech therapists, and they are considered to be your “communication experts.” SLPs work to assess and treat a wide range of communication disorders in babies and adults (and of course, everyone in between). Communication disorders can have a large impact on a variety of areas; below you will find a brief breakdown of the main areas in which an SLP can provide treatment and therapy when working with children.
1. Articulation refers to how well we produce speech sounds. If your little-one is having difficulty producing certain sounds and/or is substituting one sound for another such as substituting a /t/ for a /c/ (e.g. says “tat” instead of “cat” or “tap” instead of “cap”), then they may need speech and language therapy to teach correct sound production of the /c/ sound.
It is important to note that certain articulation and speech sound errors and substitutions are considered developmentally normal and appropriate up to certain ages.
However, an SLP would be able to further assess and determine whether or not the misproductions that your little-one has are considered a part of typical development or if they do in fact warrant therapy to work on correcting those errors. Most parents, however, don’t often seem too concerned unless they notice that their little-one’s speech is significantly unintelligible and very hard to understand.
2. Language refers to how well we understand spoken and written language AND how well we can express our thoughts and ideas verbally and in writing. If there are receptive language deficits, then that indicates that your little-one is having a difficult time understanding language. Some signs that your little-one might be having a hard time understanding spoken language is if they:
1.) have difficulty responding to simple (or complex) directives
2.) have difficulty responding to simple questions (i.e. yes/no questions, “wh” questions; e.g. you might ask them “who did you play with at school,” and they respond by telling you what game they played instead)
3.) have difficulty identifying common and daily objects (that they otherwise should have acquired given the frequency in which they are exposed to those objects and labels).
Communication would not be possible without an understanding of language. And in addition to effectively understanding language, expressively, we need to be able to use it as well. It is important to note that there are some little-ones who might not ever acquire verbal language but can still in fact communicate through other modes of expression such as sign language, pictures, or writing. However, when we specifically talk about expressive verbal language for our little friends, we are referring to the output of spoken language. If you are concerned about your child's verbal language, an SLP can determine if their language is developing typically or if there is an impairment or a delay. An SLP will assess some of the following characteristics in your child's language:
1.) the length of their utterances (i.e. are they starting to combine words to form phrases and sentences)
2.) how accurately they are forming/formulating their verbalizations (i.e. are they combining words in the correct order to form sentences), and
3.) how well they are using and acquiring vocabulary to express their wants and needs (i.e. are they using (new) vocabulary to label, comment, and request).
It is important to remember that while language development occurs in a hierarchy, it is not a one size fits all model. Language acquisition occurs in stages and within age ranges for the very reason that little-ones develop at different rates for different reasons (e.g. think about how culture and socioeconomic status can affect language). We do, however, need and use these developmental norms and ranges as a guide to development so that we can identify atypical development if and when it occurs. And based on these language norms, research has found that most children will go through these language stages and acquire these skills at predictable times.
3. Social Communication simply refers to how well we use language across social contexts and situations to engage in interactions with the people around us. Specifically, in our children, social communication can refer to skills including, but not limited to:
1.) making appropriate eye contact
2.) smiling at others when they smile at them
3.) showing an interest in other children
4.) engaging in reciprocal conversations with others
5.) initiating interactions and play with others
6.) engaging in pretend play.
Typically, our tiny friends that are on the Autism Spectrum tend to have difficulties in the area of social communication and, often times, an SLP is needed in order to work on developing these skills (which is actually what I work on at school with my students who have Autism!)
4. Voice refers to our vocal quality when we speak. Atypical vocal qualities can be a voice that is harsh, hoarse, too high, too low, too loud, or nasal. When we refer to nasal speech it can either be hypernasal as is the case when too much air is coming out of our noses when we speak or hyponasal, when our nose is blocked off, which might occur if you have a stuffy nose due to a cold. Keep in mind that variations in our voices are common and can occur at different times for different reasons. However, if you notice that your little-one's vocal quality is one extreme for an extended period of time, it may signal an area that requires treatment/intervention.
5. Fluency refers to the fluidity of our speech when we talk. Stuttering falls into this category and can be characterized by repetitions of sounds or w-w-w-words, prolongations of certain sounds (i.e. the stretching out a ssssssssound), or blocks (i.e. getting stuck on a certain sound and being unable to move past that sound).
Keep in mind that as children go through language explosions and are acquiring new words rapidly, they may exhibit disruptions or begin to stumble over their words. And up to a certain age, this is considered completely developmental and normal.
6. Feeding and swallowing refers to how well we can suck, chew, and swallow food and liquids. Feeding is a complex and learned process that involves many steps. Initially, your little-one may have certain behaviors that are considered to be typical as they are only starting to learn how to eat and swallow. At first, they might choke or gag on food, drinks may spill from their mouth as they are learning to drink from a straw or a cup, or they may seem to dislike certain flavors and/or textures. With time and practice these behaviors tend to go away. It's when they don't and when your little-one continues to have trouble that might warrant the intervention of an SLP to provide feeding therapy. Similarly, children that are often referred to as our "picky eaters," may have certain sensory sensitivities which in turn has led them to have a preference for certain food types and textures; we see this a lot with our little-ones with Autism. In this case, an SLP can also work to expand their food repertoire and intake of a variety of other foods.
So as you can see, mamas, an SLP has the expertise and knowledge-base to treat a variety of areas and to work with patients (from children to adults) who need therapeutic services. The sections above are only broad categories for some of the different areas that an SLP can treat. And this doesn't even get into the different subcategories that can fall within each (this blog post would just be way too long!)
Just as an SLP can work with an extensive population, they can also work in multiple settings such as: schools (like me!), hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, agencies, and within the home (as would be the case for Early Intervention).
In addition to providing treatment, SLPs can also perform evaluations. Generally, a prerequisite to treatment will include some sort of screening, assessment, or evaluation. An evaluation guides treatment because it gives the SLP a baseline for the skills that the child or adult has along with the areas of need. Only once an evaluation is done can goals and objectives be made to work on in therapy. Remember, the main goal of speech therapy will always be to establish, develop, and improve communication.
Why is communication so important, you might ask? Well if we think about it, communication is EVERYTHING. Communication is the reason that we can enjoy conversations with our friends and family. It is the reason that we can order a meal at a restaurant. It is the reason that we are able to form relationships with others, and the reason that we are able to engage with the world around us. We need communication in our lives. And just as we need communication, we need language (in any shape or form, verbal or nonverbal). We might not realize it, but language is woven into everything we do on a daily basis. Whether it’s reading a book, talking on the phone, texting a friend, listening to music, watching a movie, and even sitting here now reading this post. Language and communication are necessary, and together are the reason we can experience life each day and share in moments and experiences with the people that we hold closest to our hearts.
I have always had a passion and love for my field of work, but I realize now that that passion has only grown since becoming a mother to our daughter. There is something so special and magical about getting to experience your little-one’s growth and development in real time, as it’s happening every day. And just as an SLP’s job is important to help others communicate effectively, we (as mamas) have one of the most important roles in our child's life. We are their first teachers and the first models that they will ever have. And similarly, we as parents (mamas and papas) are the greatest figures in the life of our children, and what we do with them today can have a lasting and positive impact tomorrow and for years to come.
Trust your gut and intuition when it comes to your little-ones and their development, mamas. We know our children best, and if something doesn’t seem or feel right, it’s never too early to seek outside resources. Remember, you know them best!