speech therapy

If your child has a speech or language disorder diagnosis, the next step is therapy with a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

Speech-language pathologists are experts in treating children with communication disorders. They help families reinforce what they’ve learned outside of these scheduled visits.

Speech-language pathologists work with other pediatric experts to address a child’s unique needs. They treat general speech, language, and swallowing disorders.

They also have advanced skills in many specific areas. These include stuttering, apraxia, autism, social skills, hearing impairment, voice, and more.

Remember: Early intervention and therapeutic intervention are key for children with communication disorders.

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Meeting with a Speech-Language Pathologist

After you learn your child has a communication disorder diagnosis, you may want to start speech-language therapy. Speech-language pathologists create treatment programs. They do this based on your child’s age, diagnosis, and goals.

The SLP will work with you and your child to improve your child’s communication skills.

“At that first visit, we emphasize the importance of consistent weekly attendance to scheduled sessions,” says Tonia Vagni, a speech-language pathologist at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “Children who regularly attend make progress faster than those whose attendance is inconsistent. The longer we wait, the harder it is to break certain habits.”

Children typically meet with their SLP once or twice a week for 30-minute sessions.

Play-based therapy

Speech-language pathologists use play-based therapy to help children, Tonia says.

“Kids think they’re playing because we put a very fun spin on it,” she says. “But I’m very structured with my expectations. I always start with some type of storybook, and I use a technique called dialogic reading.

“It’s a proven approach to increasing a child’s vocabulary inventory. So, right off the bat, we’re working on a child’s vocabulary, which also holds a child’s attention.”

Other tools that build a child’s communication skills include puzzles and one-on-one play with farm sets, dollhouses, and toys.

“It depends on a child’s age and the level at which we are meeting them,” says Nicole Heiman, a speech-language pathologist at UPMC Children’s.

How long will my child need speech therapy?

It’s hard to judge how long a child will need consistent speech therapy, says Tonia. It depends on the child’s speech issues, possible attendance issues, and other factors.

“We like to start everyone off with a block of intervention of three months, adjust goals as needed, and assess progress,” she says. “At the end of the three months, we determine if a child will benefit from an additional three months of therapy or if they are ready to see how well the new skills they learned generalize to their daily life.”

At-Home Reinforcement for Speech Issues

Family participation is critical to addressing speech-language issues in children.

Parents and guardians should observe and participate in the treatment process. This is true for both sessions and home-based practice.

“We always encourage families to observe our sessions so that parents can learn some tips and strategies for modeling these techniques in the home,” says Tonia.

Sometimes, the SLP may send families home with worksheets or practice ideas for children to reinforce strategies they learned in therapy.

“For instance, if we are working on words that end in ‘F’ sounds, I have a worksheet of target words, and I model to parents how to get a child to imitate those words successfully,” says Tonia. “Repetition is key for children with speech-sound issues.”

Tonia strongly encourages families to join their children in interactive play at home. This can include engaging in pretend play with farm sets and encouraging children to use their imagination.

The SLP often ensures a child successfully practices words or sounds in therapy before assigning at-home practice.

“I go over with the family how to practice and ideas of when to practice,” says Heiman. “I know families are busy, so I try to tell them, ‘Well, why don’t you incorporate it in a car ride, brushing your teeth, or when you sit down for dinner?’ I try to highlight how it can be paired with something they’re already doing rather than something extra to do.”

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.