Every child deserves the gift of communication. Unfortunately, millions of children across the United States have a speech and language disorder – and only a fraction get the help they need.
While every child develops at their own pace, and some take longer to learn and use new skills, many do not reach important speech and language milestones expected at their age. For example, some early language learners have difficulty pronouncing certain sounds, letters, words, or phrases. Others may have trouble understanding what they hear, or struggle with following directions and answering questions. Children may also stutter, have voice problems that make it difficult for them to communicate, or struggle with thinking skills they need to remember, solve problems, pick up on social cues, or use their imagination.
All of these examples can be categorized as different speech, language, and voice disorders, and each can have long-lasting consequences on a child’s academic, emotional, and social development.
The Effects of Speech and Language Difficulties
Speech and language skills are necessary to communicate, which is necessary to learn. Imagine trying to learn a new concept, or vocabulary word, or life skill, if you weren’t able to effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas.
Language is not just verbal communication. Reading, writing, listening, gesturing, and speaking are all various forms of language. We use it everyday to communicate with our friends, families, teachers, peers, and mentors.
This is precisely why speech and language skills are critical to the social development and academic success of a child. Without a strong foundation in which to learn and grow, children can struggle in the classroom, have low self-esteem, receive poor grades, and not be set up for future success.
Oftentimes, we put the blame on the child themselves – they’re just being lazy, or inattentive, or not trying hard enough. Sure, we’ve all been known to slack off a bit in our younger years. But for many children, there’s often a larger issue at play.
Where to Turn For Help
How can you tell if your child is just a late bloomer (and they’ll soon be talking a mile a minute) or if they need professional help? The answer isn’t always easy, and if you suspect they may have a speech or language disorder, it’s best to contact your child’s physician. In many cases they’ll recommend that you and your child see a speech language pathologist, more commonly referred to as a speech therapist. They are the most qualified professional to help evaluate, diagnose, and treat your child.
There are a variety of settings speech therapy services may be offered. Many school districts staff SLPs, so you should speak with their teachers or administrators to see if they qualify. There are specialized clinics, home-based therapy (in which a therapist travels to your home), and teletherapy options (therapy that is delivered online via video chatting).
Getting the Help You Need Isn’t Always Easy
While all children deserve access to amazing speech and language therapy, unfortunately this just isn’t a reality for too many families. There are a variety of reasons that can make speech therapy out-of-reach, denying access to these vital services.
- Insurance Coverage Denials: Even for those lucky enough to have insurance, it’s in the interest of private insurance companies to reduce their costs. Too often speech therapy is included in their “exclusions to coverage” list. Some health plans may deny treatment from the onset, even before an evaluation or treatment can begin, others may only approve a small and select number of visits from a speech language pathologist. While there is a process to protest these denials, it can often lead to a seemingly never ending cycle of insurance appeals and peer-to-peer medical reviews.
- Too Expensive: Many families who don’t have insurance, or families who may receive speech therapy services in school but are looking for supplemental treatment, are forced to pay out-of-pocket. While costs for therapy sessions vary, they can often be in the hundreds of dollars, which makes it simply unsustainable for too many families.
- Living in a Rural Area: Many families who live in remote parts of the country are limited to finding a therapist in their geographical location. This could mean long driving distances and wasted hours commuting, or it could mean access to a limited selection of accredited therapists to choose from that may not meet your child’s needs.
Options to Help Your Child
Mounds of research have shown that the earlier children receive treatment for their speech and language disorder, the better outcomes they will experience. I’ve provided some tips below to help get your child the support they need.
Online Speech Therapy:
We do everything online these days, so why not therapy? During these teletherapy visits, parents and clients connect face-to-face with their speech therapist via video chat. It’s a lot like Zoom or FaceTime, which we’ve all gotten pretty used to in the time of COVID-19. While it may seem unconventional, numerous studies have shown that teletherapy is just as effective and impactful as receiving in-person therapy. Plus, there are a ton of affordability and convenience advantages for families.
For one, teletherapy companies don’t have to pay high overhead, administrative costs, and rent for some fancy building – this means cost savings get passed down to you. Additionally, with online speech therapy you can receive exceptional services from the comfort of your home, without the long travel times. And finally, your speech therapist options are no longer limited to your immediate area – you can choose a speech therapist across the state specialized and best suited for your child’s unique needs.
Parents play an essential role in helping their child meet their speech and language goals. After all, no one spends more time with your child than you. There are many amazing resources, instructional videos, and at-home exercises available online. While ideally these should be supplemented with treatment from a licensed speech therapist, they can support your child as you continue to seek professional help.
As an accredited speech therapist (https://www.expressable.io/), I host a YouTube series that provides a lot of instructional videos for parents of early language learners. These videos range from helping teach your child to take turns, to using specific speech therapy techniques at home including modeling words, joint attention, and using choices.
Appeal Your Insurance Denials:
As mentioned before, while this can be a long process full of frustrations, it’s important not to immediately give up. On occasion your health plan may budge and reverse their original decision. It’s not easy, but may be well worth the effort.
Ask for Help:
There’s always the chance you may be unaware of other free or affordable speech therapy options in your city or town. So don’t be afraid to ask for help! Question your child’s teacher, mentor, or school administrators. Ask your friends and family. And do as much research as you can!
As a speech therapist, I have the privilege of helping children improve their communication so they can understand, interact, and navigate the world around them. It’s an honor that I’m fortunate enough to experience every day – and I want nothing more than for you to watch your child grow and blossom into their full potential. So ask a lot of questions, don’t take no for an answer, and get them the help they deserve.