Benefits of Early Intervention for Speech & Language Delays
NO AGE IS “TOO EARLY”
Is your child a late talker? Does your child have difficulty following directions or answering questions? Does your child have difficulty pronouncing certain speech sounds? Do you wonder whether your child might have delayed speech or language skills compared to other children his age? If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, it is best to contact a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) for an assessment of your child’s speech and language skills. No age is too early to meet with an SLP for an assessment to decide if treatment is needed.
THE “WAIT AND SEE” APPROACH
Many parents who have children who are developing normally in every other way (social skills, play skills, fine/gross motor skills), have been told by family, friends or their family doctor “not to worry”. Often, parents are told to just “wait and see” if their child will outgrow their speech or language delay and hope for the best. While children develop at their own pace, SLP’s know certain milestones which should be reached by a specific age. When these milestones are not reached, this can be a cause for concern and, without the benefit of early intervention, can cause challenges down the road.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY ABOUT EARLY INTERVENTION?
Research has suggested that 70-80% of late talking toddlers will outgrow a language delay if it is an expressive delay only, which means that a significant proportion (20-30%) will not catch up to their peers (1). Research shows that when children don’t catch up in their language skills, they may have persistent language difficulties, as well as difficulty with reading and writing when they get to school (2). It is difficult to know which late talkers will catch up and which fall into the group that does not catch up (3). Elaine Weitzman, speech-language pathologist and Executive Director of The Hanen Centre, has suggested that a “wait and see approach” is not recommended when it comes to language development. Delaying intervention puts off important treatment that can make a big difference to a child in so many ways.
REASONS TO INTERVENE EARLY
Early intervention does not just involve “treatment” for the child, but also it provides education, support and guidance for parents. Early intervention can have a significant impact on your child’s development. It can help to improve their ability to communicate, interact with others, and improve their social skills and emotional development. There are many reasons to intervene early. Five reasons are summarized below:
1. BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
Young children develop the majority of their speech and language skills in the first three years of life. During this time, this learning influences how the brain develops. Early intervention is critically important because infants, toddlers and preschools have developing brains that are designed to learn communication skills. If there is problem with that development, therapy should be started as soon as possible to take advantage of this period of normal brain development.
A child may be able to develop normal speech or language, although this is difficult to predict for most young children. We often don’t know the cause of “late talking” and can’t predict the course of development, however with early intervention many children will develop language and catch up to their peers prior to starting school. With regards to an articulation delay, an SLP can assess and provide treatment for these speech sound disorders which can be quickly eliminated with early intervention.
This involves improving communication skills during play and daily routines with your child. It is the most common outcome expected from speech and language intervention for young children with communication delays. Becoming a more effective communicator helps a child to communicate with adults and peers and can also decrease frustration and negative behaviours.
4. COMPENSATORY STRATEGIES
These are strategies used to develop a functional means of communication for a child who is not using any verbal language. Compensatory strategies can be taught to help reduce a child’s frustration with communication difficulties. For example, teaching a child to use “pictures” or “basic signs” to help them communicate things such as, what they want to eat or what toy they would like to play with. These strategies can help to give the child an immediate way to communicate while also working on more long-term strategies to develop other speech and language skills.
5. PARENTS PLAY A CRUCIAL ROLE
During early intervention parents are provided with the tools that they need to facilitate speech and language development. Parents and/or caregivers are at the centre of early intervention because they provide the necessary language models on a daily basis that children need to develop language and communicate more effectively. Through early intervention, parents can be taught valuable early language strategies so that they can help facilitate their child’s speech and language development during play, reading books and during daily routines such as mealtime and bath time. They can also be taught specific cueing and/or feedback strategies for specific speech sounds.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child's speech and language skills, we'd be happy to chat with you!
Ellis EM, Thal DJ. (2008) Early language delay and risk for language impairment. Perspect Lang Learn Ed., 15(3): 93-100.
Sharma M., Purdy, S.C. & Kelly, A.S. (2009). Comorbidity of auditory processing, language, and reading disorders. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 52(3),706-22.
Dale, P., Price, T., Bishop, D., & Plomin, R. (2003). Outcomes of early language delay: I. Predicting persistent and transient language difficulties at 3 and 4 years. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 544-560