Speech and language are separate things although they usually develop in conjunction with each other. Speech is a child’s ability to say words and express himself verbally. Language is the process of expressing and receiving language in a meaningful way both verbal and non-verbal. Usually a child can understand more than they can speak but by age three speech and language typically catch up to each other.
Children who have a speech and language delay cannot express themselves and also have a lower comprehension of other’s speech. This delay is easier for parents to see because not only can their child not communicate with them, but they also don’t seem to understand a lot of what the parent says.
Some times children just have a speech delay. At age three my daughter was a year behind in her speech but two years ahead in her language development. Many parents delay getting help for a child with just a speech delay because the child can understand them and often will find other ways to communicate their needs.
Other children may have just a language delay although more rare. This child may speak clearly but be unable to put together two or thee word sentences and can not follow simple instructions.
There are a number of reasons parents do not get help for their child. Many parents do not realize that their child is developmentally behind. Others just don’t want to accept that their child may have a problem. Still others are not aware of the free services provided for young children. But for any type of speech or language delay the earlier the intervention the better it is for the child.
All states are required to have early intervention services for children under the age of three with speech and language delays. If you are wondering if your child might need speech therapy you can contact your local Health and Welfare Department or search for your state’s Infant Toddler Program on-line and ask for a speech evaluation. If you child has at least a six-month delay, which means that a two-year-old is speaking at an eighteen-month-old level, he will qualify for services. You will be either asked to take your child to speech therapy or in some instances the therapy will be provided in your home.
At age three the program works with the local school district to transition your child to the preschool program. In order to qualify your child must have two “at-risk” factors. In the case of speech this means that your child must have both a speech and language delay or a speech delay along with another risk factor such as family income, single parent family, family history of low school achievement, and any physical or emotional impairment.
Speech and language development is pertinent for success in school. The hope of state services is that through early intervention every child can be at grade level by the time they enter school. But this means that parents have to take an active stance and not just wait for their child to start speaking but get a professional evaluation if their child has not reached the appropriate speech and language development milestones.
Also look for future blogs on:
Speech: 2-3 years
Speech: 3-4 years