As we’ve mentioned, every child is unique, learning at their own pace and with their learning style. This includes learning to speak in their way, which can be largely influenced by the interactions between the child and the parents. This is especially so in a multicultural city like Hong Kong, where most children learn to speak two or even three languages as they grow up.
But as a parent watching your child grow up, you may notice that they mispronounce words, stutter or even have trouble speaking. Although most children will refine their speech skills, some may continue having difficulty, and can be showing symptoms of a speech impairment. If you’re aware of these ongoing symptoms, you may need to seek help from a speech therapist.
What is speech therapy?
Speech therapy is the assessment and treatment of speech disorders or impairments4. It’s usually performed by a speech-language pathologist (sometimes called an SLP or simply a speech therapist) who works with children and adults through various methods to improve communication5.
Some of the common speech disorders are:
- articulation disorders
- resonance disorders
- receptive disorders
- expressive disorders
All of these can prevent children from communicating or expressing themselves when talking. And while speech therapy works for adults too, it’s especially important to identify and treat speech disorders in children, as it can be more difficult to treat in adults. Adults who have undergone speech therapy as children also tend to communicate efficiently and are less likely to struggle with speech disorders into their adulthood.
3 most common speech disorders in children
While some children learn to pronounce some sounds earlier than others, any symptoms of a speech disorder need to be monitored carefully. As mentioned before, leaving it untreated could mean more serious problems that speech therapists may not be able to treat as successfully in the later stages.
These are 3 common types of speech disorders that parents should be aware of:
#1: Speech sound disorders
Ideally, all children should have learned how to pronounce sounds by age four. If your child struggles to pronounce sounds by this time, they’re likely suffering from a speech sound disorder5. A disorder like this is also called articulation disorder or phonological disorder.
For example, substituting ‘w’ for ‘r‘. It’s normal for children to do this, but if they continue to do it at an older age, you may need to see a speech therapist to help.
This is usually hard to detect as children are still learning to talk. The main types of lisps are interdental, dentalised, lateral and palatal3. These four types share one thing in common – they make your child produce letters incorrectly, such as producing the letter ‘s’ to sound like ‘th’.
Speech therapy helps by teaching the child the proper tongue positioning during speech. A method used is to give the child pronunciation exercises and talk in front of a mirror1. Helping them stop thumb-sucking or using a soother at a young age will also reduce the possibility of developing a lisp.
#3: Speech delay
Also known as alalia, speech delay is the delay in developing the speech mechanisms a child needs to talk2. Children who do not start to produce at least three words by age one are likely to experience a speech delay. Seeking timely help from a speech therapist will help to minimise the damage to their overall development.
A speech therapist will help assess a child for speech, hearing impairment and brain damage. Once the problem is identified, children will be monitored closely and treated accordingly. As a parent, you can work with the speech therapist by spending more time with the child, reading stories and speaking clearly to help the child understand words and their use faster.
How do I help my child if they’re struggling with speech disorders?
It’s recommended that parents maintain close communication with schools and teachers to understand how their children are performing and developing. As teachers spend a lot of time with the children in a learning environment, they may be able to identify early signs of disorders and flag the issue to you.
However, if your child mispronounces words or takes longer to produce some sounds, you can also seek outside help by seeing a speech therapist. You can contact a speech therapist at designated clinics, such as MindWorX. Early diagnosis often helps to monitor and treat the disorders effectively.
Ways you can make speech therapy more effective
The effectiveness of speech therapy depends mostly on the child4. This includes their age, frequency of therapy, the type of disorder and any underlying medical condition that could affect the recovery rate.
You can also boost therapy efforts by practising at home. Some of the exercises include:
- reading stories
- playing with the child
- playing games that promote language development, e.g. flashcards
- 10 Most Common Speech-Language Disorders. (2018, January 19). Retrieved from https://www.speechpathologygraduateprograms.org/2018/01/10-most-common-speech-language-disorders/
- Buddies, S. (n.d.). Speech Delay. Retrieved from https://www.speechbuddy.com/parents/speech-disorder-education/speech-delay
- Clarke, D. (2016, July 25). My Child Has a Lisp. Retrieved from https://www.spectrumspeech.ie/blog/2016/7/25/my-child-has-a-lisp
- Santos-Longhurst, A. (2019, September 10). Speech Therapy: What It Is, How It Works & Why You May Need Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/speech-therapy
- Speech Sound Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/Speech-Sound-Disorders/
- Who Are Speech-Language Pathologists, and What Do They Do? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/Who-Are-Speech-Language-Pathologists/