Speech Therapy for Kids - How to Get Your Child to Speak

Speech Therapy for Children

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
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Most children develop normally with time; they achieve the correct milestones at the right age. However, some children may have trouble with certain skills, such as speech or language skills. In such a case, speech therapy is advised to alleviate the problem and speed up delayed speech development. The sooner the child you pay attention to this issue, the better are his chances of combating it. If the child’s language does not improve to the extent that you can understand it, speech therapy might be needed.

What Is Speech Therapy for Children?

Speech therapy is used for children who have difficulty speaking certain words or are not showing any interest in speaking. This form of therapy uses exercises to help enhance the ability of the child to speak. The reasons for speech loss/impairment are many. The child may have undergone extreme trauma which delayed the verbal process of speaking, or he may have a genetic syndrome that delayed his speech. Speech therapy works on the child’s speaking ability in order to strengthen it and enhance it.

What are the Milestones of Speech Development in Children?

If you are worried that your child’s speech is not improving at a normal speed, you should keep in mind the following milestones. You must keep a buffer of three to four months as each child develops differently and at his own pace. It is also important to note that doctors may not always recommend speech therapy for toddlers unless their general verbal progress is extremely slow.

a. Below 12 Months

  • Your child might not be talking yet, which is perfectly normal for this age.
  • Check to see if your child uses specific sounds to identify things around him.
  • Your child should be babbling and cooing, which shows an interest in communicating.
  • At nine months, your child should be making sounds to form words even if he does not understand the meaning.

b. 12 to 15 Months

  • Harder consonants like ‘p’, ‘n’, and ‘m’ sounds should be more audible by now. However, you must keep in mind that each child learns some sounds at a different pace.
  • Your child should show signs of listening to adults, talking, and trying to imitate words.
  • Your child should be able to understand and follow simple instructions.

c. 18 to 24 Months

  • Your child should have no difficulty speaking 20 to 50 words coherently.
  • By now, your child should be able to join words together and try forming sentences.
  • Your child should be able to identify the objects that he sees on a daily basis, along with his various body parts.
  • He should be able to understand and follow more complex instructions.

d. 2 and 3 Years

  • Your child should have a much larger vocabulary and should be learning one to two words a day.
  • Your child should be able to link more words together to form full sentences.
  • Your child should be able to understand almost everything that you say with the ability to distinguish between similar-sounding instructions.

Girl trying speech exercises

Common Speech and Language Disorders in Kids

Some of the speech and language disorders that can affect children include:

1. Articulation

It is a common condition wherein the child has trouble saying a particular word or making certain sounds in the right manner. The most common articulation disorders found in children is the lisp and the most common mispronounced consonants for young children is the ‘r’ sound or the ‘s’ sound. A good example of this is if your child says ‘wace’ instead of ‘race’ or ‘thand’ instead of ‘stand’.

2. Fluency

This is a condition that most children face at some point early in their verbal process. A fluency disorder is when a child gets stuck at a particular portion of a sentence or a word and tries repeating it over and over again before finally saying it. An example of a fluency disorder is stuttering. In this type of fluency disorder, a child may get stuck at a portion of a word or might hesitate before speaking a word. There is also prolonging of sounds when trying to speak, like the ‘st’. If the child cannot pronounce the word, he may say ‘ststsstand’ or ‘ssssstand’ instead of just saying ‘stand’.

3. Voice Disorder or Resonance

This is a disorder that occurs when your child speaks a portion of a word or sentence clearly and concisely but begins to mumble midway. This disorder can sound like your child is speaking with a cold or is speaking under his breath.

4. Linguistic or Language Disorder

This disorder is when your child struggles to understand the simple language or is unable to speak. This type of learning disorder is frustrating as your child won’t be able to understand simple words like ‘eat’ or ‘drink’ and he struggles with communication using any simple language. Language development, therefore, is a must, and you should consult a therapist before it’s too late.

Mother helping her child with speech therapy

When Do You Need a Speech Therapist for Your Child?

Every child develops at a unique pace. Sometimes, your child may require an encouragement to help him reach his milestone. The main question is, when does your child require a speech therapist? If your child meets the following criteria, you may want to consult a specialist or a speech therapist.

  • Your child does not use any hand gestures or does not attempt to communicate in any manner between the age of 12-24 months.
  • Even after 18 months of being born, he shows no signs of trying to mimic the sounds he hears.
  • He uses only non-verbal communication and does not attempt to speak or say even a single word after reaching the age of 18 months.
  • He does not show signs of understanding simple sentences or instructions.
  • Your child is not able to make sounds or speak independently after the age of two.
  • He can only make sounds or imitate other people while speaking, but cannot use the same language to communicate at a later date even after being a two-year-old.
  • Your child’s stutter worsens with time, instead of improving.
  • Your child’s lisp becomes more noticeable.
  • At the age of two, your child has a more nasal or unusually raspy voice.
  • After the age of four, your child should be able to at least voice out simple needs in a way that a total stranger can understand. He should be able to communicate when he is hungry or needs to go to the toilet. Failure to do so at this age may require medical attention.

Remember, see your child’s specialist before going to a children’s speech therapist and do so only if the doctor feels there is a need. Sometimes, the child may not require any therapy and may show normal development in every aspect but may have verbal delays that go away with time.

Speech Therapy Exercises for Your Child

If you do see a speech therapist, he may recommend your child be evaluated for a few sessions before treating. If therapy is required, your therapist will suggest certain exercises at home to help maximise the effectiveness of the treatments. Here are some of the exercises your speech therapist may ask you to do at home.

1. Flashcards

Using flashcards is an extremely effective way to let your child associate a word with an image. Remember to speak slowly and precisely to help your child recognise the mouth and tongue movements required to repeat the word. You can make this a game to keep it fun and interesting; this is a great way to bond with your child as well.

2. Mirror Exercises

Children with articulation disorders often struggle with moving their mouth, jaw, and tongue in the right way for speaking. Having your child stand or sit in front of a mirror with you is a great way to work around this. When you speak, enhance your mouth movements and make it a game so that your little one can recognise his own mouth movements.

Girl doing mirror exercises

3. Sing

Children respond to melodies; try encouraging your child to sing along with you. Sing slowly and pause midway to encourage your child to fill in the gaps, and when he succeeds, reward him. There are special songs available for speech therapy, so ensure you ask your therapist to recommend a few that are appropriate for your child’s age.

4. Board Games

There are a number of extremely fun board games that can help your child with speech therapy and help you bond with him. Check out games like ‘Guess Who’ or ‘Go Fish’. You can also use homemade flashcards to play ‘Go Fish’ with your child. Games make the entire exercise seem fun and help your child feel less pressured while doing them.

Go slow; do not force your child to do these exercises, and try to spread them out throughout the day. Maintain a diary with your observations of your child’s development to show your therapist to plan the next course of action.

Speech Therapy Activities at Home for Children

There are a number of activities you can try at home to enhance your child’s speech therapy. Here are a few listed below:

1. Bed Time Stories

Reading to your child every night is a great way to teach him, but when speech therapy is involved, ask your child to read with you. When reading a story, point to an image and repeat the word slowly and encourage him to do the same. For instance, point to an image of a bull and repeat ‘bull’. The next time the bull shows up in the story, ask your child what that image is. An interactive bedtime story is fun for your child and can help him identify an image and the sounds that come with the word associated with that image.

2. Sing-a-Long

This is a great exercise to do when you’re doing something at home or are driving a car. Sing the task you are doing over and over again and encourage your child to do the same. Try singing the simplest of words slowly. An example of this would be singing the word ‘standing’; keep the tune melodious and sing “I’m standing, I’m staa-aanding” and try to get your child to sing along, too.

3. Picture Hide & Seek

This is a fun game for speech therapy! Hide images and have your child find them; once he finds them, ask him to repeat the word and reward him when he answers correctly.

4. Rhyme

This can be a really fun activity. Make a few custom flashcards and have your child pick one card. Let the child say the word himself, or you say the word slowly and repeat it a few times encouraging your child to say it. Then think of another word that rhymes with it and say it out loud. For example, take the word ‘man’; if he says ‘man’, you can say – ‘a man named Dan’.

5. Colouring Time

Every kid loves to colour or draw. An effective way to help him speak is by doing this activity along with him and associating a word with the drawing. So, if they draw a woman, you repeat ‘woman’ and encourage him to do the same.

Different Ways to Get Your Child to Speak

Apart from speech therapy, there are other ways, too, to get your children to speak. Try these ways:

  • When your child speaks or mimics an action you want him to mimic, reward him with a small piece of candy or something he likes.
  • Watch interesting videos with your child. When a new word shows up, pause it and don’t start it till he tries repeating the word.
  • Sing the actions you are performing and try to get him to sing along.
  • Talk to your child; talk slow, talk frequently, and try to get him to respond.
  • Play ‘Simon Says’, take turns and encourage him to be Simon as often as possible.
  • Use identifiers while doing a chore, and try describing the activity or object. If you’re travelling and see a blue car, point to it and repeat ‘blue car’. Do it often and do it slowly.
  • Image association is important; therefore, try playing games with pictures. Show your kid a picture of a ball and say ‘ball’. Then, let your child repeat it. Change the image when required.

It is important to keep in mind that every child develops at his own pace, and no activity, exercise or game should be forced. Listen to what suggestions the speech therapist makes and try not pressuring your child into speaking.

Also Read: Childhood Vaccinations for Various Diseases

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