Preschool Speech Problems
daughter is 4 and is having some speech delays. There are four sounds she's
supposed to be able to say at her age, but she can't. The local school district
assessed her and said she needs to go into preschool special ed classes to get
this straightened out, or she will be at risk of learning disabilities. My
problem is, she is very intelligent, and kind of quirky - she'll talk a mile a
minute when she's alone, and doesn't always "perform" for outsiders. I don't
think the assessment was fair; I think they "fixed" it to justify taking her
into their system and making money off services that she really doesn't need.
But I agree, she can't say those sounds, and I don't want to mess her up. What
should I do?
That's a really tough
call. Speech problems in early childhood are important to notice and correct as
soon as possible. It is so important for young children to hear the sounds the
letters make correctly, in order to read and write correctly on down the road. They
are acquiring vocabulary at such a rapid pace that you want to make sure their
"mental dictionary" is in good order, so that they can store words in proper
order mentally for later retrieval.
On the other hand, every child is different, the speech
delays you describe are not major, and minor speech delays tend to resolve
themselves with time and parental encouragement. If your child doesn't have any
problems putting things in order, cutting, coloring, or attempting early
letter-writing, then you most likely don't have a case of major speech delay
that is neurologically based and requires professional intervention - just a
normal child lagging a little with a few sounds.
A child with major early language difficulties requires
professional intervention, but the problems you describe can't be considered
The first thing to do is to work with your pediatrician,
have him or her assess your child, and trust his or her advice. The comments by
the school district might be an early warning sign to you of an attention
problem with your daughter, or a hearing or vision problem that needs attention
before she starts school. If everything's normal, then follow through on the
pediatrician's recommendations, working with your child's day-care provider, if
Before you go to the pediatrician, find out whether the
person with the school district who assessed your child is a licensed speech
pathologist. That's important information to give your pediatrician. An
"amateur" assessment by someone other than a trained speech expert isn't as
powerful a "presenting cause," and your child's doctor should know what
credentials the original assessor had.
Remember, too, that your gut feeling is worth a pound of
professional opinions. So trust your instincts as well. It's crucial that you
remain supportive and encouraging of your child, and never worried or giving
off nonverbal clues that you think your child has a problem.
Most children can understand a lot more than they can say
at any given time, so don't get too worried about a 4-year-old's slightly
lagging "performance," unless it persists.
Also, no matter what you do, be sure to seek out books for
parents on games, toys and conversations you should have in your home to help
your child speak better. You might need to fine-tune how you interact with your
child on a daily basis. Research has shown that households in which the parents
are careful to speak distinctly and properly, face to face with the child, on a
regular basis, to "train" the child's ears to correctly discern the sounds of
the English language, tend to help a child along well. Households that
interfere with good speech development tend to use TV as a babysitter, perhaps
have a day-care provider who does not speak English well, or the parents are so
busy they mostly talk to the child in the car when the child can see the back
of the parent's head instead of his or her face, and so on.
Like everything else in parenting, most of helping a child
develop normal speech is common-sense and revolves around a quality parent-child
If you and your pediatrician are not sure it's OK to ignore
the school district's referral, but don't feel great about enrolling your child
in the special ed program, either, then you could ask the school district if it
would pay for a second opinion. In that case, take your child to a speech
pathologist who does NOT make his or her living based on referrals from, or
work within, that school district. You might even consider traveling to a
nearby city for this, to avoid any chance of a conflict of interest.
More information is available on www.speechdelay.com