Will My Child Outgrow His Speech Challenge?

Will My Child Outgrow His Speech Challenge?

Gordy Rogers

Gordy Rogers, M.S. CCC-SLP, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Speech Buddies.

This week’s post comes to us from our own Gordy Rogers, M.S. CCC-SLP, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Speech Buddies, Inc., the makers of Speech Buddies Tools, as well as the owner of Brooklyn Speech Solutions, PLLC, a private practice in Brooklyn, New York.

Will my child outgrow his speech challenge? This question not only nags at all parents who are faced with addressing a child’s speech challenge, but is one that speech-language pathologists (SLPs) must seriously consider before beginning treatment.  This post aims to shed some light on this often murky question and to arm parents with better information so that they may be more informed partners in the treatment decision-making process.

Three Factors Determine if a Speech Challenge Can Be Outgrown

The three most important factors, in general order of importance, for determining whether a speech challenge is likely or unlikely to spontaneously correct are the age of the child, severity of the child’s speech challenge, and a child’s and/or his family history of a speech challenge. The SLP must carefully weigh each factor, often in conjunction with a speech screening or full evaluation, to come up with a more definitive decision on whether to proceed with therapy.

How old is your child?

Speech is the most complex thing we humans do on a daily basis, from a motoric, movement-based standpoint.  Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that it can take time for the average child to develop accurate, fluent speech.  Perhaps the first question I ask of a parent who contacts me is: “how old is your child?” In reality, certain misarticulations are, in fact, normal.  For example, it is normal for a three-year old to say “wock” for “rock”.   Should that child continue to substitute /w/ for /r/ at age seven, that would almost certainly be something that should be clinically addressed.  But, this question of age of the child represents a bit of a balancing act.  Research continues to reveal that intervening early is absolutely key.  Yet we wouldn’t want to intervene in a case where the child would spontaneously correct his errors (i.e. “grow out of it”).  If there’s any doubt regarding this question of age with a particular speech error, the next thing I do is look at the child’s overall level of speech intelligibility and how many different speech sounds he is having trouble with.

How severe is the speech challenge?

Let’s assume a misarticulated /r/ is the only sound a child who comes to see me in my practice is having difficulty with.  This would very likely represent a mild articulation disorder.  Typically, I will adopt a “wait and see” approach if that child is still in kindergarten or below.  However, with every six month period that doesn’t see self correction, I will be all the more likely to recommend treatment.  If that same kindergartner has difficulty with /s/, /sh/, in addition to /r/, I would be much more likely to recommend that we begin treatment as soon as possible.

What is the family history of speech challenges?

The next consideration that certainly goes hand in hand with the severity of a child’s misarticulations is whether that child has had a history of speech errors and/or speech therapy or if speech errors run in that child’s family.  If a child was seen by an SLP at age three to treat, for example, misarticulated /k, g, v, f/, then it is considerably more likely that a misarticulated /s/ or /r/ at age five will also require treatment.  In these cases, especially with /s/, I will sometimes bump down my age threshold for treatment to 4 years.  Also, there is a strong genetic connection in speech challenges.  If an older sibling or parent had therapy, I tend to address a child’s speech challenges a little earlier than I would when no family history of speech challenges is present.

A full speech evaluation by a licensed SLP is the most definitive answer to whether a child may outgrow his speech challenge.  However, many parents may not need to go to those lengths to get a better sense of where their child’s speech stands.  Age, severity and child/family history of speech challenges are all highly significant factors in determining whether to intervene at a given juncture and I hope this information has empowered you to help make better decisions in your child’s development journey.

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