My oldest son spent the first 18 months of his life getting one ear infection after another. At one point it was decided we would have ear tubes surgically implanted to help with this problem. While that solved the ear infection problem, it left us with the issue that his speech was affected because of his poor hearing during all this time. Since then I have become somewhat of an expert (if I do say so myself) in how to handle kids’ speech problems.
So what are some steps to handle kids’ speech problems? The most important step as a parent is to remain patient with your child. The second most important is to get help from professionals. You would not try to immunize your child on your own or fill one of their cavities. Do not try to fly solo diagnosing and addressing speech problems in your child. Even in the time of a pandemic, there are ways to get professional help for your kid’s speech problems.
In dealing with my kid’s speech problems, I have had hearing tests done, enrolled him in school-based speech therapy, put him into private speech therapy, and most importantly did a ton of one-on-one work with him myself.
One of the most important things you can do as a parent when dealing with kids’ speech problems is to maintain your patience. It could be hard to differentiate between when a child is really struggling with something, when they were falling back on “muscle memory“, or when they might just be acting stubborn because they simply don’t want to change the behavior.
Whatever the case, when you lose your patience the process of correcting the problem is made all the harder. Kids can get distracted easily, but as a parent, you cannot.
One of the frustrations you can feel as a parent when figuring out handle kids’ speech problems is that the solution seems so simple. You can tell what’s going wrong and it seems so easy to just tell your kids to do it the right way. The problem is your kid’s mind doesn’t work the same way yours does. They are still learning things you already know.
Above all else get both you and your kids the professional help they need with kids’ speech problems. There is no shame in this problem and there’s no reason to feel awkward about asking for help.
Steps for how to handle a kid’s speech problems
There is no complete road map for tackling this problem. To help you navigate this somewhat confusing journey, here are the steps that I would recommend.
Step 1: Do not get hung up on the reason why
As a parent, it is perfectly natural to take responsibility and feel responsibility for everything that happens to your child good, bad, or indifferent. If your child has issues with his or her speech, do not get hung up on the reason why this is happening. The only time this should be a consideration, is when it is a part of the diagnostic process of figuring out how to solve the problem.
With my child, the issue stemmed from ear infections that hampered his hearing. This led to him living a good part of his early childhood as if he were “underwater“ according to his pediatrician.
How any of this directly affected his speech is somewhat irrelevant. The problem existed and all that needed to be done was to try to find solutions to the problem.
I, of course, don’t know you but it would be my bet that if your child has speech issues the problem did not come from something you did or did not do.
Step 2: Talk to your pediatrician
I was lucky that I met my child’s pediatrician one day after he was born. He was the pediatrician that was on call at the hospital and he made a visit to check out my son the day after he was born.
So he was a doctor who is very familiar with my son’s medical history and conditions. I started expressing my concerns about how to handle kids’ speech problems.
He thought the best next course of action was to get a detailed hearing test just to make sure some sort of hearing loss or damage was not the underlying problem.
Step 3: Get a hearing test
After my child’s ear tube surgery, it was not long before I started becoming suspicious about his speech. It had nothing to do with the amount of vocabulary had or anything like his grammar.
It was more that he did not enunciate well and his speech sounded more like one continuous sound rather than individual words. After consulting with my pediatrician, we agreed that a hearing test was in order.
I took my child to an audiologist that specializes in giving a test to children. These types of tests could be difficult because it can be hard to give detailed directions for something like this to children and it can be hard for them to express results that are meaningful.
So for example when during the test if he was told to raise his hand when he hears a sound in one ear, it may be hard for him to even understand the instructions. Because of that, it can be difficult to know if the problem is that they just don’t understand what is going on, or if there’s an actual problem with their hearing.
Fortunately, these professionals are experts at dealing with these hurdles. After the test, I was assured that his hearing was perfectly fine. I felt much better knowing his hearing was OK and now it was all about what else I could do to handle kids’ speech problems. If on the other hand his hearing was affected, obviously we would need to address that first before even getting to any speech issues.
Step 4: Speech therapy
Since my kids’ speech problems had started before my oldest son started school, my pediatrician recommended a private speech therapy company. I made an initial appointment to get started on approving my child’s speech.
As you can imagine with a very young child he was nervous at his first appointment. Not much got accomplished in those first few sessions because of this.
Nowadays in the era of a pandemic and no in-person school, we are doing online speech therapy. It is amazing to me how similar this process is to live speech therapy.
One important note I can make as a pertain to my child was even though there might be a little grumbling and maybe even crying, it is better for you to leave the room and allow the therapist to work one-on-one with your child.
Even today if I’m with my child while he’s trying to do therapy, he easily gets distracted. He spends more time trying to play with me than he does doing the actual therapy. This may or may not work for your child but it is something to think about.
Speech therapists are going to give you regular reports of how your child is doing and then also things you can follow up on at home. It is important to remember the speech therapy session is only going to be half an hour and probably once or twice a week. That means most of the real work is going to get done by you at your home in your interaction with your child working to improve your kids’ speech problems.
Step 5: Use the resources at your school
Once my son started kindergarten we stopped doing private speech therapy and got him enrolled in the school’s speech therapy program. This was great for him because there were several students in the speech therapy class. It is amazing how much more can be accomplished when several kids are doing the work together. It seems to make the process more fun for them.
It’s also probably fair to say that they benefit from interacting with kids their own age working on their speech issues. While you can do a lot as a parent, there is no substitute for kids who are at the same point of development in the same age group working together to tackle similar issues.
Step 6: Be patient….again!
This is going to be a slow and steady process. There are no miracle cures or quick fixes.
While I know I’ve said this many times in this article, it bears repeating again and again that you must remain patient when dealing with kids’ speech problems. This is just one of the many things your children are learning as they go. They don’t know what you know and they don’t have the years of experience that you have. That’s why it is so vital that you take what you know and what you have learned and impart that in a patient and caring way.
Of course like with everything in parenting it can get frustrating. Do not let your frustration get the better of you. Your children are doing their best so support them in this sometimes bumpy journey on the road to improved speech!