May is Better Speech and Hearing Month and now is the perfect time to spotlight the special role speech-language pathologists, more readily referred to as speech therapists, play in children’s lives. It’s easy to think that a speech therapist is someone who works with others to correct mispronounced words and help them speak—however, speech therapists do much, much more than that.
Speech-language pathologists are professional therapists who evaluate and treat speech, language and swallowing disorders. A pediatric speech-language pathologist may work with a child in any of the following areas:
- Feeding & Swallowing – safely eating, drinking, and swallowing
- Articulation– producing the correct speech sounds
- Voice– speaking with vocal quality, pitch, loudness, and resonance
- Expressive Language – using language to communicate functionally
- Receptive Language– understanding what is being communicated
- Pragmatics – using social language in order to convey needs and participate in conversations
- Fluency (Stuttering)– speaking using a normal flow and rhythm without interruptions
- Hearing – communicating in the presence of a hearing disorder
Preschool & Daycare Speech and Hearing Screenings
Your first introduction to a speech-language pathologist may actually be at your child’s preschool or daycare. It is a common practice for local speech-language pathologists to offer free speech and language screenings for young students at these early learning centers. With your consent, a speech therapist will conduct a brief screening to review your child’s articulation, language, voice, fluency, and hearing.
The free screening will provide a quick snapshot into your child’s speech and language skills by utilizing a research-based tool to indicate a pass/fail status. A hearing test may also be performed simultaneously. If your child fails his or her screening or hearing test, a more in-depth assessment is typically recommended to determine if a delay or disorder exists.
Some signs of speech and language disorders that speech-language pathologists will watch for in children include:
Feeding & Swallowing Disorders:
- Difficulty chewing
- Choking, coughing, or gagging on food and/or liquids
- Difficulty transitioning to solids or higher textured solids like meat
- Difficulty transitioning from bottle to cup
Speech Sound Disorders:
- Incorrect pronunciation of the letters p, b, m, h, and/or w by 1 to 2 years of age
- Incorrect pronunciation of the letters k, g, f, t, d, and/or n by 2 to 3 years of age
- Unclear speech to both familiar and unfamiliar listeners at 2 to 3 years of age
- Speaking with a hoarse or breathy voice
- Speaking with a nasal voice
- Not smiling or interacting with others by 3 months of age
- Lack of babbling at 7 months of age
- Not using gestures by 12 months of age
- Inability to understand what others are saying between 7 months and 2 years of age
- Unable to say more than 50 words by 2 years of age
- Unable to combine words by 2 1/2 years of age
Fluency (Stuttering) Disorders:
- Frequently repeating parts of words or whole words at 2 1/2 to 3 years of age
- Stretching sounds out like “n-n-n-no” for “no” at 2 1/2 to 3 years of age
- Struggling to get sounds or words out by 2 1/2 to 3 years of age
- Lack of attention to sounds
- Not responding to name when called
- Inability to follow simple commands
Filed under: Awareness, Better Speech and Hearing, Parenting Tips, Raleigh Therapy Services, Speech and Language Development
Buttoning, zipping, gripping, eating, cutting, writing, tying—pretty much all things accomplished with the fingers, hands, and arms—are perfect examples of our fine motor skills in action.
Involving the use and coordination of these small muscles, fine motor skills are important for many life skills as well as the self-help skills children need to complete daily tasks.
Not surprisingly, these skills also support the development of literacy and numeracy for children underscoring participation in a variety of activities such as games, arts and crafts, musical instruments, and, eventually, educational exercises on digital devices.
Fine Motor Milestones for Toddlers and School-Age Children
As with all areas of child development, there are certain fine motor milestones to watch for at all age ranges.
Toddlers—16 months to 3 years:
- Stacks blocks and toys
- Draws with crayons or markers using a firm fist grip
- Uses spoon and fork to feed himself
Preschoolers—3 to 5 years:
- Manipulates buttons and fasteners on clothes
- Traces, draws and writes shapes and letters
- Uses scissors
- Establishes hand dominance
School Age—5 to 7 years of age:
- Dresses self
- Ties shoes
- Prints letters, numbers and words
- Cuts on the lines
- Colors inside the lines
Fine Motor Skill Activities for Kids
There are a variety of simple at-home activities you can introduce and implement to help your child build hand strength and hone his fine motor skills as he grows. Some activities you can do incorporate into playtime on a daily basis include:
Set up an activity with small, soft pompoms from a craft store and a muffin tin. Ask your child to place the pompoms in the muffin tin. Older children can also sort them by color or make color patterns.
Get to Gluing
Put dots of glue on a piece of paper and ask your child to stick small objects such as beans, buttons, or beads on the glue dots. Watch your child closely during this activity to ensure the small objects are put on the paper and not into the mouth.
Place a variety of small items in a bowl, muffin tin or ice cube trade and ask your child to pick them out with tweezers.
Bring on the Beads
Using colorful pipe cleaners and assorted beads, encourage your child to make a bracelet or necklace. Ask your child to string the beads by size or by color. Do keep a watchful eye on your child during this creative project to make sure the beads are not placed in the mouth.
Pull Out Playdough
Playing with playdough offers a great opportunity for children to strengthen their fine motor muscles. Ask your child to squeeze and stretch playdough into various shapes. Hide small objects in the playdough for your child to find and pick out.
Finger paintings are much more than a messy masterpiece! The process of finger painting helps a child with dexterity as well as hand-eye coordination to support fine motor skills.
Broken Crayon Coloring
Brand new crayons are great, but using small, broken crayons will encourage your child to firm up his grip and hold the crayon correctly.
Fine Motor Control Concerns
If you are concerned your child may not be meeting certain age-appropriate fine motor milestones, you should consult your pediatrician. A referral to a licensed occupational therapist may be recommended to assess your child’s fine motor abilities further and determine if he could benefit from therapy to increase his skills.
Filed under: Occupational Therapy, Parent Education, Parenting Tips, Therapy Ideas
Are you battling your little one’s thumb-sucking habit?
Children are born with natural rooting and sucking reflexes that often cause them to put their fingers and hands in their mouths. Very often this action makes them feel safe and secure and becomes a habit that helps to soothe and calm.
When should my child give up thumb-sucking?
Many children will give up their thumb- or finger-sucking habit by the age of 5 without impeding dentition and speech sound development.
However, if thumb-sucking persists past kindergarten and becomes a more long-term practice, it can affect the development of the child’s teeth and jawbones and may alter normal speech sound development.
What issues can long-term thumb-sucking cause?
One of the most common speech-sound development issues that prolonged thumb-sucking may cause is a tongue thrust or reverse swallow. This occurs when the tongue lies too far forward at rest or protrudes between the top and bottom teeth during speech and swallowing. The speech sounds most often distorted by a tongue thrust include forms of d, l, n, s, t, and z. For example, a child may say “thumb” instead of “some.”
A child who persists with thumb-sucking for longer periods may also experience increased illness from placing dirty fingers in his mouth, social insecurities arising from peer pressure and teasing about the habit, or an eventual need for orthodontics.
If you are concerned that your child’s habit may be causing some of these issues, please consult with a pediatric dentist who can further assess his tooth eruption and the alignment of his jaw and teeth. A speech-language pathologist can also help evaluate your child’s speech development and tongue movement.
What can I do to help my child stop?
Curbing a long-term thumb-sucking habit can be challenging, especially if the child isn’t ready to give it up yet. Here are some ideas to consider.
Talk about it
Talk with your son about his thumb-sucking habit and his own desire to stop. Empower him to be a part of the plan to quit the behavior. The best results often happen when a child is motivated to quit on his own accord.
Ignore the habit
For some children, negative attention is better than no attention at all. If you are continuously drawing attention to your son’s thumb sucking, you may be reinforcing the behavior. Simply look the other way.
Your child is most likely sucking his thumb to calm down, and punishing that self-soothing behavior can be ineffective. Avoid placing a plastic thumb guard or glove on his hand and stay away from putting awful tasting mixtures on the thumbnail. These types of products are generally ineffective and may cause your child frustration and anger.
Switch and swap
Have you figured out when, where and why your child sucks his thumb? Does he do it when he is tired, hungry or upset? Does he do it more often in his bed or on the couch while watching TV? Once you’ve determined the source, try and offer age-appropriate alternatives to the behavior like offering him a stuffed animal toy or gum.
Filed under: Parent Education, Parenting Tips, Speech and Language Development