Speech and Language Development

Speech & Hearing Screenings for Children

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
Voice Disorders:
  • Speaking with a hoarse or breathy voice
  • Speaking with a nasal voice 
Language Disorders:
  • 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
 Hearing Disorders:
  • 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

Thumb-Sucking Solutions

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.

Skip punishments

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

Signing to Baby

According to research, babies are ready for their parents to begin signing to them around 4 months of age.  However, babies typically cannot sign back until approximately 7 to 9 months of age.  Signing to babies has proven to be an effective method for increasing language skills.

Some ideas for the first words to sign to baby are:

  • All Done-This helps baby to know that something is finished.  It can also help with transitions from one activity to another.
  • Help-Teaches baby to be able to request when he/she needs help rather than having a tantrum.
  • Eat-Baby is able to let mom or dad that the he/she is hungry.
  • Drink-Baby is able to communicate that he/she is thirsty.
  • Mommy-Baby is able to identify and/or request mommy.
  • Daddy-Baby is able to identify and/or request daddy.
  • Play-Baby is able to request to play.

* More-A word of caution about this sign.  While it is a popular sign to teach babies, it is better for babies to learn more specific signs for specific vocabulary.  Many times, once a baby learns this sign, he/she will use it for EVERYTHING so it becomes confusing as to what is being requested.  More juice? More food? More play?

Pictures and videos of how to sign the words can easily be found on the internet as well as in baby sign books.

  Filed under: Awareness, Parent Education, RTS Team, Speech and Language Development