What can you do if your child has a speech or language problem?
Speech and language disorders can take the form of a problem in speech production or language usage. A speech problem usually refers to challenges in articulation (for example, the “r” sound)—the speaker is saying words correctly but the listener has trouble understanding—or a problem with speech fluency such as stuttering.
Students with articulation problems are often self-conscious about their speech, which may affect their social confidence, and, in turn, make them prone to behavioral problems because of the frustration they feel when trying to express themselves. As a result, early intervention is often critical.
A language disorder can involve a problem with receptive language in which a person has difficulty processing language, such as having trouble understanding directions from a teacher, or a challenge with expressive language in which he has trouble putting his thoughts into words in an appropriate manner.
If you have a child whom you suspect has a disorder, you have a resource: All public-school districts in New Jersey have speech-language therapists to help students. You can access these services by calling your child’s school and requesting a “screening” or evaluation by the speech-language therapist.
If the therapist does an evaluation of your child, request to meet with her to find out the results. She will help you determine whether the problem is developmental, indicating that in time it will correct itself as many speech problems do, or whether it requires therapy. If therapy is warranted, the therapist will work with your child either on a one-to-one basis or in a small group. The teacher may also play a role in helping your child, but her role is not to treat the speech problem but rather to impart her experience and confidence speaking in class.
If a problem is identified, find out what you can do at home. Whatever you do, make sure not to draw attention to his speech difficulties or frequently correct his errors. It is more helpful to focus more on what he has said rather than how he has said it. Frequently talking about or trying to fix his speech will likely only discourage him from talking.
A child with speech problems may have trouble accessing the right words and, as a result, may need additional time to express his thoughts. If so, be patient with your child and give him more time to answer after asking questions.
Kenneth Shore, a psychologist, teaches part-time at Rutgers University.
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