Take a walk through any daycare, and scattered among the kids, it’s highly likely that you’ll find a speech therapist or two on hand. Walk through life and just about everyone you meet can speak and form a sentence. So it might follow to ask why such tremendous expense is allocated towards something that we all eventually end up achieving anyway.
“That’s a big idea out there,” says Lois Cook of Speech and Communication Professionals in Mt. Kisco. In response, this Columbia educated speech pathologist will point out that children who develop speech and language later than two years old are at a higher risk of having learning problems later.
Seeing emotional problems in the same children probably isn’t a coincidence either. Being limited in the ability to verbally express emotions, she says, “results in a lot of frustration.” Over time, the problem escalates and behavioral issues follow down the line from the original cause.
What to look for varies with every child but parents should take note of some general guidelines, she says from 32 years as the director of the center. By three months old, if a child does not smile in recognition of your face, that’s an early indicator of a communication problem. Additionally, if a crying baby can’t recognize the sound of their parent’s voice, it may signify the same or mean a hearing problem.
As a result of the latter, they’ll slip behind in the ability to imitate sounds. If they can’t Chu-chu like a train or woof-woof as a dog, it may delay the formation of their first words. Down the road, impaired hearing will hinder a child from honing in on the sounds they need to know for reading.
Catching and treating audio problems can get them back on track. Typically, treatments range from medicating an ear infection that may have no symptoms to installing cochlear implants, which can restore hearing for many more people these days. Otherwise, in worse cases, signing can begin even in early infancy.
Back on the speech end, by four months, children should be making gurgling sounds like ba ba ba ba. Within the next few months, they should be stringing the sounds together, using them to get your attention. By age one, words like ma ma and bye bye should be fixed into the vocabulary.
Later on, parents may see their kids held up on language issues. Short on vocabulary, she says, they don’t understand clearly, can’t follow directions or mix up their grammar.
Speech or language delays, Speech and Communication Professionals handle all manner of impediments and turn over their expertise to parents. Birth to five, therapists come right to the home, and teaching parents what to do, is part of the ongoing therapy. “That’s what makes it work because the parents are actually doing speech therapy with the child,” she says.
Certainly, the efforts parents make on their own are on the house but so too is all the service that SCP offers. Government funded, a program called “Early Intervention” picks up the tab, as does an age three to five program called “Related Services,” which is primarily funded through school districts, she says.
Of course, when it comes to communication problems no gender gap separates boys from girls, but unfortunately, from her experience, one does stand out in terms of which parent is more open to the idea of a problem. “Typically, fathers will deny that there’s a problem and they don’t want the child to be evaluated,” she says.
Once again, she offers science supporting the idea of early intervention. Early on, research shows the brain to be highly malleable – meaning, she says, “You can change the brain cells and make it easier for people to learn.”
Everything else follows from that. “If you want your child to function at the highest capacity, speech and language effects intelligence, it effects emotions and it effects relationships with other people,” she concludes.
In order to begin services, either contact the department of health or Speech and Communication Professionals. SCP also offers full bilingual services.
Rich Monetti interview of Lois Cook