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What Is a Speech Pathologist and Does Your Child Need One?

4 Nov 2014 – 11:33 AM EST

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A speech pathologist is a specialist trained to diagnose and treat communication disorders. How do you know if your child might benefit from seeing one or how to go about scheduling an appointment? I sat down with speech language pathologist Emily Whiting of Whiting Pediatric Therapy Services in Vero Beach, Florida recently and learned the answers to these questions and more.

What are signs a child might benefit from a speech language pathologist (commonly referred to as speech therapy)?

Services can be started well before a child starts to talk. Therapy is often beneficial for infants who have feeding, swallowing and bottling problems. Symptoms to look for in a toddler include decreased eye contact, difficulty following directions, lack of babbling and no words being spoken by 18 months. Preschoolers may be referred if they are difficult to understand or have trouble putting sentences together.

Once a child hits school age speech pathologists help with fluency, stuttering, articulation, language and literacy. They help middle schoolers with social anxiety and intellectual deficits.

My child has special needs. Could a speech language pathologist help?

Speech therapy is very beneficial to children with a variety of special needs. Whiting said some of the conditions she commonly sees include autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Down syndrome, cleft palette, stroke victims and preemies.

How do I get an evaluation or start services?

Start by talking to your child’s pediatrician. If your child is in school, ask for a conference with your child’s teacher. Many schools have a speech therapist on staff. Some children benefit from seeing a private therapist in addition to the one at school, especially if the two therapists work together to monitor the child’s progress.

What should I look for in a speech language pathologist?

The field spans a lifetime – from infancy through the elderly. Most therapists specialize in a specific area, so seek someone trained in pediatric care. Make sure the therapist is nationally certified. This means a minimum of a master’s degree is required, plus a nine month fellowship before the national certification exam can be taken.

What should I expect if my child starts speech therapy?

The speech pathologist will do an evaluation and come up with a treatment plan based on your child’s individual needs. Insurance limitations, scheduling restraints and parent involvement will all be taken into consideration. The plan will be monitored and adjusted frequently to ensure your child is making progress.

Do you have experience with your child seeing a speech pathologist? If so, tell us about it in the comment section below.