If your child has been diagnosed with a language disorder, it’s natural to feel worried. Communicating is among the most important things humans do, and it’s understandable for parents to fear that a child who falls behind won’t succeed academically or develop meaningful relationships. But if your child has receptive or expressive language difficulties, don’t despair — competent speech therapists, proactive teachers, and involved parents can work together to help a child develop strategies to overcome language disorders.
Though there isn’t a perfect “right age” to seek help for your child, earlier is usually better. If you’re concerned, ask your pediatrician for a referral for a speech therapist, or seek out one through your school or your state’s Early Intervention program. The moment your child is formally diagnosed with a language disorder, you have an opportunity to move forward — and get him the help he needs to be successful.
Speech Therapy in School
Many parents choose to pursue speech and language therapy through the public school system. In most cases, this requires an evaluation by the school to determine the child’s specific disabilities. You might receive a notice from the school requesting approval to evaluate your child. Both teachers and administrators have the right to request an evaluation; however, your child will not be tested until you approve the evaluation. You also have the right to request an evaluation if you believe your child is struggling because of a language disorder. Your must submit a written request.
Depending on the district, your child’s school may offer you a few options:
- Individual therapy: This is best for severe language disorders that need one-on-one attention. Children with related conditions like ADHD or learning disabilities, or other unique difficulties, may also benefit most from individual therapy. This also works well for families with complex schedules who can’t squeeze in a more strictly scheduled group therapy session.
- Group therapy: Group therapy can be the most helpful and productive option for many young children with language disorders. Since no two children with language disorders are the same, group therapy allows children to understand the challenges of others and work with people whose strengths and weaknesses differ from their own. It’s important that children work with others of their own age in group therapy — going to therapy with children significantly younger or older could damage a child’s self-esteem, cause him to become withdrawn, or be otherwise counterproductive.
- In-class therapy: If you’re worried that your child will be bullied or miss valuable classroom time by going to speech therapy, talk to the school about in-class therapy options. Depending on the school’s size and resources, it may be possible for the speech therapist to come into your child’s classroom on a periodic basis and “team teach” alongside the teacher, tailoring lessons to help children with speech and language disorders.
Since most teachers aren’t formally trained in speech therapy — and the speech therapist most likely wouldn’t be able to come every day — this can feel like little more than a stopgap approach for children with normal IQs who would benefit from traditional therapy. For this reason, speech-language pathologist Patricia McAleer Hamaguchi, M.A., recommends team teaching only in cases of intellectual disabilities. The team teaching approach can help children with lower IQs simultaneously tackle their language disorders and learn social skills in a “natural” setting, as opposed to a more “clinical” therapy setting.