There are few things more frustrating that not being able to communicate. Think of the last time you were in a foreign country, surrounded by people who understood one another. Perhaps you picked up a few basic words and in your halted, broken attempt you had a basic need met. But were you able to communicate everything you wanted to? For kids who struggle with speech, those feelings of helplessness and frustration are a regular occurrence. However, most people don’t often think of physical therapy as a solution for speech problems. Call us today to find out why working with a physical therapist may be right for your child with speech problems.
Speech vs. Language
Before we can talk about speech milestones, it is important to distinguish “speech” from “language.” Most people assume these terms mean the same thing, but to a physical therapist, “speech” focuses on the mechanics of making sound, while “language” is associated with the meaning of words. A child with a speech disorder simply has trouble producing a certain sound or series of sounds. A child with a language disorder may have a hard time understanding what words mean or they may struggle to come up with the correct word in the correct setting.
Speech Milestones – Intelligibility
Intelligibility refers to how much you understand of what your child says. Since speech development varies widely from child to child, intelligibility is often used as an indicator of how well a child’s speech is developing. However, how much a stranger understands of what your child is saying can vary from how much you understand. That is why most intelligibility speech milestones are based on an unfamiliar listener’s ability to understand what your child says.
Intelligibility milestones really start kicking in around age two. By then, a stranger should understand between 25 and 50 percent of what your child says. By age three, a stranger should understand between 50 and 75 percent of their speech and by age four, a stranger should understand 100 percent of what your child says.
Speech Milestones – Sounds
Developing certain sounds is a much more fluid process than you may think. It may seem like your child suddenly starts talking in whole words, but the process of learning how to create a sound is complex. When a baby begins to babble, they usually start with sounds that they see their caregivers use. These includes sounds that start with /b/, /p/ and /m/. However, they are also developing several emerging sounds like /d/, and /th/ at the same time. By the time they are three, most children can produce around two-thirds of adult speech sounds. They may still mispronounced /r/, /l/, /s/ as a voiced /th/ or /ch/. In fact, for some children /r/ and /l/ may not emerge until they are seven years old.
The Role of Physical Therapy
Since speech is a mechanical process and a physical therapist is an expert in movement, physical therapy can help children who are struggling with the mechanics of speech. Learning how to control the way their head, neck, tongue, lips, and teeth move can dramatically improve a child’s speech. A physical therapist can assess a child’s movement in these areas and develop a plan that will strengthen important muscles of the face and neck that help produce speech sounds. Even in children who are not yet considered “speech delayed,” physical therapy can often make the difference between having to see a speech-language pathologist in a school setting and meeting speech milestones.
To find out more about how physical therapy can help your child’s speech development, make an appointment with our physical therapist today.