What is Speech Therapy for Children and How Does it Help?

Speech therapy is the practice of evaluating and treating speech and communication disorders. Based upon the type of disorder, a speech-language pathologist (SLP, also referred to as a speech therapist) will develop a treatment plan using different methods and techniques to improve the client’s communication.

Children often need speech therapy to correct speech disorders or delays that were developed at a young age. Adults can also receive speech therapy to correct a speech disorder brought on by emotional trauma or brain injuries.

Many speech and communication disorders go without treatment, especially in young children. For this reason, less than 70% of children who have a speech problem receive some form of intervention therapy for the disorder.

It’s our mission to make sure all children who need speech therapy are able to receive the intervention they need. Let’s dive into the different types of speech therapy and how they can help. With more education and awareness, we hope to improve those odds significantly!

What Types of Speech Therapy are Available?

Language Therapy

Language disorders, commonly referred to as a developmental language disorder (DLD), aphasia, or language impairment, can make it difficult for clients to comprehend or convey ideas and thoughts. All facets of language can be impacted by a language disorder, from oral to written and even sign language.


These clients might have difficulties asking questions or understanding directions. Children who have a language disorder might find it hard to learn new words or form sentences. The effects of this disorder can impact a child’s speech, comprehension, or both.

SLP and toddler playing with tea party

With purposeful play and social skill development, speech language pathologists work with clients to improve how information is received (input) and how information is expressed (output). This can range from answering simple questions to following more in-depth instructions, while developing the vocabulary and understanding the context of stories. This type of therapy may have more of the ‘schoolwork’ type of feel.

Articulation and Phonological Therapy

Can others understand your child’s speech?  Unfamiliar people should be able to understand 100% of your 4-year-old’s speech.  They should have their /R/ sound by their 6th birthday.

Not meeting these milestones?  There can be a variety of causes.

An articulation disorder is characterized by errors with word sounds specific types of sounds. These errors and difficulties are categorized by substitutions, slurring, indistinct speech.

Phonological disorders are identified as errors in patterns of word sounds or not pronouncing certain letters in speech.

Developmental Apraxia of Speech is often characterized here, but Apraxia is a motor speech disorder, requiring a different type of treatment than the more typical speech sound errors.

little girl practicing speech sound in mirror

Differentiating between the different disorders is important because the treatments are different.  A Speech Pathologist will be able to diagnose what is causing your child’s difficulty being understood and prescribe the appropriate treatment plan.

Speech therapy helps correct the errors in producing sounds and patterns. Your SLP will usually do this by isolating the target sound and using it in its most basic form as a sound or a syllable. As therapy continues, you’ll continue moving up towards more complex forms such as stories or general conversation. This type of therapy might start with children identifying pictures with correct word sounds or putting words together in a sentence.

Swallowing or Feeding Therapy

Swallowing or feeding disorders, also known as dysphagia, can be caused by other disorders such as a cleft palate, autism, or delays in neural development. These disorders are dangerous because they can cause secondary risk factors such as dehydration, poor nutrition, or pneumonia.

Child in highchair hesitating at food in bowl

SLPs work with clients to improve sequencing and strengthen the muscles  associated with sucking, drinking, or chewing and swallowing food. Therapy can also assist with making eating a safer and more enjoyable experience for the client by changing food textures, temperatures, or introducing new types of foods.

Social Language and Pragmatics

A client suffering from social language disorders will struggle with pragmatics, which is the ability to understand the context and meaning of conversations. These clients often have difficulty following typical conversational formats, understanding nonverbal communications, and making inferences from conversation.

This type of therapy helps clients identify meaning to the context of words, interpret nonverbal cues, and match the vocabulary of a conversation. This type of therapy looks very much like role play, practicing with written prompts in conversation, and then advancing to practicing conversational skills in unpromoted situations.

How do I Know if My Child Needs Speech Therapy?

Every child is different and it can be tricky to assign a universal answer to this question. While there are defined time periods of a child’s life that certain speech and language habits are expected to develop, some children will develop later than others. It’s important to keep this in mind when analyzing your child’s speech and language habits.

At certain milestones, there are specific speech and language characteristics that you can expect to see. For example, by a child’s second birthday, they should have sufficient ability to understand what others are saying, be speaking more than 50 words, and have the ability to put multiple words together.

If these milestones are delayed in your child and you have concerns about their speech development, a speech therapy evaluation might be an option to consider.

How to Get the Most Out of Speech Therapy

Regular sessions with an SLP are important for speech therapy. However, the treatment doesn’t stay in the confines of the sessions.

The best way to maximize speech therapy sessions is to practice the skills every day, maintaining consistency and dedication. Here are some of our top tips for practicing speech therapy at home with kids.

The true measure of a child’s speech therapy intervention is directly linked to the involvement of the child’s parents and/or caregivers. Regularly practicing and implementing the skills taught by your SLP at home is the key!

Encourage children to be involved in their therapy by setting goals and providing incentives. Allowing children to take an interactive role in setting their own goals with therapy will also create a sense of responsibility and provide a greater reward for achievement.

What is the Typical Duration of Speech Therapy for children?

Again, every child is different and, as a result, every speech therapy plan is different. The duration of therapy will often correspond with the severity of the disorder and the consistency and implementation of the treatment plan.

The length of therapy will often need to be defined and structured in advance, especially if you plan to use health insurance to cover speech therapy. You should work with your SLP to craft an individualized plan of treatment with measurable goals.  Be flexible with the plan because every child responds differently to therapy – some children move through programs quickly; other children need more time, or require a few different techniques tried before finding the best treatment program.

Because of the range of treatments available for each type of therapy, a child’s needs may change as they progress through therapy and, as a result, the therapy plan may need to be adjusted as well. Patience is key in these scenarios. After all, language and speech are very complex, abstract concepts and will take time to correct and develop appropriately.

Keeping speech therapy fun and interactive is a good way to encourage children to participate and achieve goals that have been set.

How to Find Your Perfect Fit Speech Therapist

Armed with the knowledge and resources provided here, we hope you feel educated and empowered to make the best decision for your child or loved one’s speech and language development.

Speech and language are very complex skills that will impact every aspect of a person’s life. It’s important that good habits are developed early and that developmental errors receive the appropriate intervention. With the right speech therapy plan, intervention can provide successful and rewarding outcomes for your child.

Click here to find a children’s speech therapist near you today!



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