Asking if a child needs speech therapy is a question we as preschool teachers are called upon to answer.
We need to be very careful before responding.
It seems there are more and more children in speech or language therapy before kindergarten each year. Parents are hyper-sensitive to how "well" their children speak in comparison to other children.
As teachers, we need to remind them that, as with other areas of development, each child progresses in their speech and language at different rates. For example:
It is when a pattern of usage that is out of the developmental norm can be seen in their speech or language that a red flag should be raised by teachers to decide if referral for speech therapy or language therapy assessment is necessary.
As teachers, we are called on by parents to answer some questions that are not easily answered. When asked if we think their child has a speech or language problem and if we think they need speech therapy, we need to be very careful about how we answer.
If we answer yes, we have just labeled that child and the parent assumes we are correct because we are, after all, the expert when it comes to children. The parent will now expect a specialist to begin speech therapy.
Now, don’t lose it over my next statement, it is blunt but true:
We need to remember that we are NOT the experts in speech and language (unless, of course, you have a Masters degree in speech and language pathology!).
We should NOT be telling parents that we feel their child has a speech problem or a language problem. Once we say that to a parent, their child has been “diagnosed by an expert”.
A speech disorder refers to a problem with the production of sounds.
A language disorder refers to having difficulty either understanding sounds/words or having difficulty putting words together to communicate thoughts or ideas.
The child’s issue, many times, may not be a speech or language disorder. A child may have one of many number of other things going on that are affecting them and the issues, in which case, the "problem" you see in their speech and language may actually be a symptom of this other issue. Some examples:
As preschool teachers, we have training and experience that lets us know when children do not appear to be developing within the typical stages.
Our role is to know what the developmental norms are for speech and language acquisition (as well as other areas of growth and development ) for the ages of children that we care for.
The best and most appropriate steps we can take to be sure that we handle developmental concerns in a professional manner and within limits of are training are: