Health Care

Developing a dialogue

    A child's baby talk might be cute for a while, but if it continues for too long, it might mean speech therapy is in order.

    Lisa Richmond's daughter, Hanna, was referred by her pediatrician for speech therapy because she wasn't meeting developmental milestones. Hanna began therapy at about a year old.

    Lisa said the first step in Hanna's therapy was learning sign language. She said simple gestures, such as the sign for "more," were extremely helpful in teaching Hanna to communicate. Because people couldn't understand anything Hanna was saying, she was often frustrated and having about 15 temper tantrums a day.

    "We would never have been able to communicate with her (without therapy)," Lisa said. "We wouldn't have been able to understand what Hanna is asking for."

    Now about a year and a half later, Hanna still is doing therapy but has greatly improved. Her mother said she can understand a lot more of what Hanna says now. And Hanna is down to about two tantrums a day.

    Hanna does in-home speech therapy twice a week for 30 minutes at a time. But therapy time isn't enough. She also works on various activities, such as practicing two-word phrases, with her mom every day.

    Lisa said Hanna has no problem sounding out letters and words. What she has to work on is slowing down her speech because it comes out as gibberish.

    Hanna's therapist, Kelly Barrell, said speech therapy is not just used for helping children with articulation. It can help with a variety of problems, such as auditory comprehension, oral expression, stuttering and even feeding disorders.

    Co-owner of Palmetto Speech and Language Services in Ridgeland and a speech therapist for the past seven years, Barrell said early intervention is critical in correcting a speech problem. The sooner it's identified, the quicker intervention can begin.

    "If you start it early enough, hopefully they won't need it as much or as often when they're older," Barrell said. "A good rule of thumb is at age 2, your child should have at least 50 words, be starting to combine them, and they should be understood at least half of the time."

    If parents suspect their children might have a speech problem, Barrell said they should either ask their pediatrician for a referral to a speech therapist or if the child is in school, ask for a speech evaluation there.

    Barrell's advice to parents in encouraging proper speech and language? She said reading to them regularly is huge. She said it's also important to ask your child questions and wait for them to respond, model correct speech sounds, and encourage them to verbalize their wants and needs.

    Barrell said the cause of speech problems isn't always clear. Delays can be caused by premature birth, a history of ear infections, seizure disorders or autism.

    "You could've done everything to stimulate and enrich your child with good speech and language skills, and they just have a delay," she said.