If you are wondering, “Does my toddler need speech therapy?” then you have come to the right place! I’m a pediatric speech-language pathologist and toddler mom. I would love to help you decide whether or not you need to get your child evaluated for speech-language pathology. Let’s jump in!
What is speech therapy?
Speech therapy is a broad field that actually assists a wide range of children and adults with various difficulties and delays. The national speech and language therapy association (which also covers audiologists) describes speech therapists this way:
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.–asha.org
A speech-language pathologist might work with toddlers in a number of ways. They may target speech sounds (if a child isn’t speaking clearly), language (if a child isn’t talking or isn’t talking enough for their age), autism spectrum disorder (to address social language and communication), other known disorders, and much more.
When should I get speech therapy for my toddler?
If your child is delayed in speech and language, or if they have a known disability, you should get your child therapy as soon as possible. Early intervention is key because children are laying the foundation of their physical, cognitive, and emotional health from the moment they are born. From conception into the first years of life, the brain is developing at an incredible rate. By age two, the brain is 80% of it’s adult weight and size.
Early intervention is effective because with the brain working so hard and developing so much, toddlers are ripe for learning. The earlier your child gets help, the better.
If you feel like your child might be behind in any area of development, I highly suggest asking your doctor and/or getting a referral for further evaluation. The “wait and see” approach might seem tempting, but it’s always better to address it as soon as possible.
What are common milestones for speech and language for babies and toddlers?
- startles or reacts to loud sounds
- begins to smile on purpose (“social smile”)
- makes cooing sounds (“ooh” and “ahh”)
- may recognize familiar voices
- cries to get needs met
- moves eyes in the direction of a loud sound
- recognizes changes of tone in your voice
- may begin to understand “no”
- starts using more sounds like “pa”, “ba”, “me”
- laughs and giggles
- points at things and looks when you point
- turns to person when they call baby’s name
- says first words like “mama”, “dog”, “hi”
- tries to imitate your speech
- starts to understand simple commands
- follows simple directions like, “give mommy the cup.”
- uses several new words
- can point to at least one body part when named
- shakes head and says “no”
- points to something they want
- points to several objects/pictures when named
- uses phrases with 2 or more words
- knows the names of familiar people
- asks questions like, “what’s that?”
- listens to short stories and songs
- can name a majority of familiar things
- understands the idea of “his”, “hers”, and “mine”
- follows 2-3 step directions
- is understood by most people
- holds a back and forth conversation using full sentences
- uses pronouns (I, me, we, you) and plurals (cats, shoes, chairs)
- tells stories to other people
- knows first and last name
- says or sings entire poems or songs (like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”)
- names letters and numbers
- changes the way talk depending on the listener
- hears and understands most of what is said at home and school
- speaks very clearly (may have some speech sound errors like “r”, “s'” or “l”)
- uses full sentences to tell a story
- getting better at grammatical rules, like using future tense (“We will go to my friend’s party.”)
- says name and address
- shows a lot of interest in making friends and wanting to be like them
If your child only seems to be a little behind these milestones and you are wanting to help out at home, check out my post here. This post contains all of my favorite tips and tricks for helping your toddler increase their language.
Does my toddler need speech therapy?
Okay so now that you know what is typical (from the above section), you might be asking “does my toddler need speech therapy?”.
Your Toddler May Need a Speech and Language Evaluation If…
- Your child does not babble (using different sounds like “b”, “g”, “m”). A child should be doing this before 9 months.
- Your child does not use simple gestures to communicate (like pointing, or waving).
- Your toddler does not interact with you by smiling or reacting to you at all. Your child should show some sort of response to you almost as soon as they are born.
- Your child is only using a few sounds or gestures to communicate. Your little one should be doing this by age one.
- Your child is 2 years of age or older and has less than 50 words.
- Your little one is 2 years of age or older and does not combine 2 or more words.
- Your little one should be able to understand simple directions before age 2.
- Your toddler is not interacting with and trying to talk to other children by age 3.
- You can understand them less than 75% of the time by age 3
- A stranger can understand less than 50% of what your child is saying by age 3.
How do I get an evaluation for speech therapy?
Your first step for getting an evaluation for your little one is to talk with your doctor. A doctor will have the resources you need to take the next steps in getting a speech and language evaluation.
If you want to try another avenue, you can look up certified speech language pathologists on the national website right here. There also may be private practice clinics or early intervention programs in your area. It all depends on where you live!
Where can I get speech therapy for my toddler?
Speech and language therapy is provided through a few different avenues. Therapy can be provided through the school district or the state, in a hospital, or in a clinic or private practice.
Every state has an early intervention program that is specifically for children ages birth to three years old. You can find contact information for each state’s Early Intervention Program through the CDC right here. An early intervention program may or may not include a speech-language pathologist depending on your area. However, early intervention is a great place to start. (I’m partial because I still do some work for Nebraska’s Early Intervention team and I LOVE IT!)
Other options include getting an evaluation through your doctor or looking for private clinics or practices that offer speech therapy. Many colleges and universities have speech therapy as well. If you have a college near you, check to see if they offer speech therapy for children. It often comes at a discounted rate because your child will be paired with a college student getting their degree in speech therapy. All of these are great options and offer slightly different models.
Do you have any questions about getting your toddler speech-language pathology? I’d love to answer in the comments!