I had no idea what to expect the first time my toddler went to speech therapy. Would I be in the room? Should I participate in the session? What if my toddler had a tantrum, as she is prone to doing?
All speech-language pathology centers function slightly differently. Your town’s Early Intervention program may vary from my town’s, and centers in schools and hospitals also have their own norms. However, after I talked to other moms, I found that my daughter’s experience was very similar to those of her special-needs peers.
Here are the basics of what you can expect from your toddler’s first speech therapy appointment.
Your child’s referring pediatrician or educator will tell you if you need to bring anything to speech therapy. You may need to fill out forms or bring your child’s medical records to the speech-language pathology center. These can help the expert determine which testing material to use, and to understand the basic problems that your child is encountering. If you haven’t done so in advance, you will probably need to arrive early to answer a few questions about your child’s development.
Before your toddler’s first speech therapy session, the speech-language pathologist will need for you to answer a few questions about his development. You may need to answer a few short questions about his sentence length, vocabulary, behavior and communication challenges.
At your toddler’s first speech therapy appointment, the speech-language pathologist will evaluate his communication skills by asking him questions and observing his answers. Many of these tests involve simple illustrations of common objects. For example, a page may show a cat, a purse and a dinner plate. The specialist will ask a very basic question such as, “Which one is a cat?” or a more difficult question such as, “Which one might have a wallet inside?”
The speech-language pathologist will guage your child’s speech development not only based on his number of correct answers, but also his sentence length, clarity of speech, use of pronouns and attention span.
Depending on the policy of the center where your child has his first speech therapy session, you may or may not be allowed in the room. In general, a parent’s presence interferes with the speech therapy, because the child will turn to his parent to “look for” the answer. If you are in the room, bite your tongue. Don’t correct your child or respond to his answers.
Most speech therapists’ evaluations can be scored quickly, so the expert will be able to review your child’s results almost instantly. It took my toddler’s speech therapist only a few minutes to determine my toddler’s strengths and weaknesses in her speech development– for example, her “expressive language” scores were highly advanced, but her “receptive language” scores were delayed for her age group.
At your toddler’s first speech therapy session, you can expect to hear an explanation of the issues your toddler may be encountering. The therapist may tell you if she suspects a hearing problem, autism-spectrum disorder or other condition. Most importantly, the therapist can explain the possible treatment techniques that she may use to help your toddler excel.
What About Tantrums?
I was terrified that my toddler might have a tantrum at her first speech therapy appointment, but she did surprisingly well. Most speech-language pathologists are highly skilled at helping toddlers feel comfortable, and they are accustomed to dealing with high-needs children– including kids with autism-spectrum disorders.
Toward the end of my toddler’s first speech therapy appointment, she began throwing a tantrum which gradually escalated as we neared our exit. Believe it or not, this actually helped the evaluation because it enabled the speech pathologist to see the way my toddler communicates when frustrated. And, because the therapist routinely works with children who have behavioral problems, she reassured me that my child’s fit was extremely mild compared to those she witnessed every day.
If your toddler will soon see a speech pathologist for the first time, don’t fret. This is the first step that you can take toward your child’s recovery from language disorders and speech delays. The process can be as painless and predictable as a trip to the park.