Some parents know instinctively that their child needs speech therapy- maybe it’s the way strangers cannot understand him or the way he struggles to get his “words out”. Other parents are encouraged by their child’s teacher to have their little one evaluated. So…what do you do once your child has been evaluated and speech therapy is recommended?
1. Identify Your Child’s Specific Needs
The field of Speech Language Pathology is incredibly diverse; a licensed Speech Language Pathologist can work with a wide range of populations — from adults suffering with traumatic brain injury to children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. As a result, many Speech Pathologists choose to specialize in an area of interest in the same way the medical community has specialists related to ailment type.
Once you embark upon the mission of finding a therapist for your child, you must first identify what specifically your child needs help with. So…if your son recently began stuttering – you would want to make sure the therapy he receives is with a clinician who has experience with stuttering. If you are not sure – ask. Do not assume. A referral from a doctor or a friend is always helpful. If the therapist you contact does not have availability to treat your child – ask if they can recommend someone. Typically those working in the same area of a field know others who are also.
2. Consider Your Child’s Schedule
Speech therapy can be intense; you want your child to be at his “best” so he can attend, work hard and learn. Think about your child’s day and schedule his therapy accordingly. Do not schedule his sessions after a full day of school, a play date and soccer practice – he will be exhausted, his focus will be compromised and most likely he will grow to hate going.
When you call to schedule your child’s therapy (which is typically 1-3x per week depending on his diagnosis), know your child’s optimum days and times and confirm that the therapist has availability (many times if you are calling mid-school year schedules are booked). Most therapists will have a wait list for available spots-inquire about this and weigh out your options. If in two weeks your ideal times will become available and the therapist is experienced in what your child needs help with, then the wait is worth it. Do not compromise if the therapist can only see your child during his nap or before a long school day-move on and look for someone else.
3. Home vs. Office
Licensed Speech Language Pathologists will either work out of an office or go to your home. Many parents enjoy the convenience of having therapy at home- with zero travel time, no wait time, and the creature comforts of working in a familiar environment- you might think this sounds ideal!- yet many times it is not. The home environment can be distracting for a child- siblings, doorbells, televisions, phone conversations, etc- can all sabotage therapy. Likewise, the child is less likely to follow directions when he is in his own space and most likely playing with his own toys.
If you do decide that home therapy is right for you – consider sectioning off a space where your child can “work”- preferably behind a closed door to block out distractions. A table (which is suited for your child’s size- not the kitchen table where your child’s feet are swinging beneath and his head can hardly see over the sides) and a mirror (to practice sounds) are mandatory.
4. Payment/Insurance Reimbursement
Speech therapy can be expensive- per session rates vary by state/expert- and can range from $75-200 per session. This adds up to a big chunk of change each month. Check to see if the provider you are interested in takes insurance or if she will code her bill so you can get reimbursed by your insurance company. Speech therapy is both a time and financial commitment. If private therapy is too expensive you can explore Early Intervention (if your child is between 0-3yrs) and/or local universities which house a graduate program in speech language pathology and provide discounted therapy by a supervised graduate student.
Ultimately, therapy will only be successful if a rapport is developed between the clinician and the child. Consider your child’s temperament and what works best for him. Does he respond best to a child-centered, play-based approach, where the clinician follows the child’s lead and embeds her goals within? Or would a clinician-led session work better? Is your child shy? Does he need a therapist who can bring him out of his shell? Or..Is he outgoing and likes to take the lead? Finding a therapist that your child “clicks” with can really make a difference, speed up progress and enhance success. Remember, your child is in therapy to reach goals. If your child is not progressing and you are confident it is because he does not have a good relationship with his therapist (after you have exhausted all other possibilities)- move on to someone different.
Lastly, as the parent, consider what your needs are from your child’s therapist and make sure they are met. You do not need to love your child’s therapist, but you do need to communicate with her. Would you like her to write a note after each session, to check in via email weekly or to contact you only after you have initiated contact? Staying abreast of your child’s therapy will help generalize his target goals and speed up his progress as well.