Communication problems are not uncommon.
What does a speech-language pathologist or SLP do?
A speech-language pathologist assesses, diagnoses, and treats speech, language, voice and swallowing problems.
What training do speech-language pathologists have?
Speech-language pathologists have a master’s degree or equivalent involving at least six years of university education. There are eight Canadian university programs in speech-language pathology, three of which are offered in French.
Where do speech-language pathologists work?
Most speech-language pathologists work in health units, hospitals, rehabilitation centres or in the school system. They can also work in
private practice, government agencies, colleges, universities
and research centres.
Who do speech-language pathologists see?
Speech-language pathologists work with a wide range of age groups, from infants to seniors. They also help people who have cerebral palsy, developmental delays, spina bifida, cleft palate, respiratory problems, and head injuries, to name only a few.
Can a speech-language pathologist help infants?
More emphasis is being placed on finding communication problems in children early. For example, a child who shows a delay in developing normal play skills may also be at risk of having a communication problem. Speech-language pathologists may also work with babies (as well as older children) who are having feeding difficulties that may involve poor sucking, difficulty with swallowing, or a strong dislike of feeding.
Articulation problems – This is a difficulty with pronouncing sounds to make words. There are many reasons children have difficulty in making sounds. These include hearing problems, poor muscle control, cleft palate and lip or learning problems. However, often there is no apparent reason for the problem so it is called 'a specific speech impairment' (delay of unknown origin). Children develop sounds in a particular order. English-speaking children learn most sounds by six or seven years. With other languages, such as Cantonese, youngsters develop the sounds earlier as they are less complex to learn. The speed at which children learn their sounds depends on the complexity of the sounds being mastered. As children develop their speech sounds it is not uncommon for them to make single types of errors like “tat” for “cat,” do—” for “dog” or “shshssoup” for “soup.” Similar types of errors can be noted in other languages.
Sometimes children do not make single sound errors but have trouble learning “sound patterns.” For example, classes of sounds may give the youngster difficulty, such as replacing every sound that should be made at the back of the throat like “k” and “g” with “t.” The child may make words like “tap” for “cap,” “tup” for “cup” and so on. Every language has rules about how sounds can be combined to make words. If a child has trouble with specific rules and develops unique patterns like those just described, he might have a “phonological disorder.” In this situation, the speech-language pathologist helps the child to learn classes of sounds, rather than just specific sounds.
Language problems – These problems can be expressive (what the child says) receptive (what the child understands) or a combination of both. Expressive language difficulties can show up in problems with grammar, as in “Him is mean,” or vocabulary, such as calling a “lion” a “tiger”. Receptive problems can show up in misunderstanding what is said, including difficulty following instructions or answering questions strangely - for example, answering “What do you do at night?” with “Pyjamas.” Sometimes children have trouble learning the context in which certain language is used. They get themselves into trouble and appear to be rude by talking, for example, to a teacher as to a friend, saying “Hey gimme a pencil!” instead of “May I have a pencil please?” Problems with reading and writing can also show up in this area.
Voice disorders – A problem with a child’s voice is determined by whether the voice matches the speaker’s age and gender and has a pleasant sound to it. A pleasant voice is one that is not too loud nor soft, neither breathy nor harsh and not too nasal or hypo-nasal (how we sound when we have a cold). Before seeing a speech-language pathologist, it is important that a child be seen by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician to rule out the possibility of a medical condition for the voice problem.
Fluency disorders (stuttering) – With this type of problem, the child has difficulty with the flow or rhythm of speech. The smooth flow of speech can be interrupted in a number of ways: repeating sounds, syllables, words and phrases, prolonging sounds, or using interjections such as “um.”
Children who are still learning to talk often go through a period somewhere between the ages of two and five of what is called normal non-fluency, also known as stuttering. These behaviours are characterized by repetitions of whole phrases or words, as in “I like, I like, I like ice cream,” or “My, my new cat is nice.” Be aware that this is a normal part of your child’s speech development. Act in ways that promote easy smooth speech. Children are great imitators and often will copy you. Speak more slowly; listen to what is said, not how it is said; communicate well by pausing when you talk to give your child a chance to talk and letting him finish his own sentences; and show attention by nodding occasionally and looking interested in what he is saying.
Signs that your child’s stuttering may be becoming more of a concern include:
If you are concerned that your child’s stuttering is becoming a problem, speak to a speech-language pathologist.
There is quite a wide range in age in which sounds are learned, as children vary in their development. The table below is a general guide to show by what age most English-speaking children will be using a sound.
m, n, h, w, p
b, t, d, k, g, f
v, j, s, l, r
z, ch, sh, th
As a rough guide, your child’s speech should be understood by a stranger:
Remember that not all sounds will be perfect until Grade 1 or, at the latest, Grade 2.
Information about communication, speech and language problems and related topics can be found on the following websites. They also list useful links.
• Speech and Hearing Association of Alberta (SHAA):
• Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA):
• American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA):
On average, a child should use at least 200 words by the age of two. By the age of four her vocabulary should be at least 2000 words. As general benchmarks, consider whether your child can:
Seek answers if your child:
Finding speech and language problems early in children is very important. If you are concerned about your child’s speech, discuss your concerns with your family doctor. If necessary, speak to a speech-language pathologist. Contact your local health unit or hospital for information.