What is an “SLP” and what do they do for children that are birth through three years of age????
Speech language pathologists (SLPs) specialize in helping others learn to communicate and understand others when they are communicating with them. They also address feeding concerns. Not being able to communicate what you are thinking or what you need is very frustrating for both a child and their caregivers. The same can be said for a child that cannot understand what others are saying around them. Not being able to help your child learn to eat is an area that is also frustrating and scary for both a child and their caregivers.
Some children struggle to learn to talk in order to communicate their wants, needs and ideas. They need support to learn how to talk and how to learn to put words together to make utterances to communicate. Some children are unable to speak and therefore need another way to communicate. These children may learn a language such as sign language so that they can communicate with their hands. Or a speech language pathologist may help set up a communication system with objects or pictures, or program a voice output device that speaks for the child. Some children speak in words and sentences, but their sounds are not produced correctly and their articulation is incorrect. Some children can produce sounds and words correctly, but they may stutter or their vocal quality might not be quite right such as letting too much air go through their nose when they speak. Some children are able to communicate, but understanding what others are saying is challenging. Learning what words and directions mean is more difficult for them. These are all areas of speech and language development that a speech language pathologist specializes in. They can both diagnosis disorders related to these areas and treat them.
Speech language pathologists need to have extensive knowledge related to the oral motor structures that are used for speaking. These structures are also involved in feeding therefore speech language pathologists also work with children in this area. One of the first skills babies learn how to do is to eat. They learn to coordinate a “suck-swallow-breathe” pattern to drink milk from either a breast or a bottle. They then progress through stages to learn to eat table foods like adults. For some children they struggle with certain steps along the way and learning to safely eat foods is a challenge. This is where a speech language pathologist can step in and figure out what is affecting the child at mealtimes and provide strategies to help the child learn to eat. Some children are able to eat table foods, but their diet is extremely limited and learning to eat different or new foods is difficult. This is also an area that speech language pathologists can work on.
In Illinois, a program called Early Intervention can help a family set up a speech language or a feeding evaluation and help find providers for this service if needed for children birth through three years of age. These services can be provided right in your home if needed. This program can help set up and support a child’s transition into preschool as well so that speech therapy can continue through a local school when a child turns three. Some families could also choose to use their insurance plan to obtain this service. Your insurance company should be able to provide you with a list of outpatient providers that offer this service and that accept your insurance plan.