Working on Speech Sounds Early – My Opinion
Working on speech sounds early, before they are considered to be a delay, can be a contentious topic. Speech sounds typically develop at different ages. This Speech Sound Development Chart is what I use as a guide for when speech sounds should be worked on. It is though, as are all speech development norms, just a guide. A lot depends on how the difficulty with the sound is affecting the child. If it is causing them to be self conscious or it is affecting their ability to make themselves understood then it is definitely something that could be worked on regardless of the age when it typically develops. Another big consideration is if the sound is affecting early reading and spelling skills.
So as a Speech Therapist do I work on K or G sounds at age three, or on R’s in Kindergarten, or Th sounds in grade two? Most of the time no. It would be absolutely impossible for me to do this. I could never see that many children. Some speech therapists who work in schools or for government agencies even have very strict rules for when children qualify for therapy services.
Do sounds sometimes get worked on for seemingly no good reason? Yes, I have seen this sometimes when I read reports from other speech therapists, almost always private therapists or those working at for profit companies. In some cases there are good reasons but in others it seems that they are simply working on speech sound development instead providing therapy to help with a true delay or disorder. Working on speech sound development, teaching children how to say the different speech sounds, is not in itself a bad thing at all. It is what I did with my children when they were growing up, it is what parents should do all of the time with their children and should be something that speech therapists help parents to do. But when speech sound development is portrayed as needed therapy to treat a delay and is provided as an ongoing therapy, especially when there is a cost, then it is in my opinion wrong.
Some speech therapist argue that working on speech sounds early is a form of prevention. This is true. Working on sounds early would definitely help sounds to develop and would prevent trouble with sounds in almost every children from reaching the point where it would be seen as a delay or disorder. But this is something a Speech Therapist should be doing? Parents, general caregivers and teachers are more than capable of providing the stimulation needed to help sounds to develop properly in a natural way. A Speech Therapist role should be to facilitate this natural development of sounds, not to provide unnecessary treatment. These are some of my Basic Speech Development Ideas that I use with parents.
My advice to parents is if a speech therapist is telling you that a sound needs to be worked on “early” you should be asking some questions. What do they see that makes them think that working on this sound(s) early is needed? Is this a sound that will likely develop on its own? What can I do at home to help this sound to develop? If they don’t have good answers be wary, if they are charging you or are somehow profiting from your child being seen in therapy be especially wary.
I am in no way saying that Speech Therapist are a bunch of unscrupulous people looking to profit off of the fears of parents by providing unnecessary services. All of the therapists that I know are very kind, caring professionals who only have the best interest of the child and parent in mind. But the more parents know the better.