When your child has been diagnosed with a toddler speech delay, chances are your doctor is going to recommend some type of therapy. My son started his therapy when he was just under two. Up until my experience with my son, I really never knew anyone with a speech delay, so I had no idea what to expect. I was really skeptical at first because I couldn’t imagine how a toddler could possibly relate to a therapist. I was kind of picturing someone sitting a desk making sounds and telling him to mimic them. Still, I went into it with an open mind, mostly because the services were free and I was at my wits end trying to help my son learn to talk.
If you’re in the same boat with a toddler speech delay and just getting set up with therapy, you may be wondering the same thing I did: how on earth do you give speech therapy to a toddler? I’m going to share my experiences with you to give you an idea of what to expect. Keep in mind, though, that every therapist has his or her own way of doing things, so your experiences may be a bit different.
What to expect from therapy for a toddler speech delay
The initial evaluation: I went through the Easter Seals, a free resource that help parents cope with a toddler speech delay, among many other things. I honestly don’t remember much about the first evaluation. Someone from the organization came out and talked to me and my mom (since we lived with her). Then they spent time playing with Jacob, watching him play with his toys and just getting an overall idea of what he was like as a whole little being.
We also had a similar evaluation from the actual language therapist, Lucy. I don’t think she was called a “speech therapist,” she had a different title. It had something to do with her degree, but she had years of experience working with toddler speech delays. Again, she wanted to learn about Jacob as a whole being and not just as a toddler who couldn’t talk.
Building trust and a relationship: Lucy spent the next couple of session building a bond with Jacob. With toddlers, you need to earn their trust and respect. It’s one of the things I love about them, because when our kids get older, we tell them “you have to respect so and so” and it’s just so fake. With a toddler, it’s all earned. But I digress. When your therapist is working on building that bond, you’ll find yourself wondering what to do. Should you sit right there next to your tot? Should you stand in the next room? Hover or split?
I sat on the couch, paying attention but not interacting unless I was included. There were many times that I was included, but also many times that it was clear my presence was a distraction. You HAVE to know when to back off and let the therapist do her work.
Learning sign language: It sounds counterproductive when you’re trying to get your toddler to speak, but the first thing Lucy did was teach Jacob and I some basic signs. Things like “more,” “eat,” “drink” and a few others. That way, he was able to communicate with me better while he was working on his speech skills. This went a LONG way to stopping those toddler speech delay tantrums!
Playing a lot of fun and silly games: To the untrained eye, much of a toddler speech delay therapy session looks like playtime. Lucy and Jake played all sorts of different games that incorporated sounds and words into them. Watch these games closely (while you’re NOT hovering) because you can play them with your toddler too in between therapy sessions.
Doing “homework”: Your therapist is only with you for about an hour or so a week. The rest of the time, YOU are the therapist. Lucy gave me plenty of handouts and homework assignments to help me during the rest of the week so I could continue to build on everything Jacob learned during his time with her. It is IMPERATIVE that you follow through. Consistency is so important!
Therapy for a toddler speech delay really does help. It’s not the stuffy kind of therapy that I thought it would be. Jacob really bonded with Lucy, and later with his other speech therapist. They made a lasting impact on him that went beyond just helping him learn to talk. If you’re considering speech therapy, I urge you to take the next step and give it a try.
If you have any questions about dealing with a toddler speech delay, feel free to ask. I’ll do my best to answer.