St. Joe’s makes speech-language therapy fun for our youngest patients

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Does your toddler seem tongue-tied? Don’t worry – they’re not alone.

Speech and language delays are a common issue for many Canadian kids, and one in ten children with these delays will need some help to ensure their speech is on the right track.

Here at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, we work with children with all sorts of language difficulties in our outpatient Paediatric Speech-Language Pathology clinic.

“I work with kids under the age of six who’ve been identified as having some sort of speech or language or developmental difficulty,” says Marnie Loeb, a Paediatric Speech Language Pathologist here at St. Joe’s. “So this may be something like they have trouble finding their words, or using words, or understanding.”

Kids might also stutter or have trouble pronouncing words, she adds. For some children, the problem is strictly a speech issue, while for others it could point to a learning disability or autism.

“Parents often start to notice that their child is not talking as much as their peers around 12 to 18 months, (and) definitely by 24 months,” explains Dr. Janine Flanagan, Developmental Paediatrician.

Dr. Flanagan says children should have between 10 to 20 single words or word approximations between 12 and 18 months. By the age of two, kids should be capable of putting two words together, such as saying “mommy come”. By three, they should be capable of short phrases like “I want juice”, and should be saying longer sentences by the age of four.

Kids arrive at the St. Joe’s clinic once their parents or family doctor realizes they’re lagging behind, and the speech-language therapy they will do here takes a variety of forms, says Loeb.

“Some people come in every couple months, sometimes we see kids on a weekly basis – either by themselves or in a group with other kids,” she explains, adding the group sessions are often the most enjoyable for the young participants.

“It’s all very play-based, so it’s not stressful for kids at all,” Loeb says. “They think they’re coming in to see the toy doctor.”

From the outside, the sessions definitely look like playtime, with books and toys used in each visit. But what’s actually happening is interactive therapy that encourages the kids to identify different words and form sentences – all while having fun.

While these sessions are geared towards the kids, parents are key players as well.

“The main goals of therapy (are) to help parents learn how to effectively communicate with their child and help their child communicate with them,” says Dr. Flanagan.

Loeb says a once-a-week therapy session won’t be as effective without additional parental involvement. “But once you have parents following up at home, we see huge gains and it happens very, very quickly.”

“The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome,” adds Dr. Flanagan.

Watch our Speech Language Therapy in Paediatrics video, featuring Marnie working a young patient, by visiting our St. Joe’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/stjoeshealthcentre.