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How Do I Know If My Child Needs a Speech or Language Evaluation?

Updated: Nov 21, 2018

While some children develop speech and language skills seemingly early, some do not. This can often lead to frustration for the child, and confusion for the parent, who can’t help but wonder if seeing a speech-language pathologist (SLP), is the right thing to do.


The answer may or may not be so clear. Developmental norms are comprised of a wide range of data, and often the ranges are quite wide in terms of age expectancy emergence of a particular skill or sound. Online research can be quite confusing and overwhelming for a parent trying to make a decision.


Here are some basic questions to ask, if you find yourself in the situation of deciding whether or not you should call an SLP.


Does your child have only a few words or no words, as compared to children his own age?


As a parent, pediatrician or early childhood educator, this is often the primary reason for requesting a speech-language evaluation. This, however, is not the only determining factor when making the ultimate recommendation for treatment. Expressive language onset for children varies significantly based upon many factors including gender, environment, personality, and motivation. Nonetheless, if your child is at an age where the majority of his peers are combining words to make short sentences, and your child is not, this is a reason to have an evaluation done.


Is your child exhibiting behavioral problems resulting from high frustration?


The occasional toddler meltdown is typical. As children develop their independence, they begin to want to have control over their environment. It is common that when things don’t go their way, that a tantrum may occur. The frequency of the occurrence, however, is what is important to look at. If this is a daily occurrence, and this sort of behavior is impacting on your child’s ability to socialize with his peers or function in a classroom or daycare setting, it may be time to seek out the advise of a professional. When children begin to use tantrums as a primary way to get what they need or want, rather than words, this could be problematic.


How well does your child understand directions or questions?


If your little one is struggling with directions at home, this may be a sign of a problem. Usually children by the age of 1, posses enough receptive language to understand simple directions like, Come to mommy, Go get your shoes or Let’s clean up. If your toddler is not following social routines well, an assessment may be appropriate. If your child is a little bit older and not responding to questions or greeting appropriately (for example, echoing the question or providing off-topic responses), this may be another reason for scheduling an evaluation to assess overall language functioning.


How well is your toddler understood?


Although speech intelligibility is not perfect when children are just learning to master their sounds, as they get older (3-4 years old), you may want to pay closer attention to how often listeners do not understand what he or she is saying. Do you find yourself constantly “translating” to non-familiar listeners? The degree of speech clarity increases, as children get older. If you find that your child’s speech clarity is not making steady improvement over time, an evaluation may be warranted. At the same time, children under the age of 4, develop typical sound errors (phonological processes) that are a normal part of development. Some children resolve these errors sooner than others, but only an SLP will be able to decipher a true articulation/phonological disorder from a normal developmental process.


How well is your child able to correct mispronunciations, when corrected?

Are their errors consistent or inconsistent?


By the age of 3.5, most children when given a verbal model of correct pronunciation can make a fairly good attempt at correcting their articulation error when cued properly. Examination of the consistency of your child’s articulation errors is helpful. Does he/she always say tady for candy, or is the production of the word candy always different when you attempt a correction? This will provide the SLP more information about the nature of the articulation disorder, if one is determined.


How is the overall development or health of your child progressing?


When examining communicative functioning, an SLP will always consider other related areas such as your child’s health and overall developmental skills. If your child is also experiencing delays in other areas such as play (turn-taking, object manipulation, etc.), motor (balance, walking, climbing, coloring, cutting with scissors, etc.), and eating (failure to upgrade diet, chewing difficulties, excessive pickiness causing diet limitations, difficulty with weight gain, etc.), an evaluation may be appropriate. Children who have developmental delays across multiple domains are often at a higher risk for communication difficulties.


The above article is intended to serve as an informative guide, and these

are just a few of the signs that SLPs look at when determining

appropriateness for an assessment. Feel free to contact us today, with

your specific concerns about your child’s communication skills. We will be

happy to answer any questions that you may have.


Author: Lisa Jiannetto-Surrusco, MA, CCC-SLP

Reach for the Stars Pediatric Speech-Language-Feeding Therapy

Cranford, NJ





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