By school age most children will be understood by adults, so the focus at school is on language development and communicating with others.
Language difficulties are harder to identify than speech difficulties. For this reason, sometimes a language difficulty is not picked up until the child is identified as having difficulties developing their literacy skills.
Importantly, language and literacy are related; a child with a language difficulty has an increased risk of developing literacy difficulties.
A child with a language difficulty might hear or see a word but not be able to understand its meaning. They might not use words properly. They usually have a limited vocabulary and may make grammatical mistakes.
A child with a language disorder will need a lot more specific instruction, so for example, instead of asking a child to ‘hurry up', you would need to say what you need them to do, such as ‘put your shoes on now, please'.
Other clues would be if your child has difficulty telling you about their day, has trouble getting others to understand them and may lack social skills like turn-taking, politeness, initiating conversations and understanding rules and games. These factors may make it difficult for children to make and keep friends.
Where to go for help
If you are worried about your child's speech or language, always act on that, the sooner the better! There is always something that can be done to help your child.
You can start by speaking to your child's teacher about how your child is coping in the classroom. You can also ask at school to speak to the school counsellor and/ or Support Teacher Learning Assistance.
Public schools offer a range of services and programs to support children with speech and language development. The Learning Assistance Program for example, helps students with speech difficulties and provides specialist help to teachers in addressing these difficulties.
Speech pathology services
Speech pathologists work with children in Community Health Centres and in private practice. They may work one on one with a child, in pairs or with groups of children. They will usually suggest activities or programs to address a child's specific difficulty and these can be followed up at school and/or at home with parents or carers.
Most Community Health Centres provide free speech pathology services to eligible children. You will need to find which Centre provides services where you live.
You can find a private speech pathologist in your area at Speech Pathology Australia. Fees vary, so it's a good idea to get a list of local speech pathologists and do a ‘ring around'. Families with private health insurance may be able to claim for speech therapy depending on their policy.
Some families may be eligible for Medicare rebates for speech therapy if an Enhanced Primary Care Plan (EPC) has been lodged by their GP. You can speak with your speech pathologist and GP to see if you are eligible for any of these.
Parents can often play a big role in therapy and if they can commit the time, parents can do lots of things at home to assist their child's speech and language development.
Read more, or post a comment about this article Speech Problems, in Issue 2 of NSW Public Schools School Parents ezine.