Early detection helps overcome speech/language/hearing delays

Early detection is key to helping children with speech-language/hearing issues.

When Jessica Ward was diagnosed with autism at age 2, doctors told her parents that she might not ever be able to speak or communicate effectively. At age 3, her parents enrolled her in the speech-language/hearing program at the Waynesville R-VI School District. Immediately, Jessica started showing improvement.

At the time, Jessica was delayed in vocabulary and concepts, mostly repeating words rather than developing her own communication. Gradually, Jessica made major improvements with her speech and began to form words and sentences on her own.

"There was no 'a-ha' moment," Marianne Ward, Jessica's mother said. "We were constantly noticing improvements with her speech and communication."

And after years of speech-language therapy, Jessica can now speak in public, communicate effectively with peers, and even had her own business last year making and selling cinnamon rolls at the Pulaski County Farmers Market.

Jessica is just one of the estimated five million children in the United States who have a speech, language, and hearing disorder. In the Waynesville R-VI School District alone, 550 students take part in speech therapy.

This May, and every May since 1927, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has used the "May is Better Hearing and Speech Month" (BHSM) celebration to provide parents with information about communication disorders to help ensure that they do not seriously affect their children's ability to learn, socialize with others, and be successful in school.

As a parent, Marianne Ward recommends early detection.

"My advice to other parents is that if you suspect a delay, have your child screened and tested, if recommended," she said. "The sooner children receive services like speech, physical, and occupational therapy the greater their chances are at success."

Speech and language problems can occur at anytime in a child's life. They can be caused by accidental injury, illness, or inherited by birth. Child speech and language problems include stuttering , articulation problems ("wabbit" instead of "rabbit"), language disorders (such as the slow development of vocabulary, concepts, grammar, and social usage of language) and voice disorders (nasal, breathy, or horse voice and speech that is too high or low).

Maureen Anderson, speech coordinator at the Waynesville School District, said that most speech-language/hearing issues can be helped and that the Waynesville program can give children the essential tools to understand speech and to speak to others effectively.

"In the Waynesville R-VI schools, a continuous screening for speech-language concerns is effectively intact with parents and teachers providing input," Anderson said. "The first step is identification through screening, followed with interventions and if needed, testing. If a student meets the criterion established by the Division of Special Education (of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) of Missouri, the student receives speech-language therapy services."

In the Waynesville R-VI schools, the speech/language therapy staff of 15 provides services for children with communication disorders in a variety of settings.

School-aged students with communication disorders (articulation, language disorder, voice, stuttering) are provided speech-language therapy services at each building through direct services, consultation with parents and teachers, and inclusionary services in the regular and resource classrooms.

"Speech therapy was amazing in that Jessica was able to develop true language and conversation skills," Marianne Ward said.

For students like Jessica, speech-language/hearing therapy – in addition to her classroom education – can truly transform a child's life. Last week, Jessica Ward walked across the stage at graduation and plans to attend Ozark Technical College in the fall.