Dispelling some common myths about Speech, Language and Communication Impairment

Please note that the term Speech Pathologist or Speech and Language Clinician or Communication Specialist may be used interchangeably throughout this article. They all refer to the same profession.

  1. “Don’t worry about it; your son/daughter will be fine once he gets to school”. This is the most unfounded and potentially damaging pieces of advice anyone can give a concerned parent. The earlier a child is seen by a communication specialist the better the outcome.
  2.  “You need a doctor’s referral to see a speech pathologist or speech and language clinician”. In Australia, you only require a doctor’s referral if you want to be referred under the Chronic Disease Management Plan enabling you to claim a partial rebate for 5 sessions in a calendar year under Medicare.
  3. “Private Speech Pathology is very expensive”. If you have private health cover, speech pathology is very affordable. The cost of therapy needs to be weighed against the potential cost of not receiving help early. Speech and Language impairment can impact on a child’s ability to learn at school. Early intervention may prevent the need for tutoring costs at a later date. Many children attend dancing lessons, football or swimming lessons so the cost of speech pathology should be weighed up against these expenses to truly assess the effect on the family budget.
  4. “Speech Pathology and tutoring do the same thing”. Speech Pathologists are trained in the remediation of speech and language impairments and language related learning and literacy difficulties. The difficulties a child may be experiencing in the classroom may be due to a receptive language difficulty (comprehension challenges), an expressive language difficulty, or a language difficulty specifically impacting on literacy learning. Through their assessments, speech pathologists pinpoint the language area requiring remediation and provide therapy tasks to address these. Tutors are often teachers familiar with the curriculum and provide curriculum based tasks to address literacy or numeracy difficulties. Tutors generally do not assess or address the underlying oral language components which may be impacting upon learning.
  5. “You will need to be seen by a Paediatrician before you go to a Speech Pathologist or Speech and Language Clinician”. Sadly, waiting to be seen by a Paediatrician often delays the speech and language intervention process. If the Speech Pathologist feels there are other areas that need to be addressed she will ask you to organise a Paediatric referral through your local doctor as a Speech Pathologist studies normal child development during his/her training. Similarly, if she/he would like you to arrange a hearing assessment for your child she/he will also inform you. You do not need to be seen by an ENT or any other specialist prior to your initial assessment. Too often, I have had children wait for months to see a medical specialist, or two, or three, and by the time they get to have their Speech and Language Assessment they have waited for months. As many of these specialist appointments can cost several hundred dollars there have been occasions where parents no longer have the funds to pay for private therapy following a round of medical appointments and the only issue the child has is a specific language impairment.
  6. “If you are having literacy difficulties you need to have an Auditory Processing Assessment”. Not all literacy difficulties are related to Auditory Processing Disorders (APD).  It is a good idea to have a full speech and language assessment prior to an APD diagnostic test. If indeed a child is found to have APD he/she will require therapy from a speech pathologist.
  7. “You will be going to therapy for years”. How long a child attends speech pathology is related to how severe his/her communication impairment was when initially assessed. This gives added weight to the importance of early intervention. If you provide ongoing daily practise of the therapy tasks, and your child is less than three years of age, you may not need to attend therapy for long at all.
  8. “Ipads and computer games will teach my child to talk”. While there are some great programs and apps for speech therapy, too much screen time can have the opposite effect and delay speech and language development. Communication involves turn taking and learning the social aspects of how we talk to certain people differently and we take into account the context in which we are speaking. Screens do not allow for the “full picture” of body language, situation, status of the person, background noise or prior experiences related to the conversation topic etc. which all need to be considered if we are to communicate effectively.
  9. “The Speech and Language Clinician will do all the work; all you need to do is show up to the appointments”. Speech and language learning is a skill like any other which needs daily practise. Remember back to learning to drive a car and how much you needed to practise to drive well. Language learning is complex and a child needs to demonstrate a skill in a number of different contexts to truly master that skill. Daily practise is essential. If you do not practise regularly, you will be in therapy for a long time. You do not always have to be sitting down at a desk or get out your homework folder to do your practise. If you are familiar with what you are working on in therapy, you can incorporate your speech and language practise into what you do with your child on a daily basis and give them multiple opportunities for practise throughout the day. They may not even notice they are practising.
  10. “Speech Pathology doesn’t work, my child is still lisping”. Some children do really well in therapy and are able to demonstrate clear speech in the clinic setting. I have had children who are able to say “s” correctly 95% of the time in conversation and have discharged them from therapy. When I have done so, I have made it clear to a child’s carer that ongoing practise at a conversational level on a daily basis will still need to continue for several months.  The old habit is likely to creep back if not. If a child regresses, it means this ongoing maintenance practise was not carried out.
  11. “You can start to correct your child for the sound he is working on in conversation from the first session”. Speech Pathology sessions are structured so your child achieves success at a level where he continues to learn. Jumping to conversational correction when your child is still learning how to say a sound by itself or in words is too big a jump. It is something your child will not be able to achieve and they will associate speech practise with failure. They will not want to do it. Only practise what your speech and language clinician has set out for you. Jumping ahead usually doesn’t speed up the process and the outcomes can be negative.
  12. “Your child is better off at school or in Day Care if he has a speech and language problem”. This is only true of children who do not have a language rich home environment with toys and books and where games are played and books are read.  A parent can provide one on one input for their child. In a classroom they might be one of 20 or more so the opportunities for one on one language stimulation are limited. Parents are by far the most important people when it comes to teaching language to a child.
  13. “Play has nothing to do with learning to speak”. The exact opposite is true. In early childhood play has everything to do with learning how to communicate. Children will often demonstrate language in play before they speak. Play opportunities allow a child to take on the role of another and experience things from their perspective, teaching them about how to use language differently with different people. Play has lots of health benefits for us adults too so if there is one thing you can do to improve your child’s language abilities it is to play with your child and extend his/her repertoire of play themes and use of objects. It might also be just a bit of fun for you both.
  14. "Speech and Language has nothing to do with health". Our health system requires a patient to have good communication skills to be able to communicate what their health issue is. Imagine the case of a person with vocabulary challenges who goes to the doctor stating he has a sore neck and the ensuing examinations he would undergo. What if what he meant to say was he had a sore throat? Speech Pathology can play a preventative role in health care by preventing some of the health issues associated with speech and language impairment persisting into adulthood, and by enabling people to get the most out of their health system by having adequate communication and literacy skills.


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