At our son’s 15-month checkup, I casually mentioned to the pediatrician that he wasn’t pointing at things, and his speech was very limited — he babbled, but had maybe two actual words at the time. I knew this was below the “norm,” but still thought I was being an overly concerned parent. The doctor definitely disagreed. She gave me a very concerned look and urged us to immediately send him to have his hearing checked. She was clearly worried there might be something wrong, and that our toddler had – at the very least – a speech delay.
Today, he’s almost two and half, and he will not stop talking. He repeats everything – and I mean everything (I’ve had to rediscover my filter) – we say. He’s come a very very long way. So how did we get from a panicked 15-month visit to where we are now?
Please note that I am not a doctor. This is just our experience and what helped in our situation. When we first found out about a possible speech delay, we had no idea where to start or if the information we were given was the best/helpful, so I wanted to write this post in order to give others ideas of where you can start and what can help!
1. Rule Out Any Hearing Issues
The first step we took was getting his hearing tested. We received a referral for a hearing specialist and it took about an hour for them to administer several tests. It was painless and easy. Speech is obviously heavily related to hearing ability, so it’s best to rule this out first as a possible contributor to any speech delay.
2. Contact Your State’s Early Intervention Program
After his hearing results came back clear, the pediatrician referred us to our state’s Early Intervention program. Early Intervention programs are available in every U.S. state or territory. They are designed to help with developmental delays or disabilities in young children, with the idea being, the sooner you can address the issue, the better for the child. The CDC has a great page with basic info on the program and links for more information based on where you live.
Our state’s program sent a team to our home to do a thorough assessment of his motor skills and speech. From there, they could determine whether or not he indeed had a speech delay and qualified for further services.
3. Find the Best Resources for Your Child and Make a Plan
Our son did qualify for speech therapy. We were in the midst of moving to Guatemala and unable to start the services, but they did refer us to a speech therapist in our new city. He now has a therapist come to our home for an hour each week. (Pro tip: Check with your insurance to see if they cover speech therapy!)
The second thing we did, was enroll him in preschool three days a week. This may not be feasible for everyone since preschool can be incredibly expensive. We are lucky that it is very affordable in Guatemala, because he has thrived in the environment. He’s around trained teachers who can give him individual attention, and he gets a ton of social interaction with kids of varying levels of speech. I think this was the biggest game changer for him.
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4. Stay Calm and Don’t Go Down the Google Rabbit Hole
I wish I could have received this advice in the very beginning! After that initial visit with the pediatrician, you can rest assured that I went down the Google self-diagnosis train on speech delays and toddlers, and what I found was terrifying (as it always seems to be!). I worried myself into sleepless nights, lots of tears, and probably a few extra grey hairs. Please don’t do this! Do the hearing test and early intervention assessment as soon as possible so that you can get your child the help they need, and so you can feel reassured that you are doing everything you can.
In the end, it’s important to remember that each child is different, and that there are resources available! Early speech delays can be serious, but they can also be just that – a delay. And if your pediatrician makes you feel otherwise, find a new one! You deserve as supportive, knowledgeable, and understanding of a team behind you as possible.