How Long Will My Child Need Speech Therapy?
You’ve received a referral and now your child is on a Speech Therapy waitlist or, better yet, booked in for their first Speech Pathology assessment. You may be wondering ‘How long will my child need Speech Therapy’ or even ‘What results can I expect from Speech Therapy’?
Those are fair questions to have, especially when you’re seeking the best possible outcomes for your child. Today we’d like to share some helpful information to support realistic expectations when starting Speech Therapy for your child.
We’ve gathered these insights and estimations from the latest research on Speech Therapy outcomes, as well as informed perspectives from certified practising Speech Pathologists working in the paediatric space.
How Long Will I Be on a Waitlist for Speech Therapy Services?
The first step in most people’s journey to access Speech Therapy services is to join a waitlist (or three!) with local Speech Therapy service providers. This is most likely to be with a private paediatric Speech Therapy clinic, or an all-ages private Speech Therapy clinic like us – SpeechEase Speech Therapy.
Wherever you are located, it’s likely that Speech Therapy services will be in high demand. For that reason, most people can’t access Speech Therapy immediately after identifying their child has a need for it, or even after getting a referral from a healthcare professional.
You may find yourself waiting for Speech Therapy services up to 18 months in some cases. This is a widespread challenge impacting both those who live regionally and in major cities which we really wish wasn’t the case. The more flexible you can be with appointment times, delivery methods (e.g. via telehealth or completing home programs with reviews) and location (e.g. a home visit) the more likely you are to get an appointment sooner rather than later.
If you have registered for a couple of Speech Pathology waitlists and are wondering what to do next, take a look at our Waiting for Speech Therapy page for more helpful insights.
What Happens During the First Speech Pathology Appointment?
After waiting to access Speech Therapy services, getting the call that there is a spot available for you is so relieving! Once the initial excitement settles down though, you may find yourself wondering what to expect going into your first appointment.
Your first session will be dedicated to getting to know you, your family, your child’s development and the history of symptoms or behaviours that have led you to seek out the support of Speech Pathologists and/or medical professionals. After this, your Speech Pathologist may go through a few activities or screeners with your child to get a general sense of where they are at and determine if formal assessments are required.
They then may ask for you to come back for further sessions to complete formal assessments which provides more detailed information and assists with diagnosis and treatment planning. We generally don’t do formal assessments in the initial appointment as they take time and it’s important your child feels comfortable with us to really show off what they can do and feel safe enough to show us the things they struggle with – children are not immune to feeling vulnerable and worried about showing others the things they find hard. Sometimes we may need to do a number of rapport building sessions before being able to complete a formal assessment.
How Long Will My Child Need Speech Therapy?
We have a lot of skills as Speech Pathologists but being able to predict the future is unfortunately not one of them. The truth is, there are a lot of different factors at play that can impact how long your child will need Speech Therapy to achieve their goals.
We would always recommend having an open and honest conversation with your Speech Pathologist about how your child is progresses with achieving their goals. If your child is not progressing as quickly as you would have expected, it’s also worth discussing what you can do either by accessing therapy more frequently, or by reviewing what is being done in sessions, at home and in other environments in the child’s life (e.g. daycare), to accelerate these results.
To get a better understanding of what may impact how long your child will need Speech Therapy, have a read of this list of factors at play:
Your child’s age
It is important to take your child’s age into consideration when projecting how long you’ll need to access therapy services for. As you may have heard already from your referrer, early intervention is important for little ones experiencing speech and language delays. The sooner your child can get the support they need, the higher likelihood they will be able to get results from Speech Therapy in a shorter amount of time.
The severity of the challenge
Another factor to keep in mind when considering how long your child will need Speech Therapy is the severity of the challenge they are experiencing. Whether your child is diagnosed with a Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), a Speech Sound Disorder (SSD) or another diagnosis entirely, the severity of their disorder will play a role in how long it may take to achieve your Speech Therapy goals.
The severity of the disorder may decrease over time as you progress through Speech Therapy, so don’t be too disheartened by an initial diagnosis!
Consistency of home-based practice
This may seem like a big ask trying to fit this within your already busy day, but there is a lot that you can do to support your child’s Speech Therapy outcomes by taking activities and other ‘homework’ to practice outside the therapy room. Only working on the areas of speech, language and mealtimes that your child has difficulty with during your 45 minute speech pathology sessions once a week or once a fortnight will do very little to support development and achieve your goals. It’s so important that home practice is completed every day between sessions! Think of it like learning a new skill or becoming an elite athlete or excelling in your career – hard work and practice every single day is needed to make this happen. This is the same thing with Speech Therapy and there’s research to support this! In 2012, Roberts & Kaiser found that overall, parent implemented interventions were effective in improving language outcomes for children with Language Disorders.
At SpeechEase, we refer to this as a ‘Home Program’ or ‘Home Work’, and we’ve seen these make a huge impact on our client’s success both in the clinic, at home and out in the community. We are passionate about ‘educating ourselves out of a job’ and will include parent training and coaching in all of our sessions so that you feel confident you’re taking the right steps at home to support your child. This is why it’s so important you are actively involved in every session.
We also provide a Parent Education Program specifically for parents of children under 6 years of age with social communication disorders by following the Hanen Parent Program known as ‘More Than Words’. You can learn more about Hanen here.
Number of difficulties targeted
In some cases, a child may have multiple diagnoses or difficulties that need to be supported by targeted Speech Therapy. These different areas may be targeted in the same session, or they may be targeted at different times if one area needs to be addressed first.
To get an idea of how common this is, according to McLeod & Baker (2018) Speech Sound Disorders rarely occur in isolation. 50-70% of children with SSDs can also have expressive and/or receptive language difficulties.
Your child’s engagement levels
Motivation, interaction, and overall engagement make a huge impact on how quickly your child will achieve results through Speech Therapy. Of course, as passionate Speech Pathologists it is our job to do what we can to make Speech Therapy enjoyable and even fun for your child. We like the child to think they’re just coming to some random building to play and have fun. But secretly, they’re actually working on things they find hard but they’re having too good of a time to notice! This is the best way that children learn – when it’s fun and meaningful for them.
We do this by incorporating some of their preferred activities, toys, games, movement activities, sensory games, iPad apps, books and more to get them interested and focused on their Speech Therapy session.
How Frequently Should My Child Receive Speech Therapy?
After getting a thorough assessment of your child’s condition and therapy needs, your Speech Pathologist will be able to develop a tailored therapy plan (that is evidence-based) to help achieve therapy outcomes.
Depending on the previously mentioned variables like your child’s age and number of difficulties, your therapy plan may include twice weekly therapy sessions, once weekly therapy sessions, or fortnightly therapy sessions. It really depends on your child’s needs, what else is happening in your life and home much funding you have access to for sessions.
Research from Mary Beth Schmitt et al. (2017) found that weekly Speech Therapy sessions can be effective for children with language disorders, as long as the sessions are highly productive with a high dose (lots of practice) throughout.
It’s important to keep in mind here that some weeks will be busier than others, and life will take over, in some cases leading to Speech Therapy sessions needing to be rescheduled. While it’s totally normal, this is something that over time can lengthen the amount of time your child will need to access Speech Therapy services.
What Results Can I Expect from Speech Therapy?
Speech Therapy can have an incredible impact on your child’s life – their confidence, their ability to express their needs and wants, and their capacity to play with others and form friendships, just to name a few things.
The sooner your child can access the Speech Therapy support they need, the better. We can’t wait to see how we can support you and your child on your Speech Therapy journey.
If you’re based in Queensland, Australia, we’d love to offer a helping hand. You can register for our services by clicking here. Or, if you are looking for a Speech Pathologist in another area of Australia, take a look at Speech Pathology Australia’s portal to find a Speech Therapy clinic near you.