A Parent’s Guide to Speech Therapy for Children

A Parent’s Guide to Speech Therapy for Children

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone. You are the expert of your child in knowing what they need and how they communicate their needs. You also may be the first one to notice if your child is having trouble expressing themselves. If you have concerns about your child’s speech, language or feeding development, it may be time to contact a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

There are many reasons why you may want to seek speech therapy for your child. Some common reasons include: articulation problems, stuttering, difficulty with pronunciation, poor grammar skills, difficulty eating, and difficulty understanding others or being understood.

If this is your first time working with a speech-language pathologist, it may be overwhelming. As a parent, and a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I’d like to help you in the journey and clarify some things for you.

First, we will discuss the different types of SLPs available. Just as with other medical providers, there are several specialties within the general speech-language pathology umbrella. It’s important to choose the right provider to match your needs.

I’ll also provide some tips on how to find a SLP in your area to meet the needs of your child.

Finally, we will give an overview of what you can expect during a typical speech therapy session.

Article Overview

  1. What is a speech-language pathologist (SLP)?
  2. What are the different types of speech-language pathologists?
  3. How do I find a speech therapist in my area for my child?
  4. Questions to ask speech-language pathologist before starting therapy.
  5. What is an evaluation?
  6. What can I expect during a typical speech therapy session with my child?
  7. What are some things I can do at home to help my child with speech therapy goals?
  8. Why is early intervention so important when it comes to speech and language development?
  9. Resources for parents of children who need speech therapy services.

What is a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)?

A speech-language pathologist is a healthcare professional who evaluates and treats speech, language, cognitive-communication, and swallowing/feeding disorders. They may work with children or adults.

Speech-language pathology is a vast field that includes many different areas of specialty. Some of the most common areas of specialization include articulation, fluency, voice and resonance, language, cognition, hearing, swallowing, chewing, social communication, and using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) modalities.

What are the different types of speech therapists?

Each of these areas is important in its own way, and speech-language pathologists who specialize in any one of them can provide vital help to children and adults who are struggling to communicate. For example, SLPs who specialize in articulation can help children to pronounce words correctly, while SLPs who specialize in language therapy will be more fit to address any expressive, receptive, or pragmatic (social) language delays or differences.

Because there are so many areas to focus on, many providers specialize in a specific area of focus. The list below (which is not exhaustive) highlights some of the most common areas of specialty. Most SLPs are familiar with treating multiple areas of concerns depending on the age of the clients they treat (i.e. pediatric vs geriatric).

  1. Articulation Therapy: This type of therapy helps children with the production of sounds.
  2. Language Therapy: This type of therapy helps children who have difficulty with receptive language, expressive language, and pragmatic language.
  3. Fluency Disorders: This type of therapy helps children who stutter.
  4. Voice Disorders: This type of therapy helps children with voice problems.
  5. Cognitive-Communication Disorders: This type of therapy helps children with specific language and higher level thinking skills.
  6. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): This type of therapy helps children who need alternative methods to communicate, such as picture exchanges, or electronic devices to communicate more effectively.
  7. Dysphagia Therapy: This type of therapy helps children with swallowing disorders.
  8. Early Intervention: This is an umbrella term used for children 0-3 or 0-5 depending on where you live.
  9. Pediatric Feeding Therapist: This type of therapy helps children with feeding difficulties. Some therapists specialize in the oral phase of feeding (chewing) while some specialize in the swallowing phase. They will see children who are having a hard time accepting or eating certain foods or if their diet is impacting their overall development and growth. Here is some more information on what feeding therapy can look like.
  10. Oral-Motor:  This type of therapy can help improve the movement and coordination of the lips, tongue, and jaw for speech production and feeding.

No matter what your child’s specific needs may be, there is sure to be a speech-language pathologist who can help. It’s important to do your research and find the therapist who is the right fit for you and your child. There are many different types of speech-language pathologists available, each with their own unique set of skills and areas of expertise.

How do I find a speech therapist for my child?

Before searching for a SLP, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself.

  1. Do you plan to use insurance, pay privately, or are you looking for services to be provided from your child’s school district?
  2. What type of therapy are you looking for?
  3. Do you prefer a male or female therapist?
  4. Where do you want to receive therapy? (In office, in the home, teletherapy?)

There are several ways to find a SLP in your area. Your ideal path may vary depending on the age of your child.

Here are a few ways you can find a speech therapist for your child in your area:

Ask your pediatrician for a referral.

Your pediatrician will know providers in your area and should be able to help you identify then type of provider you need to work with. 

Request an evaluation by your state’s early-intervention program.

If your child is between the ages of birth and five (birth to three in select states), you may qualify for speech-therapy services through your state’s early-intervention program. Your pediatrician can refer you to early-intervention or you can contact your state’s early intervention program to request an evaluation yourself. You can search “early intervention in my state” and the state run helpline can guide you on next steps.

Request an evaluation from your child’s school.

If your child is older than the age of your early intervention program, ask for an evaluation from your in-school speech-language pathologist. Call the special education department in your school district and express your concerns. They should walk you through the next steps for what you need to do in order to see if your child is eligible to get support.

For example, in Connecticut where I live we have Birth-to-Three. Once the child turns three years old, they are eligible to be screened/evaluated by the school district, even if they are not in kindergarten yet.

Search the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) database.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is a national organization that provides speech-language pathology certification. You can use their website to search for a speech-language pathologist in your area. This database includes information on each speech-language pathologist’s qualifications and areas of expertise.

Search Health Grades for a provider.

Health Grades is a website that allows you to search for health care providers by location and by specialty. You can also read reviews from other patients about their experiences with different SLPs.

Leverage local Facebook groups.

If you’re looking for a SLP in your area, leveraging your local Facebook groups can be a great way to get recommendations from other parents. Ask the group if anyone has had experience with a SLP in your area and what they thought of the provider. You may also be able to find online Facebook groups specifically for speech therapy recommendations.

Reach out to your insurance company.

Your insurance company should be able to provide you with a list of in-network speech therapists near you.

Research speech therapy providers online.

You can research SLPs in your area by visiting their websites, looking for customer reviews, and/or contacting the provider directly.

Once you have narrowed your list down to a few providers, you’ll want to reach out for a consultation. Many providers will offer a free 15-minute consultation, but this does vary by practice and provider type.

During your initial meeting or consult with the provider, here are a few questions to ask:

Questions to ask a Speech-language pathologist before starting therapy.

  1. What is your area of expertise?
  2. How long have you been practicing?
  3. Are you licensed and certified?
  4. Do you have experience working with children who have my child’s specific needs?
  5. How will speech therapy help my child?
  6. What do I need to do to help my child during speech therapy? 
  7. How often will my child need speech therapy?
  8. What should I expect from speech therapy sessions? 
  9. Is there anything my child can do at home to practice?
  10. Do I need to purchase anything for our sessions?
  11. How will we determine success?
  12. Will I be able to attend the speech therapy sessions with my child?
  13. What is your communication style (directive, collaborative, etc)?
  14. What are the fees for services?
  15. What is your cancellation policy?

Following your consult selection of your provider, you will schedule an evaluation.

What is an evaluation?

A speech or feeding evaluation is a process by which a SLP determines the nature and extent of your child’s delays or differences in a specific area. Depending on your concerns, the speech therapist will assess your child’s speech, language, communication skills, or feeding skills. The SLP will ask you questions about your child’s medical history and development. They will observe your child’s speech/language/feeding directly using standardized or non-standardized testing. They will also observe indirectly usually through play or snack.

After the evaluation, the SLP will explain their findings and give recommendations for next steps. If there are delays or areas that need to be addressed, the SLP will develop a treatment plan for your child. This plan will include exercises and goals for your child to work on during sessions and at home.

What can I expect during a typical speech therapy session with my child?

Speech therapy sessions will involve working on specific goals dependent on the areas of need. During your initial evaluation, your SLP will identify the areas of delay or disorder.

Therapy sessions vary significantly depending on provider; your child’s area of focus, your child’s ability to attend and have demands be placed, and your child’s age. Regardless of the different styles and approaches to therapy, there will be a goal established and a way to work on that goal each session in an engaging manner.

Your SLP may target specific speech sounds, words, or sentences during therapy sessions. If your child is having difficulty with a particular sound, the SLP will work on exercises to help them produce that sound correctly in repetition (drill) or more of a play-based child-directed manner. This might involve saying the sound in different positions within words for “x” amount of trials throughout the session.

If your child is having difficulty with speech fluency, or stuttering, the SLP will work on exercises to help them increase their speech rate and improve their overall fluency.

If your child is in feeding therapy, your speech therapist may work on exposure to foods (in and out of the mouth), and specific oral motor skills that impact chewing and swallowing exercises during therapy sessions. 

Many speech therapy sessions also target social skills, such as turn-taking and conversation skills. The speech therapist will work on this through specific games and activities.

At the end of each speech therapy session, the speech therapist will typically provide you with some take home exercises to practice with your child in order to help them reach their speech, language or feeding goals.

Speech therapy sessions typically last 30-60 minutes, depending on your child’s age and attention span. Session frequency may vary. Once a week or bi-weekly is most common, although some speech therapists may recommend more frequent sessions depending on your child’s needs.

What are some things I can do at home to help my child with speech therapy goals?

Speech therapy takes practice and patience! Your SLP should help you identify the specific actions you can take at home to help your child reach their speech and communication goals.

This might involve specific exercises or activities to do with your child, as well as tips on how to support your child’s speech and language development in general. It is important to practice speech and language skills in a variety of contexts and situations, not just during speech therapy sessions.

Here is a blog with a video on what speech-language therapy can look like at home.

Why is early intervention so important when it comes to speech and language development?

The best time to seek speech therapy services is often when problems are first noticed. An abundance of research exists that shows how important early intervention is for children. Early intervention is crucial when it comes to speech and language development, so don’t wait if you think your child may need help. Sometimes children need a little bit of a push early on to help “catch up” to age appropriate developmental norms. Most early intervention evaluations are free through your state and insurance. I always tell parents if you have a concern, there is no harm in having your child evaluated and making a decision from there based on the findings.

You should have access to a screening or evaluation either through early intervention, or your school district (depending on the child’s age) at little to no cost. If you are not eligible for support through these agencies, you can seek further support through private therapies with insurance, or out of pocket pay.

I hope this helps!

For more speech and language tips, follow Speech and Feeding Kids on YouTube.

About the Author


Drake Hastings is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in speech, oral motor, and feeding therapy for kids. Drake has a passion for working with children and families while helping children achieve goals using a fun and motivating approach to learning.

Drake’s main areas of focus within the practice are feeding therapy, and speech (sound production) therapy. Drake has experience working with children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Apraxia of Speech, Dysarthria, Down Syndrome, and rare genetic disorders. Drake has experience working and collaborating with a wide variety of families and therapeutic team members while treating children of all ages.