Detect issues as early as possible

Many deficits in the area of speech, language and hearing are progressive. This is why Amy Sindelar, a pediatric speech-language pathologist, believes so strongly in looking out for those early red flags in children under 3 years old.

"The earlier you can get started in therapy the better," says Sindelar, who is an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University and is on staff as a speech and language pathologist at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Illinois. "Research supports that early detection has a positive impact on long-term prognosis so it’s important to catch issues in the critical window of opportunity."

At the same time, Sindelar is quick to assure parents who are concerned about initiating therapy too late that progress can still be made. "Whether a child comes inwhen he or she is three years, five years or even older, therapy is incredibly beneficial in enhancing a child’s strengths and focusing on remediation of their deficits," she explains.

As adults who have daily contact with young children, early childhood educators can play a key role detecting cases where a toddler or preschooler may need professional support for their speech, language or hearing.

Sindelar notes that for younger children, speech and language difficulties may present themselves in a child’s behavior such as acting out in the classroom, trouble playing with peers or difficulty following directions or expressing wants and needs. She advised that if these concerns are present, whether noted by a parent, caregiver, pediatrician, or teacher, that a speech and language evaluation may be warranted to rule out any speech or language difficulties that may underlie those aforementioned concerns.

Phonics and pre-reading activities like rhyming are also common challenges for children with delays which were noted in our previous series on language.

Speech-language pathologist Megan Roberts of Northwestern University works with a young child on early communication. (Image: Northwestern University)

Involve family members in treatment

From the beginning of her career, Amy has found family involvement very valuable. Amy noted the importance of clinicians being aware of research being done when thinking about therapy and patient outcomes. She noted that research being done by Megan Roberts, Ph.D., at Northwestern University has been especially important in supporting the inclusion of parents in therapy, especially with children in the early intervention population.

"Observing the sessions allows the parents to understand what we are doing to support speech and language development with their child," explains Sindelar. "There’s a significant difference when the parents are involved in therapy and following through with the play-based strategies that they observe and participate in during therapy sessions." Whether she’s working on language or stuttering with young children, the parents are in the room observing and participating in play-based therapy activities.

"My focus in the session is to target the therapy goals while including the family in the process through education and hands-on involvement. This allows for parents to carryover the strategies that support speech and language development at home, as well as ask questions as they come up." she explains.

Find the best therapy match

Once a child is evaluated and referred to therapy, another key to successful intervention is finding the right specialist for the particular needs of that individual.

"So many good things that can happen when you are paired with the right clinician and I think there’s the right clinician pairing for every family," emphasizes Sindelar. "I’m always striving to meet the needs of my families whether it’s playing in a slightly different way with one child verses another or selecting vocabulary specific to that child’s interests and routines at home."

Each personality is unique so what works with one child may not work with another although their diagnosis is the same. Being flexible is extremely important for clinicians who need to figure out how to successfully provide information and therapy to the child and family.

This could mean shifting one’s style, an activity or even a therapy approach until discovering how to best involve and captivate a youngster.

Work as a team

Collaboration is an area Sindelar is very passionate about. She knows firsthand how collaboration can accomplish amazing results in treatment as she’s worked alongside a wide range of specialists throughout her career. She reported collaborating with other speech and language pathologists, as well as occupational and physical therapists when managing treatment cases.

Additional collaborations include otolaryngologists (ENT), pediatricians, pediatric psychologists, and daycare providers and/or teachers. Maintaining open communication with other professionals on the patient’s team allows for positive support of the patient and his or her needs.

Great things can be also be accomplished through collaboration when it comes to promoting early detection. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, communication between the adults who play key roles in a child’s life can be the difference between detecting a problem early on or not.

We thank Amy Sindelar for her contribution to this series. In the next article, she will share information on stuttering.