Speech Language Therapy & The Homeschooler

I have been a pediatric speech language pathologist for 17 years, involved in speech language therapy. I am also a homeschool mom to 5 children; 3 typical girls and twin boys with special needs.

Had I not been a speech language pathologist (called SLP herein out) I do not know if we would have been able to afford for me to homeschool. Because so far, 4 of my 5 children have needed speech therapy as a part of their daily curriculum in my homeschool.

When a child is enrolled in public school a teacher will typically refer a child to an SLP that he/she suspects may need speech or language therapy. As almost all public schools have a certified SLP on staff, it is easy to determine if a Speech/language evaluation or therapy is needed. If an evaluation or therapy is needed, the child’s speech /language needs are addressed, for free, via the child’s Individualized Education Plan, or IEP (please see this link at KidsHealth.org for more information on the IEP process).

speech language therapy - child reading a book

But what if your child is homeschooled?  How can you tell if your child needs speech therapy? If your child has received a diagnosis, such as (but certainly not limited to) autism or some other disorder that is known to affect speech/language skills, you probably already know you need to seek out therapy. But what about a child who just mispronounces a few sounds? Or whose speech/language is just not quite as strong as his older siblings were? or just stutters time to time?

Here are a few tips on speech language therapy:

  1. Educate yourself on developmental norms. For example, if your 4 yr old cannot say the /r/ sound, this is not cause for alarm as /r/ is not a sound a 4 yr old is expected to make (although many can), if however, your 4 yr old is leaving end sounds off all words and unintelligible to anyone who is not a family member, then a speech language therapy plan needs to be put in motion. (I will be putting a free printable on my blog this week that explains which speech sounds are due when.)
  2. Talk to your pediatrician.  Pediatricians are educated on said norms. They can also be a good referral resource for finding an SLP in your area. That being said, there is one exception: stuttering concerns.  If your child is stuttering and your pediatrician says “they will grow out of it”, you need to watch this carefully. Some stuttering IS outgrown, some is not. Stuttering is a time sensitive speech disorder needing remediation prior to a specific age, so waiting to see if it is “outgrown” is not a good plan of action.
  3. How is their functional communication? Is your child grade levels above in vocabulary but no one but you can understand them–or the opposite…they speak perfectly clear but have trouble putting together age-appropriate speech? These are both warning signals a speech/language evaluation may be merited, and perhaps speech language therapy might be in order.
  4. Depending on your state, swallowing/eating issues may or may not be addressed by an SLP (some states have OT do this therapy). Regardless if you suspect any concerns in this area you need to contact your primary care physician immediately.

This is not a comprehensive list; the area of speech/language pathology is vast and can include (but not limited to) the areas of speech, articulation (how sounds are produced) expressive language (what is said), receptive language (what is understood), swallowing disorders, oral motor weakness (when is excessive drool just excessive drool and when is it a problem needing speech language therapy? An SLP will know), social skills, play skills (0-3yrs), reading/writing disorders, stuttering, and more!

Children who have suffered prolonged illnesses or hospital stays, were preemies, or who have suffered an injury (head injury, for example) are at high risk for needing speech language therapy and pathology services.

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Katie is a Christian, a Jane Austen lover, a wife to her own Mr. Darcy and mother of 5 children, ages 11-1, including twins who have special needs. A pediatric speech language pathologist by trade for the past 17 years, she is back in graduate school working on a new masters in history and French, while continuing homeschooling. She misses sleep. She pens her sometimes fairly humorous tales of homeschooling, homemaking and homesteading journeys at the Brighton Park Blog and facebook page, and tweets about them as @kateinbrighton. She also wants to remind you that this guest post does not constitute the giving of medical advice.

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    1. Thanks for posting this Stephanie. I am excited about following Katie’s blog on speech therapy, since Lexi is currently being evaluated for speech. 🙂

  1. This could not have come at a better time! My almost four year old son had ear infection after ear infection until he was two and had tubes put in his ears. Apparently, all the fluid in his ears caused him to not be able to hear and learn to speak as well as he should. He talks up a storm now and in complete and detailed sentences, but most people can not understand him. Sometimes it seems his brain is working faster than his little mouth. I’m looking now into who we should go to to get him evaluated. I look forward to your new series. (We homeschool.)

  2. My 2 y/o daughter is currently being evaluated/treated for speech. I am excited about reading your blogs on speech therapy. Thanks so much for doing this.

  3. wow. I am so glad you posted this. My two year old is currently receiving speech therapy in our home once a week. It is going fairly slowly for him and I am beginning to worry. I very much look forward to your series regarding speech and home schooling… and truthfully, how to spot a bad therapist. =o/ Thank you!! Thank you!!

  4. Your article is very well written and will help many, I am certain, to have their children evaluated. However, I must disagree with the assumption that schools provide Speech as needed. Yes, it’s free. But it is not easy to actually obtain the services through school unless your child has a severe impairment or delay. At least in my county schools. And then, your child will get the most basic of services and the most minimum time with a therapist. My children both had need of speech. I had to fight for it. They gave one of my children speech. Once a week for 15 minutes. We pulled the kids out of school (for multiple reasons, not just the speech issue), and sought all their therapies in the private sector. We are lower middle class. It cost us dearly, but it had to be done. OT, PT, and Speech!
    I am certain there are good schools who work hard to give every child the best chance there, but with budget cuts and limited resources, I urger parents not to depend on school systems for therapies if it can be helped in way.
    Thank you for opening the door for this frank discussion. I applaud you for being able to help your children with their speech issues. What a blessing for your twins!

    1. Hi Susan, thank you for your comment. You brought up some good points! If a child qualifies for speech/language therapy services per the evaluation the school SLP administers, then per Federal law the school district must provide that therapy per the IEP that is developed. That being said, a child must fall on a set of criteria in order to qualify. For example, a child with mulitple articulation errors will not be seen if all the speech sounds are not considered developmentally late yet, so your statement of the children with the most severe delays/disorders getting the therapy is true in that they are priorititzed and usually receive more time than a child with only mild or moderate delay/disorder. I agree wholeheartedly with you that depending on your school district, a child may only receive 15-20 min a week (as opposed to a private based therapist who typically schedules children in 50 minute blocks), as that is left up to the school SLP’s discretion and sadly, most are burdened by large caseloads. The three years I worked in a K-5 school, my caseload went from 30 kids a week I was required to see to more than 90, which is why i switched to private sector/pediatric clinics/children’s hospital. For that reason, the majority of therapy provided in schools, especially for speech sound errors, is provided in a group setting, and what the schools will offer varies greatly from state to state and county to county. There is a shortage of STs in all settings. This is due to the fact that Speech language pathologists, unlike OT’s or PTs, must obtain a Master’s degree prior to receiving national credentialing, unlike our OT, and PT counterparts who can begin working with a Bachelors. I included the information about school based therapy because it is a resource that homeschool moms should look into if they are unable to pay for private sector therapy which as you learned first hand is incredibly expensive and insurance does not usually cover ST. In that situation, something is better than nothing. I am so glad you were able to seek out ST for your children.

  5. Great blog post! I too am a pediatric SLP that homeschools. In my area, schools do not treat homeschooled or private school children if the parents choose not to enroll them as full time public school students. Once a child is of kinder age, and able to be enrolled in public school, all therapy stops if the parents choose a non-public school option (assuming the child was receiving therapy as preschooler). The schools will provide an evaluation and an IEP, but will not implement the IEP until the child is enrolled full time. This was part of the IDEA revision about 10 years ago. Some states and some districts within states have opted to continue services as they always were, but many districts have opted to not provide direct therapy to homeschooled students. Instead they provide a hour of parent training or something similar.

  6. Three of my six children had speech problems. I had one son evaluated, but his only problem was speech production, not vocabulary, so we didn’t qualify for services. I considered paying for therapy, but used materials I bought from NATTHAN. It took a while, but his speech is perfect today. Two of my boys didn’t speak more than a few words like “mama” until after they turned 3. I had a number of people telling me to get speech therapy for them, but I didn’t. My husband had a similar delay in speaking. Today my kids have no speech issues. I’m not suggesting that therapy isn’t ever a good idea, but in my case, I’m glad I relaxed and waited.

    1. Alot of people don’t realize that speech sounds are developmental; just because a child has some speech sound errors, doesn’t necessarily mean he needs therapy right then. If the errors are on later developing sounds then waiting is a good idea. The trick is to know when to wait and when a speech problem is bigger than just an articulation issue. I am glad things worked out well for your son; sounds like his errors were developmental in nature and he outgrew them. There are other issues where early intervention is key and waiting can close that window for therapy to be effective.

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