Sometimes, when a young child has yet to speak their first words, the first thought of action is a referral to a speech-language pathologist. As speech-language pathologists, we’re often the first to determine a developmental delay related to communication, and if there is, what could be the cause of such. Frequently, there is no one specific cause, other times there is a family history of delay, and more increasingly, developmental delays are due to concomitant diagnoses. These challenges can sometimes be identified as early as 6-9 months of age.
Parents and some doctors believe that if we address speech and communication, everything else will work itself out. In many cases, that is not true. Working on communication with a child who, for example, has poor attention and/or is hyperactive is not the best use of that child’s short window of optimal neuroplasticity. The best way to think about this is to ask yourself, “If the child does not have an attention span adequate enough to attend to verbal and visual models provided to make requests, how can you expect the child to imitate?” In the most challenging cases, a speech-language therapist should refer for occupational therapy first or at least co-treated with an occupational therapist.
When we skip steps and/or ignore other developmental challenges, the likelihood that your child will not immediately get the most from speech therapy and will be in the running to receive therapeutic services for a much longer span of their life increases. As speech-language pathologists and the first therapeutic provider your family encounters, it is in your child’s best interest to address other areas of concern that may make it challenging for communication goals to be achieved in a timely manner.
To help caregivers realize other possible developmental delays, besides speech, there are free, research-based developmental screeners available and can be completed online.
Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3)
This screener is often completed in pediatrician offices during your child’s milestone check-ups. It provides reliable developmental and social-emotional screening for children between birth and age 6. Easter Seals has provided access to the exact questionnaire online for your convenience. A website administrator manually calculates the score and may take a few days to return results via e-mail.
Baby Navigator Social Communication Check-up (SoCo Check-up)
Infants and toddlers can be screened for skills that develop before children learn to talk, like gestures, sounds, and actions with objects used in play from 9 to 24 months of age. These early skills provide clues about which children will need extra help or support to do their best.
The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised (M-CHAT-R) is a screener that will ask a series of 20 questions about your child’s behavior. It’s intended for toddlers between 16 and 30 months of age. The results will let you know if further evaluation may be needed. You can use the results of the screener to discuss any concerns you may have with your child’s healthcare provider.
Save the results of your screener. Providers involved in your child’s care will find this information valuable, especially if reported within 30 days, and may use this information to measure progress over a span of time. Your provider may still complete their own screening and you can also request a provider adminstered screening. If results are normal or borderline, consider re-assessing every 3 to 6 months. Also remember, a screener is not an adequate replacement for a developmental assessment administered by a trained provider.