Your little one’s ability to understand and use language develops at lightening-speed throughout their first three years. But using language is more complex than you might think! It not only involves understanding and speaking words, but also active listening, reading and using body language and facial expressions, and even chewing and swallowing food!
Most babies and toddlers progress through speech-language and feeding milestones without issues, but some need extra support. They may be lagging behind on receptive language (understanding) or expressive language (using gestures or speech). Or they may struggle with sucking on a breast or bottle, or managing solid foods. This is where speech-language pathologists come in. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can work with children, even as young as babyhood, to help build communication and feeding skills.
How Speech-Language Pathologists Support Development
There are many ways a speech-language pathologist can help babies and toddlers who need it, including:
Speech and language
If your child’s speech and language milestones are delayed, or if they have a disorder that affects their speech-language development, they may benefit from regular visits with an SLP who has experience working with little ones who are struggling with receptive and/or expressive language.
Active listening is an important part of receptive language. Little ones not only need to be able to hear what you’re saying, but also pay attention to it. Examples of active listening include being able to answer questions, participate in an ongoing conversation, and successfully following directions. For little ones, active listening is still very much a work in progress! For general ideas of what to expect from your baby or toddler, the milestones and activities in our BabySparks development program can be helpful.
Your baby or toddler won’t be reading for a while yet, but early reading skills start in infancy and continue to develop through toddlerhood and preschool. Toddlers who have difficulty producing letter sounds or understanding the basics of rhyming might benefit from the help of an SLP.
Speech-language pathology also involves pragmatic language, which encompasses the complex “rules” of social communication, such as how changes in someone’s voice or facial expression might indicate a shift of emotion, or how conversations typically go back-and-forth. An SLP can also work on using greetings, reducing interruptions, and using a quieter voice when appropriate, like in daycare or the library.
Swallowing and feeding
Some babies and toddlers are born with or develop issues that affect their ability to chew and/or swallow. This could be caused by challenges such as oral sensitivities or oral-motor muscle weakness. An SLP can help introduce little ones to new textures, or help them strengthen and coordinate their oral-motor muscles to chew and swallow correctly.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s speech-language or feeding development, an SLP can evaluate your child and determine whether they could benefit from services. The earlier challenges are identified, the better!