As a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) of 10 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of children affected by communication and eating disorders. I am passionate about helping children by supporting their entire family. When you are worried about your child, it is a challenge for the whole family; when families are empowered, then children can thrive. In this article, I’m going to help you understand what exactly communication & eating disorders are, how to spot the signs early, and how to take action if you have concerns about your child.
A Speech-Language Pathologist is someone who specializes in communication skills: often called a “speech-therapist.” Some SLPs also specialize in oral-motor skills and eating skills; this means that they help children learn how to chew and swallow safely, as well as how to increase variety in their diets (e.g. extremely picky eaters).
Communication means so much more than just talking verbally; it is how a child interacts with their caregivers, accesses meaningful information about the world, and helps others understand what they need in order to thrive. Here are some areas that are part of Communication:
There are many reasons why a child may need help with their communication or eating skills, including:
Consult with an SLP if you notice any of these observations in your child’s development:
If you think your child might need help with their communication or eating skills, it is important to find a provider who is a good fit for your family as a whole. Communication and eating skills in young children develop within daily routines with the child’s familiar caregivers; look for a provider that emphasizes Family Coaching in their approach. This means that the therapist is using an approach that actively teaches the caregivers how to do the therapy strategies outside of sessions—to generalize the strategies and learning to the family’s daily routines as much as possible. There is a significant body of evidence that shows therapy approaches that emphasize family coaching have better outcomes than those that do not (e.g. Dempsey & Dunst, 2004; Rush & Shelden, 2011; McWilliam, 2010; Rossetti, 2001).
There is also a body of evidence that shows movement-based learning is essential for a child’s learning. This is especially true if your child also has challenges in other areas (e.g. sensory processing disorder, gross motor challenges, global delay). Therapy approaches that use movement and are play-based create an opportunity for the child’s brain to choose to learn and to integrate the learning into their whole system (e.g. Dywer, et al., 2001; British Journal of Sports Medicine, Oct 2019).
Make sure the SLP holds a current license with their state and is certified by ASHA (the American Speech-Language Hearing Association).
If you think you might need help from an SLP, or if you aren’t sure, consider the following options.
If your child is under age 5 yrs-old, you can request a free evaluation from Child Find (Part C for children Birth - 3 years old; Part B for children 3 years - 5 years). If your child qualifies, your family can receive in-home services from a SLP or other professional qualified to support your child’s needs.
Some children are able to get services through Child Find, but unfortunately Child Find does not always have the resources to support all areas of need. If your child does not qualify for services, but you still have concerns, try finding a private practice SLP. Some of these providers will take your insurance; others will not.
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Cathy Lauderbaugh is a local speech and feeding therapist in Boulder. She is passionate about working with families of young children (birth to 3 years; and preschool) and developing strategies that honor the whole child as part of the family. She works to help children learn through play and movement, and to find their own internal motivation to learn and curiosity about learning. Cathy’s work in the community includes forming a nonprofit to connect families with meaningful movement-based therapies: www.DynamicTherapyServices.org. Connect with Cathy at www.CreativeStrategiesTherapy.com.