How early is too early for speech therapy?

People often ask me, “How early is too early for speech therapy?” The answer sometimes surprises them.

What you need to know:

  • Speech and language begin developing from birth

  • Children with a syndrome or other genetic/birth condition that impacts speech/language development should be followed from birth by a speech language pathologist (speech therapist)

  • Hearing well is SUPER IMPORTANT - if your child has had ear infections, see a doctor!

  • If you wonder if your child’s speech and language is developing well, it’s worth learning more about milestones.

  • If you still wonder about your child’s speech and language development, ask a speech therapist - no matter how young your child is.

For children with a syndrome/ genetic conditions

Certainly for a child with any kind of condition that is present at birth, being followed by a speech therapist, among other professionals, is a good idea. Children with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, cleft lip/palate -- any condition that might interfere with the development of feeding or talking -- should be followed from birth by a speech language pathologist. That referral is usually made at the hospital, but if you or someone you know has a child with a congenital condition who’s not being seen by a professional, it’s worth reaching out to one early.

For Late Talkers

But, what about kids who might just be Late Talkers? These are kiddos who are meeting most of their milestones, with the exception of speech and language. These are kiddos who are quiet. Kiddos who don’t make a variety of sounds as babies. Kiddos who might seem content and passive. Or kiddos who are really extra frustrated. Kiddos who are 12 months old, 15 months old, 18 months old and who are not using any words reliably. Statistically, most of these guys will grow out of their “speech delay” and begin talking on their own schedule. But here’s the thing: some of them won’t, and we don’t know who they are. If your child is a late talker, it’s best to see a speech therapist as soon as you suspect something and then take an active “watch and see” approach that may or may not include regular therapy.

If your child has had ear infections

Hearing well is one of the MOST important prerequisites to learning to talk. If your child’s ears are full of fluid because of ear infections, they can’t hear! They are functionally (and temporarily) deaf. It is really important to get the fluid out of their ears -- usually by placing tubes if your doctor recommends it. Even if the hearing loss is temporary, it can still impact speech and language development.

Learn the milestones

And this is where it becomes important to learn about some speech and language milestones. Because speech and language milestones don’t start when a child begins to use words. They start from the moment your child is born. For a chart of speech and language milestones, click here

Ask a speech therapist

I’ve evaluated children as early as 8 months of age because their parents were concerned that they were not babbling. In some cases, the child had been diagnosed with a hearing loss and had tubes placed.  I recommended some therapy sessions for a couple of these children, to see if we could “jump start” their speech and language. But, for most, we did an active “watch and see” approach. This means that we had baseline information against which to track the child’s progress. In the meantime, I also worked with the parents to make sure that they were creating a good “language environment” for their child to be able to learn to communicate.

This is NOT to say that every quiet baby has a language or a speech disorder! Far from it: most children are developing along their own curve at their own pace, and it’s fine. But if you’re asking yourself the question, chances are your child would benefit from a quick “look-see” from a speech and language professional. You’ve got nothing to lose except your worry.

If you know someone who needs to read this, would you forward it to them? 

All my best --


PS - don’t forget to check out the milestones chart!