Podcast Episode #63: What is a Speech Therapist?
We’ve all heard of a speech therapist but what do they actually do? In this episode, Courtney Joesel of Building Blocks Therapy Services tells us how speech and language services can benefit a child and why, if you notice signs of speech delay, it’s important to have your child seen earlier rather than later. She gives us some things to watch out for as well as some tips to help our children with language development. You can listen to this complete episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Alyssa: Hello, welcome to Ask the Doulas. I am Alyssa Veneklase, co-owner at Gold Coast. Today, I am super excited to be talking to Courtney Joesel. She is a speech and language pathologist at Building Blocks Therapy Services. Hello!
Alyssa: So I loved talking to you the other day, and I want to learn more about what you do, but I think a lot of people probably don’t quite understand what a speech and language pathologist is. I’ve heard of a speech therapist. Is that different?
Courtney: We are the same, but as history has progressed, we used to be people who would work on just the sounds, like in the early ‘70s, and it has really progressed to us being communication experts. So that is not just the speech sounds that we hear with the R’s or the S’s. We really address our overall gesture systems; how are we able to communicate our thoughts and ideas, our needs and our wants, and even the social communication, picking up on social cues and understanding all those different nuances and navigating the world around you.
Alyssa: So when you say sounds in the ‘70s, it was literally like somebody who would have a lisp or — and that’s what they would seek out help for and that’s it?
Courtney: Yeah. I mean, there was more to it, but that was kind of the bulk of it, and we’ve really progressed our profession. In the ‘70s, it was kind of like if the kid was missing their two front teeth, we can work on their S’s. So we’ve really been able to hone in on our skills and show where we can really help benefit people in their everyday world.
Alyssa: Do you see children and adults?
Courtney: Speech therapists see children and adults, but I personally focus on pediatrics. I focus on kids from around the twelve-month age all the way up to teens.
Alyssa: So starting at twelve months or around a year?
Courtney: Yeah, and that’s where you start to kind of see some of those disorders or patterns of communication starting to show that they might need a little bit of extra stimulus or some parent coaching on some ways to help.
Alyssa: So up until a year — because a lot of people do the comparisons, right? Like, oh, my four-month-old isn’t doing what my friend’s four-month-old is doing, or my nine-month-old isn’t saying words, but my friend’s nine-month-old is already saying four words. Up until twelve months, then, is there really not a whole lot to worry about?
Courtney: There are definitely some ways to watch and some signs to see how your child is progressing with their communication. Starting at three months, you really start to see huge gains to be made. Every kid, obviously, develops at their own rate, but the earlier that you do notice that there are some significant delays in various aspects, it takes less treatment for that to try to fix itself.
Alyssa: So if a mom or dad at six months thinks they’re noticing major delays, would you see them or just talk to them and say wait until they’re twelve months?
Courtney: I would talk to them and see what they’re noticing. You know, around six months, you should start to be hearing them making different sounds, even taking turns with you with making those sounds. It’s almost like you’re having a conversation with them, but they might just be blowing raspberries. But that is something we’re looking for, and so if the kid isn’t attending to you or responding to certain things, that is an area of concern that we might want to go to the doctor and rule some things out, and we might just want to do an assessment just to see where they’re at to get a baseline and to see how they progress in the next four to six months.
Alyssa: Okay. So what’s significant about the twelve-month mark? What can parents be looking for?
Courtney: So twelve months, around that twelve to eighteen months, you should really see a huge boost in their communication, with their verbalizations or gestures. Children that are using more gestures, we tend to see bigger gains in their communication along with those words. You have to think about, when the child start walking and developing those motor patterns, we typically see their communication developing along that same plane, you know, that same line. So if they’re walking and doing a lot more physical aspects, but you notice that, oh, they’re eighteen months and they don’t have a word, or they’re twelve months and they’re only going ta-ta-ta and not ba-di-da, all that, then that is an area that you might just want to talk to a speech therapist. They’ll know the questions to ask to help you determine, like, hey, this might be something for us to look deeper into.
Alyssa: So the saying “early walker, late talker” really doesn’t mean anything?
Courtney: Well, there are late talkers. Every child has their different sensory systems and how they learn, so some kids learn physically a little bit more and they’re able to navigate their world without using as much communication. So they might be a little late talking, but always kind of look at those, you know, are they a late talker or is there a language delay overall? And you start to see that around — you can really determine that around three years, but those children, if you wait until three years, and it really was a language delay versus just a late talker, then you missed out on a couple years.
Alyssa: So how do you tell the difference? How do you know?
Courtney: So a lot of times, you look at their gestures, how they do communicate with you, the variety of sounds that they’re already using. Are they using more behaviors to get what they want? Just various aspects; we really have to look at the whole child in all these different situations, and a lot of times we can’t tell until three years old, but you don’t want to wait and see for a lot of those kids because then they’ve missed out on two years of specialized treatment.
Alyssa: So a lot of it is you actually assessing and watching this child?
Alyssa: And you can see visual cues of communication, not just verbal cues?
Courtney: Exactly. You know, the communication system – we think of words and sounds, but there’s so much more to it and how the children pair all those different aspects together and can really help us see how they are able to get their needs and wants met.
Alyssa: What would you tell parents who have a child around the twelve-month mark or older? What do they need to look for? How do they know? Oftentimes, we say, oh, I need to stop this train of thought because I’m just comparing my child to others. But deep down, you might really have this instinct that says, something’s not right here. How do you they know that they need to call you?
Courtney: Well, first, I think moms know best. Moms know their own child, and I do believe a lot of times — not all doctors, but some doctors, do say wait and see; wait and see. Or a parent says, you know, they’re not talking as much as I want, even around that 12-month. And especially if it’s a boy, doctors will say, oh, let’s just wait. Especially if it’s a boy; boys develop a little bit later. But what you really want to look at is, how does that kid communicate? Is it just he’s pretty silent and kind of waits for you to do things and isn’t kind of going out of his comfort zone? We really want to see those kiddos trying to go a little bit out of their comfort zone and trying different sounds. Practicing; you should be hearing a lot of different practicing of them, of adult language. It’s not going to sound like our adult language, but we should be hearing some more jargon. Those are things that you would like to see, even at the twelve or fourteen-month mark. If you’re getting a lot of baby talk and they seem to be trying to say words, that would be an indication of, yeah, let’s give it a couple months.
Alyssa: Because they’re trying and experimenting?
Courtney: They’re trying and they’re experimenting. Now, if you have a kid when you say something like, “More? Do you want more banana?” and they’re just looking at you, around the twelve or fourteen-month mark, you should be getting a little bit more interaction from them.
Alyssa: What about kids who have learned sign language?
Courtney: I love sign language in kids. I think the earlier you can start, the better. I think it really helps them learn language because sign language is a form of communication. That’s gestures. That is communication, so they really start to learn that they can manipulate the world around them by using these gestures versus doing these overt behaviors of screaming and crying, and that they can control their environment. And they go, hey, I get more Cheerios when I do this motion! And then research has shown that kids who typically use sign language, it does support their language development.
Alyssa: That’s one of the biggest pushbacks I get is, oh, I’ve heard that if they use sign language, they talk later. And I haven’t noticed that personally. My daughter learned sign langue. We started a nine months, and at twelve months, it just happened. All of a sudden, she knew all these words, and it was a life-saver.
Courtney: Yeah, the way I try to compare it is, if I were to go to a country where I don’t know the language at all, you get anxiety. You want to be able to tell somebody something! I need to go to the bathroom! And if you can’t communicate that with words, it gets really stressful, and you get tense and anxiety-ridden. So just think about that with a nine or ten-month-old. They have great thoughts and ideas, so they can get frustrated really easily knowing that I really want more of that banana, and she just took it away from me. So if you give them a way to communicate that, and you start pairing it that when they sign more, you say, “Oh, you want more banana!” that really starts stimulating their language.
Alyssa: So is there anything else?
Courtney: Well, just some tips as a child is developing, especially as they get to that twelve-month range, is that you want them to practice what you’re saying. So if you talk in sentences that are about one word longer than what they’re already saying, it gives them more confidence to try to practice what you’re saying. So if they’re starting to say “more,” you can say “more banana.” And then by chance they might say “more banana” next time. So that really helps to show them and give them the scaffolding or the steps to expand their language as they go on.
Alyssa: Keeping it within a realm that’s doable for them, and not saying, “Oh, you want more banana, please?” That’s just way too long.
Courtney: Exactly, and using more statements than questions. Usually, you want to try to stick to a three to one ratio; three statements per one question. That tends to stimulate their language a lot more.
Alyssa: Excellent! Well, if anyone has questions for you or things that they need to talk to you about their child, how do they reach you?
Courtney: Well, I’m Building Blocks Therapy Services, and you can find me on my website and on Facebook. You can also give me a phone call, 616-666-6396.
Alyssa: And your office is located in Walker?
Courtney: Yeah, it’s right off of Alpine across from the weather ball.
Alyssa: That’s a good landmark! Thanks for joining us today.