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Why You Should Not “Wait and See”

Wait and see, he’ll grow out of it. This is a statement that many parents who have a child who has difficulty with speech or language, have heard in the past and some of you are still hearing now.

Trying to reassure someone may have said, “Don’t worry, my son didn’t speak until he was three”, or maybe “Her older sister is talking for her”.

Whatever it might have been most parents I see report some sort of “wait and see” advice. And obviously if they end up seeing me, or any other speech language pathologist, the advice to wait and see was wrong.

This advice is so prevalent because it is right much of the time. However, it is not always right and unfortunately for those children who do not “grow out of it” precious time has been lost. While there are no adverse affects to helping a child who may grow out of it, there are significant risks in waiting for the child who will not.

Why Waiting Is So Risky
Communication is at the core of who we are as individuals. It is crucial to our ability to learn and to function in our everyday lives. Every interaction we have with others is defined by our ability to effectively communicate.

Imagine how difficult life would be if you had trouble understanding others, or if they had trouble understanding you. How would you feel? You wouldn’t feel good about it would you?

This is why the frequency of behavioral problems, drug abuse and suicide in those who have communication disorders is so high. Life is harder for them. They don’t feel good about themselves and many act out in destructive ways. In other words the importance of getting help for your child goes beyond helping your child speak clearly.

This is why the advice to wait and see is so dangerous. The price of inaction can be incredibly high.

Some Personal Examples
In my own family I have 2 nephews about the same age as my daughter (2 ½ ). Both had and still have speech and language difficulties.

One of them is local and I had him in therapy right at two years old because he was not talking or imitating at all.  He began to talk after some intervention and is doing excellent now.  In fact we often want him to be quiet!

He still has some articulation errors to work out but I am keeping an eye on him and will recommend therapy when the time is appropriate.  On the other hand my other nephew lives quite a distance away and is not getting therapy.  He is 2 ½ and non-verbal.   You can imagine how frustrating this is to me because if he was here he would be getting therapy several times a week.

I know that the odds are on his side and that most likely he will begin to talk with no residual problems.  However if he is one of the late talkers who ends up not growing out of it, precious time is ticking away.  He is now showing signs of frustration and is acting out.  This is stressful for his family and for him.  And it’s killing me!

When It Is Easiest To Learn Language
Current research shows that due to how the brain develops it is easier for children to learn language before the age of five. And just like speech and language disorders, early detection and treatment is crucial to overcoming social and academic problems as well. So the sooner the better!

While it’s true that sometimes “wait and see” may be the right advice the only one who should be giving this advice is a Speech Language Pathologist.

Sometimes when I do screenings I will recommend waiting a few months if I feel the child is moving in the right direction.  However I will always recommend a follow up to make sure they are continuing to progress.  Usually it’s in 3 months.  This is enough time to see change if it’s happening but also not a lot of time if progress is not being made.

Follow Your Instincts
So parent’s, again I will tell you to follow your instincts and seek guidance when you are concerned.  You will either get much needed help for your child or you might get peace of mind.

For those of you parent’s who pushed ahead and got the help your child needed, encourage your friends and family to do the same. Sometimes all they need is that one little push to move in the right direction. Their child’s future could depend on it.

About the author: Isa Marrs is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in articulation, pragmatic language and feeding disorders in children. She is an expert in the field who is frequently sought after by institutions and therapists to provide training for working with these and other disorders. Isa also served as a guest expert on Nickelodeon’s ParentsConnect.com, and has been quoted by numerous top media such as Disney’s BabyZone.com, LoveToKnow.com, and Univision. She can be reached at 914.488.5282

  • Robert, SLP July 1, 2009, 1:45 pm

    Amen to this! So often parents of children who aren’t talking yet come to me asking, “Should I be worried?” My response is, “It sounds like you already are.” And if you are worried, the thing to do is get your child an evaluation from a qualified professional. If the child is on track, you can quit worrying and have peace of mind; if not, you can begin therapy while the child’s brain still has a lot of neural plasticity and can benefit from therapy.

  • Tracy October 17, 2009, 10:45 am

    My children who are four year old twins, are having trouble communicating to the teacher, of their wants and needs. So they start having these tantrums rolling around on the ground and throwing what cmes close at hand. what is my next step as a parent?

  • Isa Marrs October 21, 2009, 8:13 am

    Hi Tracy,
    You should definitely have them evaluated by a Speech Language Pathologist. When there are communication breakdowns children get very frustrated and often will tantrum and act out. A little frustration is not a bad thing as it shows a child’s strong desire to communicate. However when children start showing this frustration it is extremely important to address their needs if a speech language delay does exist.

    Thank you for your question, Isa

  • alyson mccracken November 1, 2009, 2:23 pm

    My son who will be 5 in march and going to school next term is not clear with his g c. He sounds awful. I am correcting all the time. He can say the sound however his brain maps are not consistent hence my constant pick up on it it is pulling me down as it is exhausting for him as well as myself.

    He does not like his new therapist as the old one is on maternity leave. i want him seen at the language unit but she said he is not bad enough for that and used the maturity excuse for him. I do not want him going to school not talking properly what are my rights. I work in a school and see kids getting therapy in p 7 so does it ever work?

  • Isa Marrs November 16, 2009, 9:34 am

    Speech therapy does work. The trick is finding the “right” therapist. By that I mean one that works well with your son and has the skills needed to treat your son’s speech errors. If you can, I would recommend going to a private therapist as this route will give you the most flexibility to find the therapist you want.

  • Distressed Mom of Four June 1, 2010, 7:06 pm

    My son has an IEP for speech 2x a week. one is 1-1 and the other is suppose to be group therapy. Found out he was not really getting group therapy. Throwing another kid in there when she’s backed up, i feel does not qualify. My son is very smart but has a hard time expressing himself. after speaking to the teacher she feels that he still will benefit from more speech but they would like to take it away from him as he scores high on the standardized tests. Let’s be real, my son can score high on it as I feel it really isn’t age appropriate. I think my child could name a picture of a cookie. He’s 5. It is also now noted that he has ADHD. They still want to take it away even though I know he will get lost in the long run. I also found out the speech therapist has a heavy caseload and as trying to get children out if they were borderline. I also had him seen privately and was told need to work on the pragmatic skills and cannot retell sequence or stories.

    What can I do or say to keep it going in the school setting.

  • Isa Marrs June 3, 2010, 6:11 am

    Your private therapist could do a quality evaluation and write you a report to submit to the school district. Often children do not get therapy in school because the school feels that the child’s speech and language needs are not impacting them educationally. If you feel that his deficits are impacting him educationally you are entitled to get an outside evaluation.

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