Though newborns and infants are too young to begin speaking, there are still many situations when speech pathology for infants can be useful or necessary. Early Language Intervention can be provided to infants who have trouble with feeding and swallowing or who are showing signs that they will struggle with language or speech as they get older. An early intervention can provide infants with the specialized care they need to quickly catch up with their peers, so that they can learn language and begin speaking at the right age without difficulty.
Determining if Speech Pathology for Infants is Necessary
Because infants are not yet at the age where they will start speaking, it can be difficult to determine if the infant does in fact need specialized care and assistance from a speech language pathologist. During checkups with the doctor, parents should discuss speech milestones and other behaviors to make sure that their infant is progressing at the normal speed.
If an infant is not reaching the traditional milestones, this may be a sign that there an intervention is need, and the child’s doctor can help the family locate a specialist. Infants who suffer from developmental or congenital disorders such as Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism may have difficulty with feeding or early speech development and require specialized treatment.
When meeting an infant, a speech language pathologist can evaluate and assess the child’s hearing, language awareness, and feeding skills. A speech language pathologist may be needed if a child has difficulty:
- Feeding from the bottle
- Gaining weight
- Producing sounds when he is happy
Some of the early milestones that an infant should demonstrate include:
- Reacting to loud sounds
- Reacting when someone begins talking to him
- Feeding and swallowing without difficulty
- Making sounds when happy or satisfied
- Crying in order to get help or attention
- Babbling and laughing when 5-6 months old
Feeding Problems and Speech Pathology for Infants
Though feeding problems and speech pathology may seem unrelated, there is actually a strong connection regarding their development in infants. Feeding and speaking use some of the same muscles in the mouth and throat, and if an infant is struggling to feed, he may also have trouble learning to speak as he grows older.
Many speech language pathologists are trained to assess an infant’s ability to feed as well as help the infant improve coordination and strength of the oral muscles that make feeding and speech possible. Specialized care and treatment from a speech language pathologist will help a baby improve his feeding, gain weight at a healthy speed, and prepare the oral muscles to produce sounds and speech.
When there is evidence of feeding problems, the speech pathology for infants includes:
- Assessment of feeding, oral motor coordination, and swallowing ability
- Interventions and practices to improve feeding and safety
- Therapy to improve attention to sound and early communication
Speech language pathologists work with the family members, so that everyone in the family can better understand the infant’s difficulties and how to help them. An infant’s family members are the primary teachers of speech and language, so they are included in Early Language Intervention in order to maintain and strengthen the results of speech pathology for infants. A speech language pathologist will:
- Help parents find safe and effective ways for the infant to feed
- Share exercises that can help strengthen oral muscles and feeding
- Teach parents how type of bottle and positioning of infant can affect feeding
- Teach parents how to identify feeding distress and swallowing problems
- Educate parents regarding how to stimulate and promote development of speech and language