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Parents Should Welcome Free Developmental Screenings (2/1/2011)

A Good Thing: Parents Should Welcome Free Developmental Screenings
By Tammy Simmons, M.S., CCC-SLP

In light of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Jan. 26 column, “Hey lady! Tink yew, D-man is just fine,” written by reporter Cathy Frye, I would like to encourage parents, educators, medical professionals and others who care for young children to continue outreach efforts to identify and treat children who have speech-language delays or disorders.

Frye takes issue with free speech screenings administered at her children’s daycare center after her son, and, previously, her daughter, are identified as candidates for speech evaluations and early intervention therapy by a “speech goddess.” The screenings are described as attempts to line the pockets of unscrupulous speech-language pathologists eager to benefit from what Frye clearly thinks are unnecessary medical treatments.

This is problematic for several reasons, but most importantly because early intervention therapy specifically addresses the physical, cognitive, communication, social-emotional and adaptive development for children 0-36 months who are either at-risk of or are presenting with developmental delays or who have a developmental disability. Frye’s implied belief that no 2-year-old child needs speech therapy is not only grossly inaccurate, it’s an unfortunately typical mentality for parents everywhere who take a “wait and see” approach to what could potentially be a quality-of-life- threatening problem for their children. It’s disappointing that a columnist with a state-wide audience would reinforce this ignorance.

There is no shortage of research-based evidence of the prevalence of speech-language delays and disorders and the impact of speech-language problems on child development, including literacy rates, academic work and social-emotional life.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics specifically addresses speech and language delays among the preschool set, citing a prevalence rate of combined speech and language delays among children ages 2 to 4.5 as ranging from 5 to 8 percent; for language delay, 2.3 to 19 percent. The study, and other resources, asserts that if left untreated, children with speech and language delays and disabilities have a myriad of poor prognoses as related to their typically developing peers.

To be fair, Frye’s examples of the speech screening activities administered at her child’s daycare are not age-appropriate for 2-year-old children. Perhaps she sensed that and became frustrated. Using only her personal experiences to condemn an entire health initiative regularly embraced by medical professionals – early identification and intervention for potential disabilities – however, was certainly damaging.

Too many parents are unfamiliar with developmental milestones for infants and children. While numerous reputable associations and experts stress the importance of knowing what a child’s age-appropriate abilities should be, too many influencers – friends, grandparents, educators and, yes, even medical professionals – regularly dissuade parents of young children from seeking guidance when they sense a developmental problem.

Humans have an incredible amount of neural plasticity before age 3 that allows a level of remediation of and compensation for delayed development. Speech delays, apraxia, autism, Down Syndrome, genetic disorders – children with these disorders and more can greatly benefit from early intervention services. It may surprise Frye to know there is an entire provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part C, that mandates early intervention services for infants and toddlers ages birth to 36 months. One of the main reasons for enacting this legislation is to minimize the need for special education and long-term disability services through early intervention treatments. This is a goal that is not only ideal for individuals with disabilities but also for state and federal programs that fund costly special education and adult rehabilitation services.

Making parents aware of these services can be challenging. As the American Speech-Hearing Association notes, many children with severe speech-language difficulties may not be identified until they start formal education. All the more reason to be open to daycare and preschool developmental screenings: they reach the target population where they are every day.

I am glad to hear Frye’s son “turned out fine.” Many children, however, don’t get that chance without some help. And that help may come in the form of a note from a “goddess.”

Tammy Simmons, M.S., CCC-SLP, has been a speech-language pathologist for 23 years and is the executive director of ACCESS Group, Inc., a Little Rock-based nonprofit learning disabilities center.

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