When little kids are learning how to talk, they can be difficult to understand. Usually, as they continue learning words and speaking, they become easier and easier to decipher. But what if they don’t? Well, then you do what Jill did for her 3-year-old grandson, Liam – you speak up.
Having a Speech Therapy Buddy Makes a Clear Difference
Group speech therapy helps Liam and his speech partner make tremendous progress
Source of hearing problems
Jill took Liam to see pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist Roy Rajan, MD, with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. After looking in Liam’s ears, Dr. Rajan discovered there was a significant amount of fluid behind his eardrums and that his adenoids were significantly larger than they should be – both of which were affecting Liam’s ability to hear clearly.
“As Dr. Rajan explained it to me, there was so much fluid behind Liam’s eardrums that they were essentially floating and that his eardrums were barely responding to anything,” Jill says.
In June 2022, Dr. Rajan performed an adenoidectomy and tube insertion on Liam, which would help the airway be more open and allow the ears to clear better. Now that he could hear clearly, the next step was to address his speech struggles, a secondary effect of not hearing clearly.
“Hearing plays a major role in a child’s development of speech and language skills,” Dr. Rajan says. “Hearing sounds and words helps children learn to talk and understand. So it’s not uncommon for a child who is experiencing hearing difficultly to struggle with speaking clearly, which can lead to other issues such as school success and development of social skills.”
One-on-one speech therapy
Following his surgery, Liam began working with Tyler Lawson, a speech-language pathologist and outpatient pediatric rehabilitation clinical specialist at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, on his production of specific sounds. While Liam spoke, he didn’t speak very clearly and his speech sound production struggles made it difficult for him to communicate effectively.
After having one-on-one therapy with Lawson for several months, Liam made a great improvement in his speech. However, the progress Liam was making during his sessions wasn’t consistent with the progress he was making outside of them, such as at school, where he was still having some difficulty with peers understanding him. This resulted in increased frustration, difficulty sharing and difficulty building peer relationships. But Lawson had a plan that could help address the carry-over issue – group speech therapy.
Trying the buddy system
A group speech session involved pairing Liam up with a child who had similar sound production struggles to help mimic peer interactions and allow both children to practice their speech with each other.
“Peer group therapy resulted in carryover into the school environment as Liam was practicing his sounds in a naturalistic setting with a similar and supportive peer,” Lawson says. “This allowed Liam and his speech partner to hear and identify the same errors they make, but in each other. Most importantly, Liam had decreased frustration as his new speech friend made him feel less alone with the struggles he was having at the time.”
“In doing that peer group, I saw a lot of success with both Liam and his speech partner – particularly with their self-awareness,” Lawson says. “Both were more motivated and more aware of their sound production. They began correcting each other when they heard the other make an error, and then began correcting themselves. They were very encouraging to each other.”
Speaking of success…
Now age 5, Liam has improved dramatically with his speech and his progress is prevalent not just during speech therapy sessions but also while interacting with his friends and peers. There are still a few things he’s struggling to pronounce correctly, mainly “fl,” “pl,” and “bl” sounds, but he’s continuing to work with Lawson to correct this.
“Liam is really smart,” Jill says. “It’s just that his brain goes faster than his speech. But thanks to Tyler and this tremendous group therapy option, Liam’s speech continues to improve.”
“Having group therapy is highly successful because kids are motivated in a functional environment with peer support – and Liam is a testament to that,” Lawson says. “Liam worked so hard and improved so much in his speech sound skills, as well as other areas, such as sharing and building friendships. Just seeing from where he started to how far he came is a good reminder for me as a therapist for why I do what I do.”