Parents who enroll children in private schools may experience difficulty finding speech therapy services if their child has a problem articulating certain speech sounds. These children often fail to qualify for speech and language therapy programs typically found in the public schools. And many private speech clinics are expensive and/or inconvenient. So what can private school parents do to assist their child in overcoming speech difficulties?
While most private schools endeavor to develop superior educational and enrichment programs, they typically do not provide speech and language therapy. Generally, these schools simply do not have the financial resources to offer speech services. Consequently, many parents are on their own in finding speech and language help for their child. Unfortunately, even though there are several options for helping children with speech delays, private school students cannot always find a good fit.
Parents may first explore the services available through the public schools. In the typical case, the child will be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist to determine whether or not the child's speech and/or language delays meet the criteria necessary to qualify for the school's program. Speech and language services are provided without charge for those children who do qualify. However, there are two caveats here: 1) very few children who could benefit from speech therapy services will be able to qualify and 2) if they do qualify, they might receive therapy only 1-2 times per month. Why is there such limited availability?
Because all school districts operate with limited funds, many programs have too little money allocated to them to provide ideal levels of service. Special education, which includes speech therapy, is one of those programs. Whether or not to provide speech-language services to a particular child is up to the individual school district. This can put private school children at a definite disadvantage. In California, for example, schools only receive state funding for children who actually attend a public school. Therefore, districts may be reluctant to provide already limited services to children for whom they receive no state funding.
Additionally, speech and language services through the public schools, as well as other aspects of special education, are intended for the lowest-performing segment of the population. In other words, a child would have to be very impaired in speech and/or language to qualify for these free services. Many parents who seek out a speech and/or language evaluation in the public schools are told that their child's "problem" is not severe enough or that the child is developing "normally." Special education programs in the public schools were not intended for the "mild" or "moderate" speech-impaired child.
Another option for private school parents is to have their child evaluated at a private speech therapy clinic. This approach can be appropriate for many children. However, therapists at private clinics might also tell the parents that their child's impairment is not severe enough and that he/she is developing according to the speech "developmental norms," or that a particular sound error can self-correct "as late as 7 or 8 years of age."
On the other hand, if the private clinic DOES recommend speech therapy for the child, it can become quite expensive. If your health insurance plan covers speech therapy sessions, and often they do not, there will usually be some co-pay required. Even at $20 per session, the total cost for therapy can be significant. For example, a typical course of speech therapy may require two sessions per week over a period of 8-12 weeks. In that case, co-pays would be as high as $480 in addition to transportation costs and the inconvenience of adding that many appointments to your already busy life.
What about the "developmental norms" and the "self-correcting speech sounds" mentioned above? Could some children just "grow out of" their speech problem? While it is true that some children end up moving through the speech development stages and saying all their speech sounds correctly by age 7 or 8, this is not always the case. In my experience, both in clinic settings and in the public school system, children who have not self-corrected their speech sounds by Kindergarten often do not improve without some amount of speech therapy intervention. Kindergarten is a time when children are learning letter sounds and beginning to learn to read. They are also increasingly interacting with other children and adults. Incorrect speech sounds at this age can cause difficulties in learning to read as well as create awkward social exchanges when the child cannot be understood. The child may even begin to lose speaking confidence and/or become frustrated when others cannot understand him.
While many of these children do end up developing reading and academic skills just fine, they may still have a speech difference/delay. I have heard students walking the halls of my children's private school talking with evident speech errors. For instance, they cannot say the /s/ sound, or the /r/ sound, or the /th/ sound, or their /sh/ or /ch/ or /j/ sounds are distorted. These students are in first through fifth grade, and could not be understood at the last school-wide presentation because they had speech sound errors.
I have heard parents complain that they were unable to understand many of the kids when they got up to speak because of their speech sound errors. I have heard middle-school children who still cannot say their /s/ or their /r/ sounds. They sound "different" at best; "strange" at worst. Everyone notices these speech sounding errors. Most importantly, the child him/herself notices.
The reality is, the longer parents wait to correct their child's speech problem, the harder it is to overcome. Any speech pathologist will tell you that. What some speech pathologists will not tell you is that many of these speech sounds can be easily corrected by showing parents a few simple techniques to teach the sound, then giving them guidelines on how to reinforce the sound and how to help their child carry the correct sound over into conversation. Parents also should know that they can work with their child earlier than some guidelines suggest. Many of the speech sounds can be taught to children as young as age 3. Children learn quickly when they are young, and they are usually very receptive to new ideas, especially when they are given effective praise for their efforts. Some children improve dramatically with just one month of parent-driven home speech therapy.
Many private school parents notice that their child has a speech delay. Seeking an answer, they may have researched their options and found that none seem to give them exactly what they need to help their child. Or, they might delay starting speech therapy because of cost or inconvenience. However, these parents need to realize that time is of the essence in speech sound development. If your child is at least 3-4 years old, the time might be now!