Speech Language Evaluation Process
The evaluation process is different depending on the age of your child and I will divide this post into three sections: speech/language evaluations from birth to 3 (early intervention), speech/language evaluations for preschoolers (3-5) and the school age child.
Birth to 3 years:
If you suspect that your baby or toddler has a delay in the area of speech and or language development, please look into having him evaluated as soon as possible. Early intervention is so important and will often drastically reduce or eliminate the need for therapy as the child becomes school age. If you are unsure, perhaps an earlier post on language development guidelines and/or speech development guidelines will help you with that decision. Local early intervention programs serve children birth to three years old and are state funded. Click on this link to learn more about early intervention and find a program near you.
3-5 year olds:
Every school district in the United States has a Child Find Program. The purpose of this program is to screen, evaluate and set up services for children up to 5 years of age. This is all funded through the specific school district.
If you feel that your preschooler is not communicating as well as his peers, please be an advocate for your child and ask your local elementary school for their Child Find's contact information. Your concern can either be presenting itself because his sounds are not coming out clearly or he is not using language forms and the kind of vocabulary that his peers are using or maybe he doesn't seem to be understanding language and following directions like you think he should. There is a wide range of what is 'normal' in all developmental areas, but if you suspect that there might be a delay it's better to have a speech pathologist make this determination.
I want to say again that you are your child's best advocate and your child's local school will get the evaluation process going much faster if a parent requests that their child be evaluated for speech services. Don't wait for your child's teacher to make that referral to the speech therapist. The teacher typically will have 20+ students in her class and it will just take longer for her to identify your child. Often times the school speech pathologist has large case loads and her time only allows her to see kids in small groups for 30 minutes a week. If this is the case in your child's school you may want to enlist the services of a private speech pathologist for an additional time per week. To find a private speech therapist in your area go to the American Speech Language Hearing Association's website and type your criteria into their online directory.
Also important for the school age child is for you (parents) to get involved. Know what is going on with the evaluation process and when therapy begins stay involved and know what it going on in therapy and you can help tremendously by practicing with your child at home and reinforcing what he is working on in speech therapy at school. This will expedite his overall time in speech therapy.
Whatever your child's age, you should be prepared to tell the speech pathologist information regarding your child's developmental history and any pertinent medical and health history including any serious illnesses, operations, accidents, or any recurring health problems. The speech pathologist will also want to know a little about your family and your child's speech and language behaviors. If you're having your little one evaluated (preschooler or younger) you'll need to have an idea of how many words your child does have and in what contexts he uses them. If your child is school aged, you typically won't be present for the evaluation, however, it would still be important for you to make a phone call to that therapist and let her know some of this background information - it will only help her in the evaluation process.