Speech & Occupational Therapists Help with Developmental Disabilities and Delays

By AASLMarch 2, 2020

How Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy can Help with Developmental Disabilities.

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month! Developmental disabilities are disabilities that interfere with a child’s normal trajectory of development, either physically or mentally. Speech, language, and physical disabilities can affect a child’s progress in development, learning, and academic performance; they can also interfere with a child’s ability to function in everyday life and social situations. These areas are where speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists can help children with developmental disabilities. If you have concerns about your child’s development in speech and language, visit a speech- language pathologist. If you notice problems with your child’s coordination, everyday functioning, or physical development, visit an occupational therapist. Properly trained professionals will be able to recommend the correct type of therapy your little one may benefit from.

Developmental Delays and Disabilities Requiring Occupational Therapy

For children with developmental delays or disabilities, occupational therapy can help improve their motor, cognitive, sensory processing, communication, and play skills. The goal of improving in these areas is to enhance development, minimize the potential for developmental delay, and help families meet the special needs of their infants and toddlers.

How Occupational Therapy can Help

Occupational therapy can help improve skills in a variety of ways listed below. Keep in mind though, the point of improving the skills below reaps benefits far beyond just enabling the child to improve that specific skill. Many skills below are not only a part of daily living, but also related to cognitive development. Such skills that can be improved by occupational therapy include…

  • Developing fine motor skills to enable children to grasp and release objects and develop handwriting or computer skills.
  • Improving hand-eye coordination so they can play, learn, and master skills needed in daily living and in school.
  • Mastering basic life skills such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and self-feeding…all the way through independent living, self-care, and pre-vocational skills.
  • Learning positive behaviors and social skills, to enable interactions with others and management of emotions in a productive manner.
  • Acquiring and learning to use special equipment to help build independence. This includes wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, and communication aids.

Developmental Delays and Disabilities Requiring Speech and Language Therapy

Therapy by a speech-language pathologist can focus upon multiple aspects of communication: namely, the development of speech-related skills, feeding-related skills, or language-related skills.

Some developmental delays and disabilities require speech therapy and may focus on the following areas:

  • Articulation problems: Not speaking clearly and making errors in sounds.
  • Fluency problems: Trouble with the flow of speech, such as stuttering.
  • Resonance or voice problems: Trouble with voice pitch, volume, and quality.
  • Oral feeding problems: Difficulty with eating, swallowing and drooling.

Some developmental delays and disabilities require language-based therapy which may focus on the following areas:

  • Receptive language problems: Trouble understanding (receiving) language.
  • Expressive language problems: Trouble speaking (expressing) language.
  • Pragmatic language problems: Trouble using language in socially appropriate ways.
  • Academic areas: Reading and writing.

How Speech & Language Therapy can Help

Speech and language intervention activities build skills in a variety of ways, including modeling and giving kids feedback. No child is the same and you know your child best. If you feel that your child has a speech or language disorder or is experiencing delays in any of the related skill areas, contact your pediatrician to discuss treatment options.

Speech and Language Pathologists use strategies tailored for each child’s particular challenge. Strategies might include:

  • A therapist might use pictures and books or play-based therapy. She may also use language drills to practice skills.
  • Articulation therapy: The SLP models the sounds the child has difficulty with. This might include demonstrating how to move the tongue to create specific sounds.
  • Feeding and swallowing therapy: The SLP teaches the child exercises to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. This might include facial massage and various tongue, lip and jaw exercises. She might also use different food textures to encourage awareness during eating and swallowing.

You Know Your Child Best

It’s hard to know where your child should be in terms of speech, language, and physical development including motor and sensory areas. It’s easy to set expectations based on what you notice in other children around you and what other people say to you. The best thing to do first is to stop worrying! See a pediatrician to assess your child’s development. The pediatrician will let you know if he or she believes your child is meeting the proper milestones. If a pediatrician tells you everything is fine, yet you still have a strong feeling that something is off, get a second opinion, either from another pediatrician, a speech-language pathologist, or an occupational therapist. You know your child best and will be able to ensure he/she receives the best care possible!

More Questions?

If you have more questions on developmental disabilities, the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities has information for you. Click on the following links to learn more:

Content source: National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/specificconditions.html https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/CY/Articles/Early-Intervention.aspx https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/occupational-therapy.html https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/RDP/Intellectual-Disabilities.aspx https://www.aota.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/AboutOT/Professionals/WhatIsOT/WI/Facts/Workers%20with%20DD%20fact%20sheet.pdf https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/language-disorders.html https://medlineplus.gov/speechandcommunicationdisorders.html https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/childrens-hospital/developmental-disabilities/conditions/language-disorders.aspx

DISCLAIMER: Information published about one particular disorder does not necessarily apply to every individual who has the disorder discussed in this article. Treatments and therapies are highly individual and must be customized to the needs of each person to be effective. Do not make changes to your/your child’s treatment plan as a result of what you read in this article (or any content published by AASL) without consulting your/your child’s physicians and therapists. This content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of All About Speech and Language or its therapists. To understand the opinions and recommendations of your/your child’s AASL therapist, schedule an appointment with your therapist to discuss your concerns.

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