Speech-language pathologist Denise Bayles, owner of Bayles Family Speech Center in Bridgewater, serves clients of all ages, but primarily works with children. When Bayles first opened her practice 14 years ago, her slogan was “Where you’re always treated like family,” a core value she has continued to embrace during her 26-year career. Here, Bayles discusses her work and what parents should consider if they suspect their child requires professional assistance.
What is speech therapy?
Speech therapists are communication specialists. There are many different facets of speech therapy, ranging from providing general support for people who can’t say their sounds to assisting with regaining language skills after a traumatic event, such as a stroke or brain injury. Speech therapy also deals with the social aspect of language.
What are some signs that could indicate a child has a speech issue?
Not meeting developmental milestones when they should be or showing signs of understanding but not communicating could be indicators of a speech issue. By age 2, a child should have a vocabulary of about 50 words and should be starting to form phrases. Their words do not have to be perfectly articulated, but should be understandable. One thing I look for when I see a toddler is if they are imitating. Toddlers try to repeat you and have little conversations back and forth, which are the typical beginning stages of language and communication. A child who is not demonstrating those skills could benefit from speech therapy.
What should parents do if they are concerned that their child could have a speech issue?
I recommend that parents address any concerns as early as possible. If there’s any kind of worry, it is always better to have peace of mind than to feel like you missed an opportunity. Early Intervention is a state program for children from birth to age 3 who are experiencing developmental delays. The toll-free number for New Jersey residents is 888-653-4463. If the child is between 3 and 5, parents should contact their local school district and request an evaluation planning meeting for the preschool program for children with disabilities.
I always caution parents that even if they are told that their child does not meet the eligibility criteria for this program, they may still need therapy. I also strongly recommend that parents who have concerns should have their child’s hearing checked by an audiologist. Research shows that speech delays that go unaddressed can lead to later deficits in reading and math. Other than basic computation, there is a lot of language involved in math.
How has the pandemic impacted speech development in children?
We’ve been very fortunate to be able to provide teletherapy services to avoid regression for many children who were already in therapy. Wearing masks during the pandemic also has made it more challenging for children who thrive on visual cues for learning speech sounds.
How do you define success?
I can’t tell you the joy I have when kids say their first word here. Everybody cries: Mom cries, I cry. The kid wants to know why we’re crying. Part of the reason that families come here is that they realize this is more than a professional relationship. I try to bring an element of calmness. We all develop at our own rates, and just because a child is not talking now doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be talking in six months.
They’re all success stories. The biggest success stories for me are when they leave me, because I know I’ve done my job.