Question: My child’s teacher gave me a form the other day asking permission to get her evaluated for speech delays. I know my daughter is shy and doesn’t talk much in unfamiliar situations, but I don’t think she has any delays! Do I have to have her evaluated? What happens if she won’t talk to the tester either? She’s 3 years old and has only been at this center for a few months.
Answer: It’s always upsetting when someone expresses concern about your child’s development, whether or not it’s one you share. Sometimes attentive teachers can tend to err on the side of caution out of a desire to make sure all our children get what they need to be successful. Having seen so many children over so many years, though, experienced early childhood teachers usually have a pretty good sense of what is typical for a child of a given age. So if your child’s teacher has concerns, it may make sense to heed them.
But, you know your child best, and many young children do behave differently at home and at school. You are under no obligation to have your child evaluated if you feel it’s unnecessary. On the other hand, the evaluations are free and can offer you a different perspective on your child than you may have gotten before. Speech delays are quite common for young children, and are often easily ameliorated with brief intervention. If that is in fact what’s going on, your child could benefit from receiving services before she starts school. Ongoing speech and communication issues can adversely affect any child’s ability to be successful academically and socially, but the earlier they are identified, the more easily they can be addressed. Since your daughter is 3, she would be entitled to receive services through the county or city where you live, were she to qualify.
If you do decide to go ahead with an evaluation, most testers try to see children in familiar environment: they will often work with a child in her own classroom or home. It could be that your daughter needs more time to adjust to the preschool environment, and will talk more as time goes on. Some questions to consider as you decide what to do: when your daughter does speak, do most of her words make sense? Can she make most sounds correctly and clearly? Has her pediatrician ever mentioned a concern? When you’re in an environment where she’s relaxed – with family, for example, or at friends’ homes – does she speak willingly, and is she generally understood by other children or adults who don’t know her well?
It may also be worth considering expanding your daughter’s opportunities to become more comfortable in a variety of situations. Library story times, Play and Learn groups, or any informal chance to interact with other children and adults can be helpful. Many children (and adults) can become tongue-tied when they aren’t sure what to do or say in a particular social situation, so practice with her. Having a sense of what to expect from others, and what to say in response, can help increase her confidence and ease in unfamiliar settings.
And finally, whether or not your daughter ends up qualifying for services, do check in with her teacher regularly about her progress. Teachers get a different perspective than parents, and they can be a valuable source of information and insight about your child.