language disorders

What is a Pre-School Speech and Language Screening?

It’s that time again, summer is winding down and schools are back in session! For all you pre-school parents it’s a big time of change and transition. There’s so much to balance that it’s hard to keep track of everything! Lucky for parents SLPs (Speech/Language Pathologists) are here to make part of that process a little easier with preschool speech and language screenings.

Speech and language screenings and therapy What is a pre-school speech and language screening?

A pre-school speech and language screening is a way for an SLP to observe children (approximately ages 2.5-5) in the school environment to determine if they demonstrate appropriate understanding and use of language, production of speech sounds, attention, and social skills with peers. The SLP will then determine if the child passed the screening or if they will recommend a full speech and language evaluation.

What does it mean if my child does not pass?

Being recommended by a pre-school language screener is an open conversation to talk about your child’s needs. As a parent you should be aware, but not alarmed! Early intervention is a wonderful opportunity to address areas where your child is struggling and give them the extra help they need  before academic and social demands increase as they get older. Research continues to show that identifying children with language disorders as early as possible is important because the earlier children receive speech and language intervention, the better their language outcomes will be.

>Speech and Language Screenings

>A look at Speech and Language Therapy

Each child develops at their own pace, so SLPs use typical age ranges of speech and language development as a guideline to recommend assessment.

>Typical ages of development for speech sounds 

>Development Chart for Speech and Language Skills

6 hidden speech and language skills that SLPs look for and why:

  • Speech intelligibility (in words and conversation) – Often it’s easier for close family members and familiar adults to understand kids, but if less familiar people have trouble understanding your child’s speech it could mean their speech is somewhat unintelligible. This can make it hard for children to be understood by peers and teachers, which can impact their communication at school. It can also be indicative of phonics or reading issues down the line if left untreated.
  • Attention to tasks – Can the child sit and listen during story time? Are they able to focus and listen when the teacher is talking? This can appear like the child struggles to follow directions when they may just need help learning how to focus and maintain their attention at the same level as their peers. Without appropriate attention skills, children can miss important things going on around them at school.
  • Early social skills (relating to peers, pretend play, functional play) – Are they able to initiate games and social interactions with their peers? Are they playing with toys functionally, such as stacking blocks or putting shapes in a shape sorter? Are they engaging in pretend play with their peers, like feeding their animal dolls or making their toys go on adventures? If not, they may need some help to gain these skills! If left untreated, this can lead to trouble relating to their peers and losing out on opportunities for social interactions.
  • Emotional regulation – Is your child able to react and respond appropriately when things do not go according to plan? Are they self-directed and on their own agenda or can they follow along and participate in what the group is doing? If not, it could mean that they need some help learning how to regulate their emotions.
  • Vocabulary development – SLPs take a look at the content and vocabulary your child is using in their speech. Preschool-age children are expected to understand and express a variety of concepts and word forms (e.g. verbs, adjectives, location words) at the same level as their peers. If your child is not using age-appropriate vocabulary or using only limited phrases or sentences, they might need help to expand their expressive skills.
  • Clear communication – Is your child able to clearly communicate their thoughts and their wants and needs? Are you noticing breakdowns in communication? Your child might need help in this area in order to help them be clearer communicators and to prevent frustration that breakdowns in communication can often cause.


Childhood Communication Issues

It’s understandable that nothing is more disheartening to a parent than to think that their child is developing less than perfectly in every way, but it is part of being human.  We all develop at different rates and in different ways.  Just as babies require help developing the skills needed to feed themselves, sometimes children also greatly benefit from help overcoming communication issues.

Communication issues can manifest themselves in how a child speaks or how they understand speech.  As a side effect of communication issues, children who have trouble communicating their thoughts or feelings, or children who have trouble processing the meaning or clarity of what is being said to them, often can become frustrated and act out with unexpected or unwanted behavior.  Parents who are dealing with both communication issues and unwanted behavior often see a dramatically happier and more expressive child soon after treatment begins.

The role of therapists in treating childhood communication issues.

To better understand the challenges and treatment process, it helps to understand the focus and role of different therapy professionals such as occupational therapists and therapists that work with speech and language difficulties.

Occupational therapists work with children who have sensory processing disorders (SPD). A child with SPD will find it difficult to process and act upon sensory information, creating challenges in performing daily tasks.

The Vestibular System and Auditory Processing and Language Disorders

One of the most basic of all the sensory systems is the vestibular system. As described by noted author and therapist Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. in her 2009 book, The Vestibular System and Auditory-Language Processing: “The vestibular system coordinates body movements, maintains balance and equilibrium, and helps children develop normal muscle tone.” She further writes, “The vestibular system plays a significant role in the development of language, so that children with vestibular dysfunction may also have auditory-language processing difficulties.  The two systems work together as they process sensations of movement and sound.  The two systems are closely connected because they both begin to be processed in the receptors of the ear.”

While occupational therapists treat children with vestibular dysfunction, speech therapists work with children who have auditory processing difficulties and language disorders.  Some auditory processing skills include auditory discrimination (differentiating among sounds), auditory figure/ground disturbance (discriminating between sound in the foreground and background) and language.

Language Disorder

When a person has trouble understanding others (receptive language), or sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings (expressive language), then he or she has a language disorder.

Speech Disorder

When a person is unable to produce speech sounds correctly or fluently, or has problems with his or her voice, then he or she has a speech disorder.

Speech therapy for communication issuesSpeech therapists provide therapy to children with speech disorders.  Kranowitz further explains, “Language and speech are closely related, but are not the same.  Speech is the physical production of sound. Speech skills depend on smoothly functioning muscles in the throat, tongue, lips, and jaw.  The vestibular system influences motor control and motor planning that are necessary to use those fine muscles to produce clear speech.”

Overall, the child with vestibular dysfunction frequently develops problems with speech and language.  Here are some common characteristics of children with poor speech, language, and/or auditory-language processing:

  • May have trouble discriminating between sounds, such as the difference between “comb” and “cone.”
  • May have trouble attending to, understanding, or remembering what she reads or hears.
  • May misinterpret requests, frequently ask for repetition and be able to follow only one or two instructions in sequence.
  • May have trouble putting thoughts into spoken or written words.
  • May talk “off topic,” e.g. talk about his/her new shirt when others are discussing a soccer game.
  • May have trouble “closing circles of communication,” i.e. responding to others’ questions or comments.
  • May have weak vocabulary and use immature sentence structure (poor grammar and syntax).
  • May have difficulty speaking and articulating clearly.
  • May improve her speaking ability after she experiences intense movement.

Movement to treat communication issuesAccording to Kranowitz, “Moving activates the ability to speak.  A child with vestibular and language problems benefits greatly from therapy that simultaneously addresses both types of dysfunction.  Speech therapists report that just putting the child in a swing during treatment can have remarkable results.  Occupational therapists have found that when they treat a child for vestibular dysfunction, speech-and-language skills can improve along with balance, movement, and motor planning skills.”


The development of communication skills begins in infancy.   Any communication issue is likely to have a significant effect on the child’s social and academic skills and behavior. The earlier a child’s speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is that problems will persist or get worse.

An in-depth overview of the vestibular system can be found in the book by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. (2009),  The Vestibular System and Auditory-Language Processing.

Parents are also urged to contact Child Success Center to learn more about the treatments and therapies available to help their child.  CSC can be reached at 310-899-9597

Child Success Center
2023 S. Westgate Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Call 310-899-9597 to access our “warm” line.
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