What Is the Best Age to Start Speech Therapy?

If you think your child may need some help with their speech and language, you may be wondering, what is the best age for speech therapy? Is my toddler too young for speech therapy? Is my preteen or teenager too old? Or, you may be wondering if speech therapy is something you could benefit from yourself, as an adult. Is it too late to get help with a lisp or stutter?

These are all valid questions, and we’re here to offer some guidance. 

When should my child start speech therapy?

You may be surprised to know that there is no one age at which a child should begin speech therapy. Even babies who are a few months old can benefit from speech therapy if there is a developmental need! 

As a rule, the earlier a child can begin speech therapy, the better. This is because communication development happens sequentially. Each skill in speech and language development needs to be mastered in order to help the child reach the next one. You can think of it like a staircase. A child can’t move up the staircase if they are having trouble climbing the bottom steps. 

As a rule, the earlier a child can begin speech therapy, the better.

The sooner a child can achieve the skills they’re struggling with, the faster they can move along in their development. If they don’t receive the help they need, they may struggle longer, missing more expected milestones and falling further behind.  

How do I know if my child needs speech therapy?

The best way to know if your child is on track with their speech and language development is to learn about the expected milestones for their age: 

If you suspect your child may have a speech or language delay, be sure to contact your pediatrician to talk with them about it. You can also reach out to a speech therapist for an evaluation. Another good first step is to take our easy online screener. You can talk about your results with a licensed speech therapist for free.

Is there ever a reason to wait to start speech therapy?

There are situations where you may need to wait to begin speech therapy. But you should never wait to have a speech evaluation.

In order to determine if your child needs speech therapy, your child first needs to have an evaluation with a licensed speech-language pathologist, also known as a speech therapist. They will assess your child to determine if they are truly behind in development and need to start therapy at that time. 

You should never wait to have a speech and language evaluation.

If your child is missing key communication milestones, speech therapy will be recommended. However, if they are missing milestones that aren’t actually expected for their age range, therapy likely won’t be recommended. Here are a few examples:

  • Some parents may be concerned that their child has misarticulations in their speech and can’t pronounce sounds such as /r/ and /s/. These sound production errors typically aren’t considered to be an issue until around age 5. If a 3-year-old has trouble with these sounds, this is generally considered an age-appropriate speech error. 

  • Some caregivers may be worried that their 1-year-old isn’t speaking back and forth in conversation yet, or asking and answering questions. In general, we don’t expect 1-year-olds to be able to do these things. They are likely just beginning to use single words. In these cases, therapy probably wouldn’t be recommended.

It’s totally normal to have concerns about your child’s development, especially if they seem to be developing at a different rate than their older siblings. And it’s fine if you aren’t quite sure what’s normal for your child’s age. That’s where the speech evaluation comes in. Never put off an evaluation if you feel concerned or your pediatrician has recommended it. It’s much better to go ahead and get the needed information now in case speech therapy is necessary.

What does speech therapy for kids look like?

Speech therapy for children is most often play-based. Children learn best through play, so speech therapists will incorporate activities the child enjoys to keep them motivated and engaged. They may use toys, board games, crafts, or books during speech therapy sessions.

The best part about play-based speech therapy is that caregivers can easily learn how to use these techniques at home. It’s important for parents and caregivers to stay in communication with their child’s speech therapist, so they understand what their child is working on and how to practice. A speech therapist is trained and licensed in speech and language development, but you are the expert in your own child! This relationship is essential when it comes to helping your child practice at home and continue the progress made during sessions. 

Is it too late for a preteen or teen to start speech therapy?

Teenagers definitely aren’t too old to make progress in speech therapy. There are many reasons an adolescent may receive speech therapy, such as:

Articulation: Speech therapy can help teens learn to correctly pronounce sounds that they’re struggling with. Some of the trickier errors that can linger if not properly treated in childhood occur with the /s/, /r/, and /l/ sounds.

Expressive and receptive language: A teen may have trouble with language skills. Receptive language is a person’s ability to understand what is spoken to them. Expressive language is a person’s ability to make their wants, needs, and ideas known through clear communication.

If a teen has language problems, they may have trouble understanding questions asked in conversation or at school. They may also have a tough time following directions. It may be hard for them to construct sentences that make sense. They may misuse words or have a hard time telling a story or retelling an event.

Pragmatics: This is a major area where some teens need help. Pragmatics refers to the social aspect of language and communication. This includes social rules such as maintaining eye contact and staying on topic during a conversation. Stuttering and fluency: For some teenagers, this may be an issue they’ve dealt with all their life. But sometimes, stuttering can occur later in childhood or adulthood.

Teens don’t have developmental milestones the same way younger children do. But an adolescent who needs therapy may show signs such as:

  • Difficulty pronouncing certain speech sounds

  • Speech that is hard to understand

  • Stuttering while speaking

  • Difficulty clearly expressing thoughts and needs

  • Poor ability to answer questions

  • Difficulty telling a story and explaining something in a sequential order

  • Not easily able to follow social rules in conversation with others

  • Inability to understand sarcasm or figurative language

Can adults receive speech therapy?

Adults can certainly benefit from speech therapy. Similar to teens, adults may receive speech therapy for conditions that have been present from childhood, such as stuttering, lisps, or other speech sound disorders.

Speech therapy can also help adults with communication issues that were acquired in adulthood, such as voice disorders or aphasia.

If you or a loved one is considering speech therapy, make a call today and get the process started. Speech therapists are trained to help people of all ages: babies, toddlers, children, teens, and adults. The sooner someone can begin therapy, the sooner they can begin experiencing the positive outcomes of it.

Sign up for our newsletter
Fun and easy speech and language tips served up every month!

More from

Watch learning jump (leap! spring! hop!) from your sessions into the real world.

Get started