If you’re trying to get your child into speech therapy, you’re likely aware that waitlists are becoming longer and longer. Many families are having a hard time finding open spots for speech therapy. This can be worrisome for parents and caregivers, since early intervention is recommended as the best approach to help improve speech and language problems.
It helps to know your options. Here we’ll review different ways to find speech therapy services and perhaps even decrease your wait time. We’ll also share tips for practicing speech and language with your child at home while you wait for a therapy spot.
Why are there waitlists for speech therapy?
Between finding the right speech therapist, getting a spot on their schedule that fits your availability, and waiting for insurance approval–combined with the number of kids across the country who need therapy–you can see why it’s rare to be able to start right away. There is bound to be some amount of wait time, which can vary due to your child’s needs, where you live, and how you’re planning to pay for therapy.
It can be discouraging to hear about a waitlist from the office staff at a speech therapy practice. If you’re feeling worried about your child falling behind, you’re not alone. But as your child’s caregiver, the important thing is to not give up. Make sure you explore all your options. Some of the tips below may improve your chances of starting speech therapy sooner than expected.
4 tips to help decrease the wait time for speech therapy
While there are no guarantees, you may increase your chances of getting into speech therapy faster with these tips:
1 Provide several days and times you can be available
The more available you can be for therapy sessions, the more opportunities there will be to get a speech therapy slot. Some speech therapists work full-time, while others only work a few days a week. If you’re able to be more flexible with your time, you may have more therapists to choose from.
2 Get on a few different waitlists
If there are a few speech therapy practices you’re comfortable with, get on a waitlist at each one. It’s hard to predict which ones might move more quickly. Of course, as soon as you hear from one practice, call the others and ask to have your name taken off the list. The people behind you on the waitlist will appreciate that!
3 Call every few weeks
Stay in touch with the front office while you’re on the waitlist. You don’t have to call every week, but it’s worth it to stay in touch instead of sitting on a waitlist for months without talking to someone. Although it’s rare, miscommunications can happen, and names can get accidentally deleted from lists, so it’s best to stay in contact. The front office may even be able to tell you how far down you are on the waitlist.
4 Call for a speech evaluation as soon as concerns arise
If you’re worried about your child’s communication development or think they may have a speech delay, trust your instinct. Your child’s doctor, and even other parents, may tell you to “wait and see”–maybe your child is simply a late bloomer! But this isn’t always the best approach, especially with speech therapy wait times.
Your child’s first appointment will be a speech evaluation. A speech therapist will assess your child’s current strengths and weaknesses and determine if they need speech therapy. Remember, the earlier your child can start receiving the therapy they need, the more quickly they’ll make progress. That’s why it never hurts to get an evaluation as soon as you suspect a problem.
Other speech therapy options to consider
If you’re having trouble finding a clinic, practice, or specific speech therapist to start services with, try looking into these options:
Early intervention is an option for children from birth to age 2 years, 11 months. This publicly funded program provides services for free or at reduced cost for any child who is eligible, in every state and territory.
Early intervention typically involves a speech therapist coming to your house for speech therapy. Keep in mind that it may not allow for as frequent of visits as a family would like. You also may not get to choose your speech therapist, or see the same one consistently. But the low or no-cost aspect makes this a favorable choice for many families.
You can learn more about early intervention and look up programs near you here.
Services through the school district
For preschool-age children, you may be able to receive speech therapy services through your public school for free. Call the elementary school you are zoned for to ask staff about these services and who to contact to learn more.
Online speech therapy providers
If you live in an area without many local speech therapy practices, consider online speech therapy. You, your child, and the speech therapist will meet one-on-one via a video chat platform, like Zoom. You’ll have access to an entire network of speech therapists across your entire state. Plus, many online speech therapists offer more flexible hours, including evenings and weekends. And you may have more flexibility, too, since you won’t be commuting to a speech therapy practice. Most important, studies have shown that online speech therapy is just as effective as traditional, in-person therapy.
Local college clinics
Colleges that have speech and hearing departments may offer speech therapy programs. You can receive a diagnosis and treatment from a student studying speech-language pathology, all under the supervision of a licensed therapist. While this can be a much more affordable option, one downside is that your child may work with a roster of rotating students as they trade shifts and graduate.
It never hurts to look through the ASHA directory of speech therapists, run by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. You can search for speech therapists in your area who are accepting referrals.
How to help your child with speech and language at home
While speech therapy is usually the best option for kiddos who need help communicating, your role as their caregiver is an important one. As you wait to begin speech therapy, there’s a lot you can do at home to support your child in their speech and language skills.
For example, if your child is stuttering, research fluency techniques to see if any of these may benefit your child. You can help your child learn to start their sentences more gently and less forcefully with their voice. This can sometimes help people increase the smoothness of their speech. You can also help them identify any tension they may be feeling in their throat, tongue, or jaw, and learn to relax and decrease that tension.
If your child isn’t talking at all, or seems delayed in their language abilities, focus on teaching words they’re familiar with or words that are motivating. Learning to ask for a cookie may be pretty exciting for your child! You can also work on encouraging your child to use longer phrases and sentences. If your child can say “cookie,” focus on teaching “more cookies” or “I want the cookie.”
Browse our Learning Center and visit our YouTube channel for all kinds of speech therapy resources, including on early language development, stuttering, lisp, and other speech sound disorders. You’re bound to find something that will help you help your child.
Our course helps you teach your toddler to talk
If your child is age 18 months or younger, check out our online course, Small Talk. This series of videos will teach you how to support language-building at home. Learn practical tips and techniques to use with your baby or toddler to help them say those magical first words and grow their vocabulary. With more than an hour’s worth of content that you can view on your own schedule (plus handy downloadable PDFs), this is a smart way to get a jump on your child’s communication growth while you wait for therapy services!