Interview with Speech Street’s Ally Kempner
As a first-time parent, childhood milestones were new to me. I understood the general growth checklist, but I didn’t understand the depth of each milestone. I knew that during tummy time, I wanted to see my child hold up his head, but for how long? I didn’t know that I should be counting the seconds. Or at my child’s 18-month appointment, I was presented with the question of whether he was communicating. Yes, but I didn’t know it needed to be five words. By not being able to confirm that number in the doctor’s office that day, we were referred to a speech therapist. The speech therapist came to our home and assessed our son. He was on track and doing great, but even still, the speech therapist spent some time going over various tools and resources with me that would support our child’s speech even more. I loved this knowledge and it opened up a world of learning that helped me help my kids progress even further through their milestones.
We thought diving further into speech therapy would be insightful for parents and spoke with a children’s speech therapist, mom of twins, and founder of Speech Street NY, Ally Kempner. Thanks to our conversation, we better understand the importance of speech as an early milestone, what to watch for, and ways to support your children on their speech journey.
Tell us about yourself and how you became a speech expert.
I am a speech therapist and founder of Speech Street NY. We bring attention and education to speech therapy for children and support growing families with tailored programs. I am also a mom of two-year-old twins, a boy, Mason and a girl, Sophie. From a young age, I knew I wanted to help children learn and grow. I volunteered with children throughout my education and knew I wanted to continue to help them on a professional level. I went to college at the University of Wisconsin Madison where I majored in Communicative Sciences and Disorders. I continued with my Master’s Degree at NYU. There are two paths you take in this field, you can either work with children or work with adults where a majority of cases are therapy in a hospital setting.
Since then, I have experienced working in a school setting as well as in a private practice. I believe that children do best when they are engaged, motivated, and have customized lesson plans that incorporate the students’ interest. For example, if my student is working on articulation of the /s/ sound and loves princesses, we will make fun princess crafts while targeting articulation goals. I believe that progress is made when the whole team is involved in the therapy process. Therefore, I reach out to parents, teachers, and other therapists to ensure that the child’s whole support system is part of the process.
What are speech disorders?
Often speech disorders are associated with articulation errors, like a lisp. However, it can be so much more. Our field is speech and language therapy because we work on all language skills, not just limited to articulation. That can include a multitude of skills, such as breathing, language organization, written expressions, how children organize their thoughts, and how to articulate those thoughts in an organized way. The industry has evolved to support children’s growth to encompass all manners of communication. Different areas we work on as speech and language therapist are:
- Voice (volume, pitch, quality),
- Language (comprehension, expressive language, syntax)
- Social language skills (eye contact, turn taking, conversational skills)
- Fluency (stuttering)
- Reading (decoding/ encoding)
- Reading comprehension
- Language organization
- Written expression
What are the different stages of speech development?
For children 0-5 the basic stages of development are
- Crying (0-2 months)
- Cooing (3-5 months)
- Babbling (6-8 months)
- One word stage (9-18 months)
- Two-word stage (18-24 months)
- Preschool stage (3-5 years)
What are the key speech milestones caregivers should be aware of?
Speech and language development begins before the baby is even born! That is why it is important to always be talking to your child. An easy way to do that is begin talking about everything you are doing, “I am going to get you dressed. First, we need to put on your shirt.” It’s extremely important to remember that every child has a different speech and language development path and there is not one right way. There is also a range of what is considered “normal” and you cannot compare children. I don’t even compare my twins who are the same age, grew up in the same environment, have had access to the same resources and support, but are developing their speech at different rates. Below are milestones to be aware of from birth to two-years-old.
Birth to 3 months:
- Recognizes your voice and calms down when crying
- When feeding, starts or stops feeding when hearing a new sound
- Coos and makes pleasure sounds
- Has a different cry for different needs (hungry vs. tired)
- Reacts to loud sounds
- Follows sounds with eyes
- Notices toys that make noise
- Pays attention to music
- Babbles and produces bilabial sound (b, p, m)- sounds made using our lips
- Enjoys playing peek-a-boo
- Turns and looks in the direction of a sound
- Understands words for common objects such as “cup” “milk” “shoe”
- Responds to simple directions (come here)
- Babbles using multiple sounds and syllables (upup, baba)
- Communicates using gestures (waves, raises arm to go up)
- Imitates different speech sounds
- Has 1-3 words such as “hi” “mama” “dada”
- Can identify several body parts when asked
- Follows simple directions (throw the ball)
- Understand simple questions (where is your water?)
- Points to pictures when named
- Acquires new words daily
- Combines two words (more cookies, bye daddy)
Do most children get support for speech disorders from schools?
Your speech has to impact you academically in order to get support through schools (that is the case here in New York, but also common throughout the country). If you have any concerns, you should take the initiative to see a local speech therapist to have an evaluation done. It doesn’t take long and you can have access to programs that might provide some additional support in areas of concern.
One thing I’d like to note is how COVID has impacted children and their speech. Our guidelines recently changed because of the role COVID has had on language development. Children around age five have spent the past several years (major development periods) wearing masks and interacting with adults wearing masks, therefore covering their mouth. Kindergarten years are important for articulation and a lot of sounds you learn are not just from listening but watching the movement of a mouth. For example, “TH” your tongue comes out of your mouth, otherwise, your tongue tucks behind your teeth. In my experience during the past three years, I have seen a lot more articulation referrals as a direct result of children not being able to see adults moving their mouths. However, schools might not refer all children who could use additional support and parents might want to seek that on their own. It may mean a few sessions that help bring awareness to parents and provide some therapy that will support their child's speech development.
For busy families, what is the most efficient way to help our children with their speech?
Practice, practice, practice! We see improvement when kids practice throughout the week (not just during their speech session). We like to create speech notebooks and folders for our kids, so they can take pride and ownership in their work and in their progress. For the older kids, we leave “homework,” which is typically something they can practice several times throughout the week. For our little kids, we have carryover work that involves parents and caregivers. For example, if the child created a special /s/ craft, we will encourage parents to talk about the /s/ words in the craft throughout the week to ensure the target sound is being practiced daily.
Does using sign language delay children using words?
Children start to use signs and gestures before they have the verbal language to communicate. Research has shown sign language actually increases children’s verbal skills. The goal is to support a child’s ability to communicate, and sign language can accomplish that. It also helps children avoid frustration because of a lack of communication ability. Between the ages of 18–24 months children can start to combine words, but those with sign language might be able to communicate two-word phrases earlier. For instance, to say “more strawberries,” they might sign “more” and say “strawberry.”
Are there concerns of speech disorders or delays with learning two languages?
Studies show two languages at home can have a positive impact on your language ability and does not contribute to speech delays. In fact, children are able to learn two languages at the same pace as other children who are only learning one language.
Are speech issues hereditary?
In some cases, genetic factors can contribute to speech and language impairments.
If a parent suspects an issue, what are the next steps?
If you have any concerns, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have an amazing team of speech therapists who will come to your home to provide a speech and language evaluation. Do not hesitate to reach out - early intervention is so important!
Are delays in speech easy to overcome?
Every child will make progress at their own rate. Another factor in your child’s ability to overcome a speech disorder is early intervention and parents’ involvement. At Speech Street, we create fun and personalized lesson plans to ensure children are engaged and active learners. In my professional experience, children make progress when they are motivated!
If not addressed, would a speech disorder greatly impact a child's development in the future?
Articulation can impact you socially. Again, speech therapy doesn’t just address articulation concerns, but also how you organize what you want to say before you speak. If your child isn’t able to express themselves, it can be deeply frustrating for them. There is also a receptive and comprehension aspect to speech, which is the way you understand what is being spoken to you. If you're unable to understand direction given to you by a teacher, or a boss, it can have a direct impact on your success. We don’t want a speech issue to carry over into adulthood and the workplace, especially when you might be able to make small helpful adjustments earlier.
Is it true that Einstein had a speech delay?
Believe it or not, Einstein was a late talker. He didn’t speak full sentences until he was 5 years old!