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Building a Foundation of Speech for Toddlers and Families

In this episode, Maria Gianfillippo, a speech-language expert shares her expertise in speech therapy for children and families, discussing its broad applications across different age groups and impairments. The episode highlights strategies for enhancing speech development in toddlers, emphasizes the critical role of early language exposure, and provides insights into stuttering therapy for children. 

Listen to the podcast episode here!

If you have kids or will soon have kids in your family, then you will want to listen to today’s episode Maria Gianfillippo is the owner, and founder of Organic Speech Therapy, and is back on the podcast this week, where he has a passion for helping kids and families navigate speech development from an early age. 

Now she’s a speech-language pathologist, helping a variety of patients with speech therapies, not only helping the young kids and families with their speech development, she also helps older adults as well. Now, this is something I wish my wife and I learned before our firstborn, as far as the tools tips and tactics to help your child develop their speech. 

There’s a lot that goes into it. And there are simple things you can do to help your child develop speech. And we’ll cover some of that in today’s episode. We also talked about some of Maria’s favourite books for babies. What hinders speech development, and some practical tips  I mentioned that you can take with you to help your child develop their speech.
Thanks for having me.

I was just listening to our first podcast. 

Oh, It’s been a while,  I didn’t look at the date. But when I was listening to it, I talked about,  Diem and I think Diem was a year old at that point. Now she’s four so maybe three years. It’s just the first guest in the patent,  the first few I did crazy. Three years ago, I was cringing,  listening to myself, and some of the questions and how I was speaking and stuff.

I thought you sounded great. So speech therapy, you’re a speech-language pathologist. What is speech therapy?

So speech therapy is a profession that helps with communication, swallowing, and cognitive, and linguistic disorders. So it is a huge blanket term. For a lot of different areas, speech pathologists work with kids, they work with adults, they work with and anyone of any age throughout the lifespan and lifespan. And they help with, I said, the communication disorders, speech disorders, language, we even touch on swallowing and cognitive-linguistic deficits. So it’s a broad field that covers a lot but focuses in on those areas.

I know you work with different age groups and stuff. Is that Is there a focus as you go to school? Do you do you tend to,  focus in on a certain age group? Or, I guess just a speech issue?

So there are generally two tracks that we see. To simplify it, there’s usually a pediatric track or a medical track. So if you’re in the medical area, you can work with kids and adults, but a lot of times it’s working with people with a stroke or Parkinson’s, things that.

Then the pediatric track is people who work at schools, mostly with kids from birth to elementary, and high school age. So that’s just a simple fire. There’s all sorts of so many little areas of expertise. But yes, people after a while of working in the field usually get into their own little niche

Is that what you wanted to do?  When you were going to school, what niche niche you want to fall into? 

So ironically, I just wanted to work with adults, I love neurology and that side of it, and the medical aspect of it. So in grad school, you have opportunities to work with kids and adults that give you a nice umbrella experience of all populations, and then you kind of choose from there.

But I just wanted to work with adults, I found helping people after strokes, helping with their swallowing difficulties,  so fascinating. And especially with the cognitive aspect of memory and thinking and organizing your thoughts. So I always wanted to work with adults. I loved kids, and I loved the kids from birth to three years old, the toddlers, and the little kids, but initially, I was set on working with adults.

So what changed?

I think it’s kind of funny, I always worked with both at the firm strap that I worked at. So I would see both kids and adults. And I just kind of got into this trajectory of working with kids. I always say that’s kind of the path that I thought God was leading me on. And then I just kind of kept following it. And then it just blossomed into this whole practice, because I primarily work with kids now,  all kids, and I would have never thought that I was going to do that before. Which is funny

I think it’s interesting.  if you allow that to happen or allow, your path to kind of meander with whatever is whatever seems to make sense at the time? Instead of being, this is what I’m doing. And I’m sticking to it regardless of what happens.

Just being open to it, and to the opportunities, because I constantly, especially when I first started the practice, I was, I’m gonna see adults more than kids. And just all these opportunities came up to see kids. And then, the programs that I started all this kind of stuff, and I love it.

But it is funny about just staying open to what opportunities are coming up, where you’re being led, and then just seeing where it can go from there.

That’s pretty cool. What’s involved with speech therapy,  for anybody that hasn’t had had speech therapy? Or I guess it might be different for adults and toddlers. So I guess it’s talking about the difference between those two?  

Sure. So trying to think of, what, and where to start with this. With, I’m going to start with toddlers. So the whole process of traditional speech therapy is you always start with an evaluation. So in the toddler world, parents usually see that their kids aren’t saying enough words as they should for their age, or they think that.

So they start talking to a speech pathologist and seeing, if are they meeting their developmental milestones for language. Are they not? Do they need a little extra help? And so then we do an evaluation, and we look at their language skills and where they fall along the lines of typical versus not typical.

Then from the evaluation is where we determine if speech therapy is needed, how much how often how frequently, and similar for adults, although usually with adults, it’s not developmental, it’s been caused by an accident or something. And then they’re having impairments in their speech, their language, their thinking, their swallowing. So then we evaluate them from there and see what they need.

And then, is it practicing the words for an adult, it’s just practicing words over again, getting used to seeing the sounds, hearing the sounds, the muscles all that?

We determine what’s causing the impairment. So if it’s, for example, if they have a stroke, and they’re having a hard time saying the words that they want to say, they can think of what they want to say, but they can’t get it out, then we figure out okay, what’s, what’s the cause of that is the way your muscles are moving, is it some word finding strategies, things that? And then we practice that.

Have there been any since you’ve been involved in this profession, any new developments or any new findings that they’ve discovered, with language? 

There are always new things in the field and the toddler world, I think it’s become bigger, more recently, we’ve always known that intervention in the home is best, because it’s our home environment. Toddlers Learn through interacting with their everyday environment, they learn through imitating their parents, things that.

So we’ve always known that, but I think it’s become more popular for parents to learn what to do at home, rather than taking them to a speech therapist, letting the speech therapist go see them, and then taking them after the session and just going home and not doing anything between sessions So that’s not new, but it’s more popular now. 

Then the way kids with autism are processing language. There’s, I mean, this is a whole other little area It’s called Gestalt language processing. So were they learning language in chunks rather than single words at a time?  So it’s almost  a little bit of a backwards type of thing that’s kind of recent and new and popular

So let’s talk about the, I guess before that, what hinders speech development? So on the toddler side, what hinders that for a child from meeting those milestones?

Sure. So one big thing is their hearing. So when I say hearing loss, it doesn’t mean an actual loss. But a lot of times kids, especially if they get frequent ear infections, it’s widespread for them to get fluid in their middle eaters. And they muffle the sounds. So when they’re learning how to speak, they have to hear the speech sounds.

A lot of times parents will say, oh, there’s nothing wrong with their hearing, because I’ll ask them to, go get their shoes, and they can do it, they follow directions just fine. So I know they can hear me. But they need to hear the specific phonemes of specific sounds, because if they can’t hear them, they can’t, then they can’t say them. So it becomes a little trickier for them. So that’s common if a child’s not talking as soon as they should for their age.

So that’s the first part of, speech development is being able to hear words cause you’re receptive language, which is how much you understand, develops before, or just quicker than your expressive language. So what you’re saying, all the time, whenever I see a toddler who’s not talking as much I recommend they go get their hearing checked, just to, rule it out contributing factor.

And it’s hard sometimes because you don’t know.  our youngest. She went through a phase where she kept. She kept saying, a lot of what, and you’re, are you hearing us? Or are you just are you not hearing this? Or are you just saying that? She still does it now and then, but her language is far beyond what our firstborn was. So I know it’s there. Are you there’s something wrong with your ears?

Do they think it’s fun to say, I heard you say it. And so then they, say it all the time? It’s hard to tease out. It’s interesting.

So what on the other side of that, enhances speech development at an early age?

So there are a lot of things that can enhance speech development. And just being aware of those at home, how we’re talking to our toddlers, what we’re saying, filling their world with language, really helps of just, I’m sure people have heard this all the time,  narrating what you’re doing during the day, saying what you would want them to say, just being very aware of what it is that you’re saying and how you’re saying it to your toddler, and then what they’re interested what they’re looking at, and just kind of building their language skills, exposing them to vocabulary that way.

 And that’s really, it’s that it’s almost that simple. It’s so funny, because it’s, very simple, but it’s also very strategic. It’s simple enough that anybody can do it. Any parent can do it at home.

But what’s interesting is, that most parents, just don’t know. They don’t know how to do that. We didn’t know how to do that. Until we started talking to you about that. And you came out and helped us with our, with our firstborn. But, it’s, where do you where do you learn that?

I always say the same thing parents don’t always know these things. But, why should they? If you didn’t go to school to be a speech pathologist, or you don’t, no one or you’re not around kids all the time. It’s, why would, all these little tiny little details?

There’s no handbook on it. And then parents, you’re worrying about other things, just keeping your child alive,  feeding them, are they gaining weight? Are they growing? , are they moving? There’s, so much to think about. So, it’s funny, I don’t think parents always know these things. They know some of them but it’s, it’s nice to learn them from a speech pathologist because we said, they’re so easy for everybody to deal with just becoming aware of them. 

I was listening to a brief podcast today. And she had the example of, our times now of family dynamics in growing up, or raising a child, it’s very isolated. Whereas before it was, you grew up in a village and you had help from several people who have the experience and have gone through that process before. 

So that’s the part of that so now it’s you almost have to build your village or find your village, absolutely But if you don’t know if you don’t know those things,  it’s hard to understand that. So then what are some tips for new parents who are assumed to be, parents that help out to make sure that their child meets the speech requirements? 

So if you are an expecting parent or a new parent, and you want to make sure your baby, hits that language milestone and says her first words on time and says as many words as they, wants to, it’s important to know that there’s a lot of steps that develop before their first words, their first words come around the age of one.

Before they’re doing that they are developing their eye contact skills, they’re imitating your facial expressions, they’re, they’re babbling, they’re cooing, they’re laughing,  they’re engaging in back and forth, interactions with you.

So people who have newborns or are in that baby stage before a year, some things they can do is just really making sure they’re intentional with getting on their baby’s level, whether that’s face to face, or if they’re on tummy time,  laying down with them, so they can see your face and, imitating the noises they’re making, talking to your baby and just telling them what you’re doing. So you get in the habit of doing that and always responding to them. 

If they make I say, a communication attempt. So a smile or a laugh, or if they’re babbling,  you just respond to them verbally, and that will do wonders for their language development.

It’s funny, as you’re walking through that some of those things I’m remembering back when we met, and  I remember all that stuff. Getting on the same level as them and everything Little things that make big differences. What’s the root? Is it just the parents or the environment,  the root cause of any speech delay for toddlers? Is there genetics involved? Or is it typically just the environment that they’re in?


So sometimes it’s genetic? It’s not uncommon for parents to tell me? Oh, I didn’t talk till I was later or till I was three or something. Or we have some family members who had a speech delay. So that’s a component. The environment yes, and no, I never said that parents cause a language delay even if they don’t know, all the strategies, we only see that when there’s a case of extreme abuse or neglect, for a toddler to cause that so or for a parent to cause a language delay. 

So sometimes they’re just a little bit late to develop, or if it’s not just their language skills, but maybe their motor skills,  sometimes they’re just developing later. So it could be, those things, a combination of things that makes sense. 

So again, for the parents, new parents, or soon-to-be parents, what are some books that you recommend to read to your kids that are that help develop language?

Yes, I love talking about this. And I just put out a free resource, I’ll just send to you about all my favorite books. But when they’re little birth to three months they love to hear their parent’s voices, so you can read anything to them. You can read poems, you can read something that you’re reading,  a book that you’re reading out loud.

As they get a little older, it’s those black-and-white bucks that help with their vision. After three months, I always recommend books that are simple and repetitive. So, where spot it’s a classic one a lot of people have, but it’s so good because it’s simple. It repeats the same thing over and over again, where spot Is he under the stairs? 

No, Is he under the bed? No. So then they can hear that repetition. And then they can eventually fill it in. So at that age, until one year old, you just want to keep it super short, super, super simple to match their attention span. You want to avoid books  Dr. Seuss books, or, long poems or long stories because it doesn’t, doesn’t match their attention span. And  Dr. Seuss is not normal language. So they’re not going to be talking and rhyming.

That’s hard for them to understand all that. So we’ve done some stats here, and I just kind of want to get your thoughts and we can talk about and stuff. So boys, three to seven teen boys versus girls, three to 17 are more likely than girls to have a voice speech-language or swallowing disorder. Why is that? 

I am not quite sure of the rationale behind it. By in most. I mean, in most disorders that we’ve learned about even just going to grad school, it’s always more prevalent in boys and girls just don’t I think they just, it’s not all the time.  there are plenty of girls who have a speech too late, but in general, it’s more common with boys. I think sometimes they just take a little longer to develop than girls.

This was  9.6% compared to for boys compared to 5.7% for girls.

 It’s just a lot of things are more common in boys’ delays. Interesting.

 So the first six months of life are the most crucial to a child’s development of language skills. So they are very important. To say the first three years of life, okay, because the first three years are when their brains are the most neuroplastic. So they’re the most flexible, they’re building new neural pathways. And they’re just setting the foundation for the development of all sorts of cognitive skills,  for the rest of their life. The first six months? I mean, they’re, they’re just developing at a rapid rate. And you probably see the biggest, jump in skills from birth to six months. 

And that’s why I go going back to the village, it’s helpful to have those people around you from the beginning. I mean, they say it takes a village and I see it with Yes, I’m not a parent, but, I’m very close with my sister who has two young kids. And it’s just, it’s a lot to do for with just parents on their own. So having somebody to come and help somebody to watch them, give you some rest as well. And, just teach them different things. It’s, it is important to have a village for sure.

So last, more than 3 million Americans stutter. So it was, it was  1% of Americans. What’s the definition of a stutter? 

That’s a good one, you’re making me reach in my brain because I don’t specialize in stuttering. But I do know about it, I think they say that it’s a different use, they just use different neurological pathways in their brain for, their speech production. Okay? If I understand it correctly, and again, I’m not the specialist. That’s one of the niches in our in our field. But I believe it is a different kind of wiring of the brain for speech production. 

So then it makes it a little more difficult to get your speech out fluently. We call stuttering disfluencies in the speech therapy world, and everybody is a certain percentage of disfluent. So things are considered a disfluency, when someone has a stutter, there are different types of disfluency.  when there’s a long pause, or if you are repeating the end of a word, that’s a different type of disfluency. 

Can you work on those disfluencies and improve them? Definitely no matter what level they are. Or what type of disfluency do you have, there are things you can practice to improve those? 

It depends on, again, the severity, and different factors, but there are ways that you can become more fluent. So if I remember correctly, it’s not that it ever goes away fully. It’s just you get more fluent if that makes sense.

Is that because it’s, it’s wired in your, in your brain that, that pathways still kind of there. But I just,  made a new connection, a new snap to a different way, or an improved way of speaking?

I think it’s just all of us are when you’re talking about us listening to myself, a couple of years ago, when I was talking. When we’re speaking and I do the same, with myself, I listened to things that I was doing, and you’re talking and you’re, you’re not as fluent sometimes? Is there’s a lot more pauses or I’m sore? 

That’s public speaking, of course, but just any, anytime people are talking whether they repeat themselves, those are disfluencies that we all have, it’s just, to what percentage and what extent when time? And I think that that, in line with this, they said, I think it was  two to six was, was most common when when when children have stutters but usually beyond six, they’ve kind of, grown out of them

Is that what they were saying? It’s somewhat common or typical for, I think it’s three and under. So if a child starts stuttering under the age of three, there are a lot of different factors that go into this. So if a child is under the age of three, and they start stuttering, there’s no family history of stuttering. And it doesn’t last longer than I think six months. 

That’s more typical and will go away on its own. You just kind of monitor it. Whereas if they start stuttering after the age of three, and then they’re if there’s a family history of it if they’re a boy, I think it’s more common in boys. If it persists longer than six months, and then if there are those different kinds of stutters. 

I was telling you about repeating the end of the word versus, the beginning of the word or repeating whole phrases or sentences that, depending on the type of setter is it’s more ly to stick around.

That makes sense. So if people, new parents, want to get your help wanna get your advice? Where is the best, best way for them to connect with you?

So the easiest way is on Instagram, @organicspeechtherapypllc that’s at the end. They can always send me a DM I love chatting with parents there. And then I also have a website organic speech therapy.com And it has a little form on there that they can fill out to be contacted. 

And it’s super helpful for anybody who’s listening, I said before you came out and helped us with the and it was easy and just taught us so much about just that development side of it. So thank you.



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March 11, 2024
Categories: Podcast