Seeking a Professional: Our Speech Therapy Journey

Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home

We really thought he would outgrow it. Eventually he’d start saying “right” instead of “wight” and “guitar” instead of “guitah.” He’d eventually master his sister’s name — Laurel—which is a nightmare for kids who struggle with the L and R sounds.

Both of our boys were born with ankyloglossia, a condition in which the frenulum (that little band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is too short and tight, thus restricting the movement of the tongue. In other words, they were tongue-tied.

A generation or more ago, it was a common procedure for a doctor to clip a newborn’s anchored tongue.  But for various reasons, frenectomies fell out of favor in recent decades, including the years during which my boys were born.  My sons were born seven years apart in two different states, and both pediatricians maintained that tongue-clipping wasn’t done anymore and that “they’ll grow out of it.”

Our older son had trouble with his L and R sounds, but by age seven, he mastered the sounds completely.  Most likely, his frenulum stretched out on its own. But our younger son continued to struggle.  We regularly modeled correct speech for him in our home, but he just couldn’t seem to imitate our sounds.

According to most milestone charts, the L and R sounds are generally mastered by age 7.  When he was nearly 10 and still struggling, we knew we needed to do something. By this age, his speech should have been clearly understood by everyone around him, without the need of a parental interpreter for many words.

So I decided to start speech therapy with him at home.

I’m a homeschooling mom, right? I can teach anything!

I did a lot of online reading and research, which is what we homeschooling moms do. The homeschooling marketplace is full of books, programs, and guides to home-based speech therapy. I eventually bought a program that was highly rated, one that was specifically geared toward improving the L and R sounds. We got to work right away. I followed all the directions and used every activity.

I was an abysmal failure.

I had never encountered this absolute dead-end before in my teaching career. The truth is, I couldn’t figure out the mechanics of the tongue well enough to explain it to my son. I couldn’t aptly demonstrate to him how to produce sounds correctly.

 I had to seek outside help. Gulp!

Like many homeschooling parents, I’m not very good at seeking outside help. We tend to be an independent, self-sufficient lot, right? As fellow homeschooler and speech-language pathologist (SLP) Lisa Scott says, “None of us wants to believe there is anything wrong with our child. But when you are homeschooling, there is the added pressure of fearing that there is something wrong with your child because YOU have failed as a homeschooling mom. We often don’t want to face our fears, so we try to ignore the problem.”

I remembered that one friend in our support group had been an SLP in life-before-homeschooling. She evaluated him and concluded that his tongue needed clipping. I spoke with another homeschooling mom, a lactation consultant, who said that frenectomies were back in fashion and that she often recommended the procedure to new mothers whose babies were having trouble breastfeeding.

Shout out kiddoPhoto by sweetron1982

Ultimately, an ENT physician, in a five-minute procedure (including the numbing), freed our son’s frenulum.

We were making progress!

After ten years of compensating for an anchored tongue, he needed some serious speech therapy.  In our state, homeschooled students are eligible for speech therapy through the public school system, but we didn’t want to go that route for various reasons. We were introduced to an SLP who is also a homeschooling mom, and the magic began.

OK. It’s not magic. In fact, speech therapy is intense work. When Lisa began therapy with our son, he scored less than 20% on his R-specific articulation test. Within 9 weeks, he mastered nearly 100% of the sounds.

I was part of every session, per Lisa’s request. I do not think he could have progressed so quickly had I not been there to hear and see what he was doing wrong and to reinforce the right habits at home. (She said that in a public school setting, he may have taken years to make such progress.)

After just nine 30-minute sessions, he was finished. It was a $450 investment that will definitely rank in the Top 10 of our family’s best financial decisions.

Sometimes we homeschooling parents can’t do it all.

And you know what? That’s OK. Sometimes seeking outside or professional help, whether for some kind of therapy or medical intervention or academics, can make all the difference in your child’s future.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help!

As a homeschooling parent, are you reluctant to seek “outside help” for your kids, whether academically or in another way?

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About SarahS

Sarah has graduated one child from homeschooling and is happy to have miles left on the journey with her 11 and 15 year old children. With a master’s degree in English/creative writing, Sarah enjoys teaching writing and literature classes at her co-op and blogs about learning at SmallWorld at Home.


  1. My son was tongue-tied too. Looking back, I realize that’s the reason breastfeeding never worked with him; I’d try to nurse him for almost an hour, never feel like I let down, supplement with the bottle, and he’d drink a full meal. I gave up out of frustration, and as he got older, we realized he was tongue-tied. The nurse practitioner we saw discouraged us from doing the frenulectomy, because she wanted to see if it became an issue before we did anything about it, but finally, my hubby and I decided to do one anyway–we were afraid that he would learn to speak incorrectly. So at 18 months, he underwent minor surgery, and we have not had any of the problems you described here. Oddly enough, though, he still speaks with a lisp (he’s five now) which seems to be an issue of him sticking his tongue out too far. We joke that he got so excited that he was able to stick his tongue out, now he does it every chance he gets.

    • I’m so glad that an older nurse correctly identified my son as tongue-tied in the hospital when he was born in 2005. None of the other nurses seemed to spot it though he was having trouble latching and losing weight. We had already started him on formula when the another nurse examined me, then checked his mouth and said essentially, “yes , I thought so!” and immediately arranged to have it taken care of. The other nurses seemed surprised when I told them, maybe they had been told it wasn’t a good thing but that certainly wasn’t the case with our son. He gained weight quickly, nursed until 27 months and doesn’t have any speech problems today.

  2. Here’s a little background before I ask my question.

    My oldest is a boy and never had any speech difficulties.

    My next is a girl that used to say an F sound instead of a soft TH. She outgrew this. The only other problem she still has, is interchanging a D with a hard TH.

    My third has trouble with R, S, TH, and maybe others I can’t think of off hand. By what age do they “grow out of it”? And what age will they allow me to begin speech therapy? I do not want her to be made fun of and I want to do anything to help her.
    There are very few people who do NOT have trouble understanding her.

    • According to most charts I have read, most speech issues are resolved by age 7. The R and L sounds are the last to come generally. As far as beginning speech therapy, I think some places begin as early as age 3. I’m not sure why, exactly, since so many of the issues do resolves themselves as they get older.
      Sarah at SmallWorld’s latest post: Seeking a Professional: Our Speech Therapy Journey

      • Just an FYI, articulation disorders are only one reason why one might need speech therapy. While those issues can work themselves out, other speech issues may not or may hinder other areas of development. Children may have trouble with receptive language or with picking up on vocabulary or grammar. Language learning is over complex and a delay in any area may lead to behavior problems. So while articulation disorders may resolve themselves, some children do need speech intervention at an early age because there may be other language learning issues. Until I went back to scho for Early Childhood, I never knew this!!

      • Lauren Cohen says:

        Speech Language Pathologists also teach kids how to eat and work with feeding issues. My daughter was born with a tongue and lip tie. It was moderate and we saw an SLP to work on her nursing. She made progress and we figured all would be fine. Then she started to eat. It was a disaster. She had her tongue and lip corrected at a year and, at 20 months, is still having to work really hard to eat regular foods that kids her age eat. Part of it is the fact that she became very food averse when she was choking on everything when she first started eating. My theory on therapy is that there are professionals who dedicate entire careers to very specific needs who are wonderful and, if financially available, can make a huge difference for a child. I will continue to get my kids evaluated for any special need. I would rather err on the side of a needless evaluation than not address a potential problem.

  3. Oh I’m so glad you freed your son’s tongue. You might consider it for your older son as well – although not technically necessary, his wife will thank you after she kisses him!

  4. I think sometimes as homeschoolers it is hard to even notice that our child has a problem… our one child had an eye problem and so we are big on checking eyes in our house. Another friend didn’t even notice her child had a squint until she was ten and still wasn’t reading well. Another friend’s child had serious “interacting with other people” trouble for a number of reasons but nobody mentioned it to her because they didn’t want to hurt her feelings… I mentioned it to her and just suggested that she had her child be assessed as she was doing some “school readiness reading…” She wasn’t impressed with me at the time… but a bit of Occupational Therapy and a well-rounded happy kid years down the line, she is thrilled that I said something. I think we are each others support when it comes to homeschooling and some tactful encouragement is so much better than silence.
    se7en’s latest post: Happy Birthday Hood #1…

  5. Hi Sarah,
    I am a SLP and a homeschooling mom of a preschooler. I am so happy that your son made significant progress in so little time. You are indeed right, your attention to theraputic exercises and follow-up at home can be attributed for his success. Home practice is crucial for success.
    Congratulations and job well done,

  6. My son was also born with the same condition. He is almost 9 years old now. I am an OT and work with many Speech Therapist. They all told me to have the procedure done. I had to confince the doctor, but he did complete the procedure. I’m so happy we did it. It is a simple procedure. A lot less pain then a cicumcision.

  7. I’m so glad you were able to successfully treat and overcome your child’s difficulty.
    Although seeking professional help is difficult for some parents, I have seen so many benefits:
    Professionals are trained and experienced and have the techniques and approaches best needed to diagnose and assist correcting problems.
    Professionals frequently need to lay down some foundational skills which we must practice at home, giving both child and parent accountability. This is very important when we have some tough skills to practice.
    The therapist is a third party and the child often ‘performs’ best for them, while often refusing, giving up, crying or becoming emotional with parents.
    Lastly, therapy is very often short term. Within a few weeks or months the child succeeds and the therapy is no longer needed.
    I always encourage parents to pray. It is so important to find the ‘right’ therapist and be in unity as parents.
    Nadene’s latest post: How Gentle are Charlotte Mason’s Ways?

  8. Thank you for this timely article! My eldest son starts Speech Therapy tomorrow (after months and months on the waiting list – and years of no one believing me that he lisped!) I was feeling a little nervous.

    This has been very encouraging for me tonight.

  9. Both of my boys were born with tongue-ties. My pediatrician actually told me with the first one (baby #2 for us) that he just wouldn’t be able to nurse and I should just bottle feed him. I was appalled and angry. I had his tongue clipped by our local ENT the day we were released from the hospital. I swiftly changed doctors to a pediatrician that would clip in the hospital. Our second son was born with a tongue-tie, as well.

    My older son is 3 1/2 and although we are homeschooling, we are going to speech therapy with him. I’m not ashamed and he feels really special because he gets his own “class.” He has a hard time with the back of the mouth sounds and is very frustrated that we all don’t understand him all of the time. I’m so glad that we have this resource available to us!

  10. I’m glad your son is progressing so well 🙂 I didn’t realize that they had stopped clipping tongues..maybe because almost all my friends started having kids only within the last few years? I know that it can cause big problems for nursing and speech so I just assumed they’d always clipped if needed. My son was in speech therapy for a block of sessions to help us as parents learn tips to help him improve his vocabulary. It was a humbling experience to realize that basically, we needed help teaching our kid to speak. However, we learned lots and my son’s vocab, although still not as much as maybe some others his age, has improved greatly. (He had the therapy starting when he turned 2, and he’s almost 4 now.)
    Savannah’s latest post: Tactile Letter Cards

  11. My youngest is in speech therapy. This is the second year and while he has made improvements he still has more to go. Hopefully, by the end of this school year he will “graduate” from speech therapy. We are taking it “free” at out local public school.

  12. I’m glad you had such a great experience. We don’t have many options in our rural area and I made the mistake of inquiring with our local school district about speech therapy for our 3 year old (now 4) last year. I had heard such good things about other families’ experiences with speech therapy and I thought it would be good to take advantage of this resource that was available to us as homeschoolers too.

    It was such a disappointment. The speech therapist grilled my very active 3 y/o for a half an hour on words — pointing to object after object on a set of cards and grumpily demanding to hear what they were. He complied for about 10 minutes before he tried switching things up by standing on his head and such to answer. 🙂 She kept at it and he got more and more silly and more and more bored.

    At one point, I asked what speech therapy would look like for him, thinking that this was just necessary drudgery to find out where he placed on her scale. “This,” she told me. He’d have a half hour of drilling words with her every week in her windowless office. I decided we wouldn’t use the school’s help after all.

    My husband called as soon as I got home and told him my verdict, and politely informed them that we’d decided to hold off a while longer before doing services after all. The therapist asked for that in writing. I typed up a letter and dropped it off. The therapist sent a letter saying that we were now supposed to attend a meeting with the principal and herself about our son’s needs. We called and politely said no. The therapist called and demanded to know why we hadn’t come to her meeting. We explained that we had called and canceled and did not want to attend any meetings. The therapist mailed us a huge packet of paperwork containing our son’s IEP (Individual Education Plan, which they prepare for special needs students at the schools). At three years old, our son already had a file thicker than my hand from a school we did not plan for him to ever attend. She finally left us alone, but the whole experience felt strangely like when a salesman tries to sell you something on commission and then won’t stop calling to try to get your credit card number. I can only figure that funding and numbers are a motivation here.

    So for now we’re taking a “wait and see” approach and working on things ourselves. He’s only 4 and we figure we have a little time. At least I know that I can hold up cards and ask for words as well as the next person…. 😉
    Magic and Mayhem’s latest post: Thanks to Shakespeare

  13. My son is 7 and still says W for R sometimes. My DD (now 10) used to say F for S, but outgrew it by age 5 as her pediatrician said she would. I don’t know if I should seek out therapy or see how it progresses with my son. I don’t want to jump the gun, but I don’t want to be too lax either.

  14. The youngest 2 of my 3 children both have speech articulation issues. Like you, I ignored this problem in my middle child for several years, assuming she’d outgrow it — after all, her older brother hadn’t had any speech problems and her pediatrician supported my wait-and-see approach. But when my youngest began speaking, his articulation issues were really severe, and our pediatrician recommended early intervention services offered through the state. The state paid for an SLP to come to our home and do this therapy. After seeing the great progress he was able to make, we decided to get our daughter evaluated. Unfortunately, she was too old for early intervention by that time, and has to go through the public school system, which means that the school has waaaay too much involvement in our day-to-day lives as homeschoolers. I hadn’t considered that a private SLP might be something we could afford. This is definitely something we’ll have to consider!!

  15. Thank you for this. My son is having problems with something completely unrelated, but it’s good to hear that sometimes you just can’t do it all. Food for thought.

  16. This is an encouraging, informative post — thank you.

    My third child, now 15 months old, was the first child to latch on nursing. However, we were having PROBLEMS galore! The lactation consultant we saw pointed to his frenulum immediately and recommended we see a dentist to have it clipped. We did, and it helped — although nobody warned me it would get worse before it got better. Thankfully, we made it through, and he re-learned how to nurse.

    The dentist we saw was Dr Greg Notestine in Beavercreek near Dayton, OH: He’s part of a group of people — including LLL, etc — trying to make this issue of tongue-tie more well-known. If you search his name + tongue-tie you will come up with a lot of interesting testimonies, research, resources, etc.
    Glory’s latest post: ‘In the Home a Thousand Rich Opportunities Occur’

  17. I’m a speech pathologist and your experience is so nice to hear as well as validating.

    Magic and mayhem, I’m sorry your experience was less satisfactory. We don’t like that paper work or the meetings any more than you do, but unfortunately, they have to occur secondary to state and federal law. Nobody got extra numbers or money for your child’s evaluation, but they had to document that your child qualified for services and they were offered to you and you refused. Red tape and paper trails. Yuck for everyone. How is that for articulate?

  18. I regularly sing the praises of speech therapy! My son was 6 when he started speech therapy not because he was tongue tied but he mispronounced several sounds. I became concerned when he started spelling the words like he pronounced them and then I noticed that he was becoming self conscious of his speech. We both loved his therapist – she did a great job and he made rapid progress. In just a few months he was finished and I was amazed at how much confidence he had when he knew he could say the sounds correctly. I still, a year later, have people tell me they can’t believe how clearly he can talk now. Speech therapy is not cheep but it was definitely some of the best money we’ve every spent.

  19. I think learning an instrument can sometimes fit in under the umbrella of homeschool-mom-can’t-do-it all. I even know moms who know how to play the piano well, who have paid for their children to take piano lessons from someone else. We have to do what we can do and delegate the rest if possible.

  20. I wish had a positive experience with speech therapy. My daughter had undiagnosed fluid in her ear until tubes were finally placed at 2 1/2 years. At that point, my baby had 50 words, almost none expressed correctly, and was just starting to combine 2 word phrases. She was assessed at being in the 14% nationwide. I did what I was supposed to do and signed her up for speech. Her therapist was terrible. She kept insuitating that my daughter had autism and that was the reason she wasn’t speaking. She frequently spouted a lot of incorrect development statements (like all kids should be able to count to 10 before age 3). Worse of all, she said it in front of my daughter. I pulled her out and worked with her myself and sent her to a Montessori school. At almost 4 years old, my daughter is understood *most* of the time. We stll have work to do, but we’re getting there. She is reading, beginning stages, but reading, and earlier than most children. She can now count to 10…and 20. Most importantly, she sings at circle, plays hide n’ seek with other children, and has friends. We may have to and we are willing to seek out another therapist if necessary, but I know I made the right decision pulling her from that therapist. I am so thankful that I knew enough not to listen to that “professional.”

  21. My little guy is 4 and can not say V –it will come out sounding as a W. For example his name is Colvin; however, when he pronounces it, it sounds like Colwin. Does anyone know if this is common? Is it something that will resolve or should be address by a speech therapist? Thanks!

  22. We currently have our child in speech therapy (for s, z, l, st, g and k sounds). I did try as well to help her at home, but it wasn’t helping at all. So since we personally cannot afford the cost of private (very high here, your cost seems small to me) we are doing weekly sessions at the public school. Its not ideal for me, and it does bother me some, but its the only thing that I could figure out to help my child. It is definately helpful that I can be there in the session to see what they are doing with her, ask questions, and then practice it with her at home. However it is also hard work.

    I was told that certain sounds should come at certain ages. I imagine this is listed somewhere on the internet as a list. I can’t find my list right now. So therefore its common for young children to say certain things the wrong way- for a while. And then they are supposed to learn them the right way. It just happens for most children. For others, it doesn’t.

    I highly recommend getting help vs. trying to do it at home. I can now easily help her at home now that a person actually trained in this showed me how. They were more than willing to help train me to help her.

  23. Karen B. says:

    A little over 31 years ago, I told my family doctor that my two- week old daughter was tongue tied. He told me that they didn’t do lingual frenectomies anymore. She did fail to thrive for a couple of weeks, but we attributed that to being premature rather than a sucking issue. She also had numerous ear infections and had tubes put in twice. Flash forward 3 years, her speech in unintelligible and we are convinced to go seek speech therapy. When we arrive, the immediate recommendation is a, wanna guess? Yep a frenectomy. The dentist and the doctor still refuse. After 9 months of therapy, my daughter’s speech was fine and still is. I still think that the frenectomy would have been a big help, although she would have missed impressing people with her divided tongue. When she stuck out her tongue it stuck out on each side of her mouth but not in the center.
    Now I have a new challenge. My grandson’s mother, son’s wife, has had a lot of illness and he spent many weeks living with me. At first I thought he might need speech therapy, but as I have played nonsense sound repeating games it seems that he can say all of the sounds that a three year old should be able to say. However, he does not talk well. By that I mean, he uses almost no verbs, only rare two word sentences such as “no eat” or “eat now.” Do any of you know of good resources to encourage language acquisition at home? While we are not opposed to professional help, there are already too many appointments for his mom so not going out if we don’t need, to would help.

    • I do not know of resources off hand but it sounds like a disorder or semantics and syntax, so maybe start by googling that?

  24. Alas, unfortunately many children have this problem with lisp. The help of a speech therapy professional is very important so that treatment can be quick and effective.

  25. My friend has a lisp. I know that it’s hard to correct the tongue when your already an adult. So it is important to have your kid a therapy while still young.

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