Speech and Language Screening: Well-Child Health Care Fact Sheet

Screening tests, conducted to identify health conditions that might need further assessment in an examination, are an important part of well-child health care. In this fact sheet, health managers, health staff and disability coordinators will find the basic components of the screening for speech and language defects.

The following is an excerpt from Well-Child Health Care: Making It Happen.

What Is Speech and Language Screening?
How Is Speech and Language Screening Done?
What Might I Observe?
Follow-Up to Speech and Language Screening

What is speech and language screening?

Speech and language screening assesses a child's abilities in the areas of:

  • Voice (tone, loudness)
  • Articulation (pronouncing sounds)
  • Fluency (stuttering)
  • Language (understanding and using words)

How is speech and language screening done?

Speech and language screening is done by a health professional or trained staff, parent, or volunteer. Children should be screened in their primary language. A standardized screening tool should be used. The screening asks questions and gives the child things to observe, think about, and then respond to verbally.

What might I observe?

  • Speech that is:
    - limited compared to other children at that age
    - not easily understood
    - very loud or soft, or sounds unusual
  • Difficulty understanding instructions, following directions, and communicating with other children and adults
  • Frequent ear infections or allergies

Follow-up to speech and language screening

If a child's speech and language skills fall below the "normal range" for his age, he should be rescreened. If he "fails" a second time, he should be referred to a health care provider for further evaluation and treat- ment. Evaluation should also consider the results of the hearing test, developmental screening, medical and dental exams.

Treatment may include:

  • Medications
  • Speech therapy
  • Dental work
  • Hearing aid devices
  • Sign language instruction
  • Special education services
  • Lip reading instruction
  • Surgery such as "ear tubes" to help prevent ear infections
  • Mental health counseling/consultation for the child, family, and staff

Speech and language are important for learning and communicating with others. Early assessment and treatment of speech problems can help promote a child's development and relationships. Unidentified hearing loss often manifests as a speech or language problem, so be sure to obtain information on the child’s current hearing status.

"Speech and Language Screening: Well-Child Health Care Fact Sheet." Well-Child Health Care: Making It Happen. Training Guides for the Head Start Learning Community. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 1998. English.

Last Reviewed: April 2015

Last Updated: August 9, 2016