A preschooler’s ability to speak effectively and understand language affects more than just their ability to say simple phrases like “hello” and “good morning”– it deeply impacts their capacity to comprehend and apply everything taught to them in the classroom. These skills range from math, science and the arts to basic social skills. A child with an untreated speech-language disorder will experience impediments in sharing their answers with the class, raising questions about lessons, and interacting with other classmates during group work, putting them behind on a path towards graduation and college readiness.
The Jacksonville Speech & Hearing Center, a United Way partner, combats issues associated with untreated speech-language disorders through its Preschool Screening Initiative. Since 2013, the initiative has provided speech-language services to low-income children ages 2-5 at no cost to their families. Through the initiative, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) travel to preschools and daycares in Duval County’s health zone 1 (where poverty is most prevalent in Jacksonville) to administer speech-language screenings.
The results of each screening ultimately provide the means for early detection and diagnosis for potential communication disorders, enabling the Center’s SLPs to help preschoolers cultivate speech and language skills on grade level with their peers. These early-intervention practices are not merely a matter of ensuring high-quality education, but a matter of ensuring equitable education opportunities for all preschoolers, regardless of a child’s socioeconomic background.
Studies have shown socioeconomic differences in language input place lower-income preschoolers at a higher risk for developing delayed or disordered communication. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, untreated speech and language delay is present in up to 10 percent of preschoolers. Jacksonville Speech & Hearing Center’s experience in screening preschoolers in Duval County’s health zone 1, indicates this number is approximately 67 percent, 57 percentage points higher than the national average.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, this disparity can be attributed to differences in parent-child interactions across socioeconomic status that affect a child’s language development. By age 4, children from more affluent families hear an average of 45 million words from caregivers, while children living in poverty hear an average of 13 million words. This “30 million word gap,” attributed to lower education associated with poverty, has an adverse impact on a child’s ability to grasp vocabulary and form complex thoughts. Practical concerns associated with poverty also prevent low-income caregivers from engaging in responsive interactions with their children such as reading and play that are essential for language development.
However, early speech-language and hearing intervention can provide children with the resources needed to develop the communication skills essential for academic and personal success. Last year, the Preschool Screening Initiative provided 241 screenings over the course of 28 different preschool visits. With further evaluation, 100 children received referrals, with 20 ultimately receiving subsidized therapy due to lack of insurance. Without the Preschool Screening Initiative, it is likely 90 percent of the children treated would have entered school without receiving screenings and proper treatment.
With the support of United Way, agencies like Jacksonville Speech & Hearing Center are able to help families and individuals in Northeast Florida have hope and reach their full potential.
To learn how you can join United Way in the fight for community change, visit unitedwaynefl.org/get-involved.