AUTHOR: Patricia Chambers, CCC-SLP, PhD

Speech and Language

Communication Disorders: Approaches to Early Intervention

If your child is a late talker or has other challenges with communication, early intervention will likely be recommended. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can work with you to develop communication goals and objectives. These goals are usually updated at least every six months. That’s because young children can change very quickly during their developmental growth spurts.

A recent research review about treatment of communication disorders in young children came to two clear conclusions:

  • Early intervention for all types of communication disorders can be effective and more efficient than that provided at later ages.
  • Sound clinical judgment is needed to determine the treatment goals, settings and procedures that are best for any given child’s needs

Styles of Intervention

Three basic styles of therapeutic interventions are commonly used to facilitate communication, language and speech development. These styles include:

  • Therapist-directed approaches
  • Child-centered approaches
  • Combinations of the two approaches

Therapist-directed approaches are what most people think of when they imagine what “speech therapy” might look like. These approaches include traditional drill play. This is when the child practices the speech sounds for a certain number of times and then gets to take a turn at a game or other preferred activity. These approaches also include modeling correct speech production by the SLP. The approach is generally structured with clear targets and corrective guidance offered by the SLP.

Child-centered approaches may also be called indirect language stimulation, facilitative play or naturalistic. This approach focuses on teaching communication skills the way most typically developing children naturally develop their skills, by playing and interacting with others. Parents who watch this type of therapy often remark that it seems as if the SLP is “only playing” with the child. It is well-known among early interventionists that “play is the work of childhood.” In this approach, the SLP follows the child’s lead and adds language to each activity. Children pay attention when adults act like good playmates.

Combinations of these two methods can expand the types of activities and environments to meet the needs of each individual child. Following the child’s lead is still an important component of this approach.


McClean, L.K. & Cripe, J.W. (1997) The effectiveness of early intervention for children with communicative disorders. In Guralnik, M.J. (Ed.) The effectiveness of early intervention. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brooks Publishing.

California Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2002) Preferred practice patterns for speech-language pathologists in service delivery to infants and toddlers and their families. Sacramento, CA: California Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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