I have had so many parents (friends included) that have been hesitant to put their child in speech therapy because that means he/she will be in special education. Let me tell you what I tell them to help ease your mind if this is where you find yourself.
Yes, Speech Therapy falls under special education. Why? Well, your child needs to work on things outside of the regular curriculum (even if it's just to work on the /l/ sound). Therefore, we need to have a legal document saying that he/she will receive a certain amount of services to work on those extra goals. That document is called an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Many parents are afraid of the IEP. However, it is there to protect YOU and YOUR CHILD!!! The entire document is created with your child in mind to help your child. If it's not being followed, then you have the power to do something about it! So, the IEP is GOOD thing!
One of the main concerns that I have heard from parents of kids as young as 3 years old is, "if my child enters special education now, does it mean he will be there forever?" Not necessarily. If your child is starting speech therapy in the school system at 3, then your child will have an IEP while he/she is being served by the speech therapist. However, it doesn't mean that he/she will have to remain in speech therapy through graduation of high school. It simply means that he/she will be in special education until he/she is on track with the rest of his/her peers. For some kids, they are out of speech therapy before entering Kindergarten. For other kids, they do need the extra help until graduation. It depends on how severe your child's delay is, what area it is in, and if there are other delays that need to be addressed. My advice is to take it one day at a time, work on the things the speech therapist sends home, and keep in good communication with your speech therapist. Your therapist is there to help you - whether that means calm your fears or help you work on things at home.
If you are unaware, a child can receive speech therapy services by a government run program as young as birth. From birth through age 3, children are served by an early intervention program. This program has different names in different areas. Starting at age 3, the child is served at his/her home elementary school. The parent must bring the child to the school at the designated time that the parent and speech therapist work out.
A friend of mine's son was not talking at the age of 2, almost 3. Speech therapy was recommended. My friend called me because she was afraid to have him have an IEP and have the "label" of speech therapy. Because I knew this little boy, I also knew that he was smart. I was confident that he needed a little extra help from a speech therapist and they needed a little extra guidance at home. He entered speech therapy and it wasn't long before he was talking up a storm. The best benefit was that his frustration level was reduced! I've seen kids as young as 18 months old. One particular child who was 18 months old was in speech therapy for less than 6 months and is now doing great. Am I a miracle worker? Nope. I simply was able to train that parent on what to do at home and throughout the day. Are they all success stories? Not all of my speech students graduate from speech therapy. Some are in speech therapy for a long haul. However, these kids NEED it. If your child needs the extra help, then an IEP and Special Education is there to help your child. It may take some time to be ok with that, but just understand that Special Education Teachers (speech therapists included) have your child's best interests at heart when it comes to his/her education and we want to work with you.
You see the labels on all toys these days, "0-6 months", "3 years+", etc. However, is it really something that you should pay attention to? YES!! And it's not just because of safety.
Of course, the first reason that age limits are put on toys is for safety. That is always one concern. You will always want to make sure that your child can't choke on small pieces on the toy.
A second reason to pay attention to the age appropriate labels is for developmental reasons. Kids should be able to be allowed to explore their toys on their own from time to time. You should always supervise, but you may not be right there to activate the toys or help the child in whatever way necessary. When kids (especially 1-2 year olds) are on their own, they will abandon a toy if it gets too difficult. Therefore, having toys that are above their developmental level is of no use because he/she will walk away from it before "learning" anything through exploration. A child who is placed with toys at his/her developmental level, however, will play with the toys for an extended period of time and learn through discovery.
Older children, when faced with a toy that is above his/her developmental level, can simply become frustrated. My little cousin was trying to play with a remote control truck, but it was really too hard for him when he was 3. He became frustrated and threw the truck. So instead of leaving the truck for another toy, his mother had to diffuse the situation that had resulted in anger and frustration.
Now, notice that I have said "developmental" level and not age level. You must know your child and know what developmental level he/she is at when choosing toys. If your child is behind motorically, then you may want a simpler toy that requires gross motor skills rather than fine motor skills. If your child excels in this area, then you can probably give him/her more advanced toys. The same goes for language development. The toys that are too easy for your child may still be enjoyable, but your child will not be challenged or will not learn anything new from it. You have to make the call as to when it is time to put the toy away - either to hold onto it for the next child or give it away. If you are not sure what level your child is at, then simply place toys in his/her play area and watch. You will be able to see what your child is interested in (my son loves books, blocks, puzzles, and cars) and what toys are appropriate for him/her to play with on his own.
Don't get rid of the toys that are too hard. One thing you can do is put them away for later. You could also put them in a spot out of sight for your child and take them out when you have time to help your child with them. This will give your child a "new experience" and you will be helping to teach your child the skill that he/she is lacking to operate the toy on his/her own.
Another thought is that battery operated toys typically need an adult's help to operate. Try to find non-battery operated toys for when your child is playing on his/her own.