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.