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Identifying speech delays in children


You have a 3 yr. old son daughter who does not seem to speak as he should. Or you find that your 3 yr. old says only a few words and his friends communicate much better than him. Worse still, you notice that his elder sibling was able to say almost full sentences by this age. You hope, or may be your friends tell you that it is ok, and that your child will outgrow it soon. You think your child may just be a late talker. And therefore, you postpone seeking professional assistance.

Possible causes of speech delay range from genetic / biological to psychosocial factors. Before you think of delaying professional help, it is important that you know what is normal and what is not–so–normal. Below are some general speech & language development landmarks:

  • Around 9 months of age, most babies string sounds together without realizing their meanings, example, ‘mama’ / ‘dada’. Before 12 months of age, the child should be able to recognize the names of common objects, such as bottle.
  • Between the 12th to 15th months, children are usually able to say a few words, like nouns, for example, baby, ball, etc. They also should be able to understand / follow simple directions, like, throw the ball.
  • By 2 yrs. of age, most children are able to combine two words, like baby crying; follow two step commands; & identify common objects.
  • By 3 yrs. of age, children are able to combine 2-3 words into sentences; identify colours; & differentiate between big vs. little.

A toddler not responding to sound or his name is a cause for concern. Some other warning signs which indicate that you need to seek professional help, without further delay, are:

 

Between 1 to 2 yrs. of age, the child is:

  • Not using gestures to point at objects;
  • Has trouble imitating sounds; &
  • Has difficulty understanding simple verbal requests.

 

After 2 yrs. of age, if:

  • The child is imitating only sounds, and does not produce phrases or words;
  • The child is unable to follow simple directions; and
  • It is more difficult to understand the child, as compared to his / her peers.

 

Professionals who can help, if your child is showing signs of speech delay:

  • Teacher / Staff at your child’s day care can offer helpful information, regarding your child’s speech & behaviour patterns.
  • Speech- Language Pathologist: They will assess your child’s speech and language skills in the context of the overall development. They will also assess what your child understands; what your child can say; & sound development & clarity.
  • Audiologist: When speech is a concern, one of the first things to rule out is hearing difficulties. An audiologist can tell you how your child’s hearing could be interfering with his speech development.
  • Psychologist: In cases where the speech difficulties can be attributed to emotional factors, a psychologist can help. Psychologists usually employ tried methods like play therapy for dealing with children displaying speech issues.
  • Pediatrician: Your child’s pediatrician has been around since he was born and can offer helpful insights into your child’s developmental patterns.

Speech development is a complex phenomenon, and while a trained professional can help your child, it is also important that you undertake certain simple measures at home to facilitate appropriate speech development. Some of these measures are:

  1. Talk to your child repeatedly, even when he does not repeat after you. Emphasize on keywords, for e.g., repeat the word ‘paint’, every time your child is painting.
  2. Read to your child and start at an early age, say 6 months. Also include him in the process by pointing at pictures. Start with classic picture books and then go on to nursery rhymes.
  3. Use everyday situations to reinforce your child’s speech & language. Take him shopping for groceries, and keep showing items & repeating to your child what you are buying. At home, point out objects/ while driving point out sounds & objects & so on.
  4. Completely avoid baby talk, even when your child is at his adorable best. Always speak to them in full clear words & sentences.

Don’t wait for your child to outgrow a speech and / or language problem. Early detection leads to early treatment. The earlier you get help for your child, the better.

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Shobhika Jaju is a NET qualified psychologist who would love to be reborn as a shrink every single time. She is the founder of Silver Linings: Guidance & Counselling Centre, in South Goa, & hence is effectively putting her love for psychotherapy & her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology to good use. Shobhika also works at Little’s School, Fatorda (Goa) & writes for several print and online media on a regular basis. She facilitates workshops on topics promoting personal enhancement & spreading mental health awareness. She is affiliated to the American Psychological Association, Bombay Psychological Association, Goa Psychological Association & the Movement for Global Mental Health. Her website can be accessed at silverliningsgoa.com.


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