All children are born with some ability to communicate their feelings and thoughts. A baby’s first cry to his first smile and his laugh, all are related to his ability and desire to express. But children take to time to develop complex communication pattern, including speech and language acquisition. Children have their own milestones in terms of when they coo, when they utter their first words, when they respond in phrases and when they speak small sentences. However, with some children, the development of speech and language may take more time than other infants and toddlers while some other children may have clear difficulties in language acquisition. In this article, we try to help parents, caregivers, therapists and teachers to deal with children presenting delays in language and speech.
Before discussing the strategies involved in dealing with speech delay in toddlers, let us understand some of the basic milestones associated with speech and language development among children.
Newborns have the ability to localize a sound after being born and they may turn their heads to look in the direction of the sound. Infants imitate sounds and have monosyllabic babbling (ba, da, ga, goo) which usually begins by 4-8 months. Polysyllabic babbling involves repeating of vowels and consonants (bababaa, lalalala) and begins y 5-9 months.
By 6 to 12 months of age, infants may begin saying small individual words like mama, papa, and dada. By 14 to 21 months, a child is able to follow commands without a gesture. By 16-20, a child is able to tell two single words like milk, water, more and juice. At 14-18 months, a child can point towards one or more body parts. By second birthday, a child may be able to make two word combination and sentences like want milk, more juice etc. At this point, a child’s vocabulary is more than 50 words. A child uses pronouns by 19-26 months and by 30 months, pronouns are used appropriately. By 26 months, a child can put together simple sentences and understand prepositional commands by 27 to 34 months. By 3 years, at least 2/3rd of his speech is understandable by strangers while by 4 years his vocabulary must be well over 600 words.
Some signs may indicate speech delays or problems with language acquisition. If a child is babbling by 1 year or doesn’t try to mock sounds, if by 18 months, he hasn’t said at least one word. At 2 years, if a child communicates through pointing or his vocabulary is shrunk, at 2.5 years, a child has a vocabulary of less than 50 words. Most importantly, a child may suffer from speech delays if his pronunciation is totally incomprehensible to the strangers.
If you feel that your child is suffering from speech delays, then you must visit a speech therapist to rule out any disorders and try speech therapy to enhance language acquisition. Here are some tips that can help dealing with speech delay in toddlers.
1. Seeking evaluation
Parents must seek an evaluation if their child is over two years old but cannot produce words spontaneously, is unable to use oral language to communicate immediate needs, can’t follow simple instructions and is difficult to be understood than expected for her/his age. Parents must also understand that boys’ develop their speech a little later than girls, so don’t compare their development with a girl child of the same age group. A speech therapist or a child psychologist can determine whether a child is just a ‘late talker’ or has some physiological problem.
2. Dealing with the cause of speech delay
Some children with an expressive delay in speech and language acquisition are ‘late talkers.’ These kids gradually develop normal speech and language without any treatment. But there isn’t any way to differentiate between a late talker and a child who requires treatment. Therefore, even if a child shows possible delay symptoms till the age of 2-4 years, then parents must consult a therapist rather than waiting for the situation to improve.
Some children may experience delay in speech because of hearing problems. Hence, if your therapist asks you get your child checked then have your child’s hearing formally tested.
Other less common causes of speech delays include mental retardation of prevalence of pervasive development disorders like autism. Remember that a child’s speech delay isn’t caused by the child being lazy, tongue-tied or living in bilingual family.
In case you child is not a late-talker then you must refer your child to an early childhood intervention program, so that a psychologist and a speech therapist could initiate her/his evaluation and treatment.
3. Reading to the child
If your child is a late-talker, or suffers from any of the mentioned medical conditions then you must read to your child. In fact, you must read to your child even if their speech and language abilities are developing normally. Use picture books, point to the image and name familiar objects. This will initiate the process of learning and recognizing. Reading to a child is a great activity as it allows you to form good emotional bond with your child and also helps speech and language development.
4. Use simple language
Use simple language when you are conversing with your child and ask him questions. Narrate instructions nicely and ask him what s/he is doing.
5. Positive reinforcement
As a parent, you must always respond to child’s speech and give her/him positive feedback and reinforcement when s/he responds. In fact, you must respond to a child’s babbling. Children whose parents respond to babbling and talk to them even when their language is not developed, tend to acquire language and speech earlier than those whose parents are lesser responsive.
6. Be patient
If your child suffers from a developmental disorder or a medical condition, then be patient. Forgive your child’s errors and don’t compare her/him with other kids. Whenever a child responds in single words or simple phrases appreciate him and transform those small phrases into longer sentences. For instance, if your child says, ‘Mommy juice,’ give him the thing and say, ‘Do you want some juice?’ or ‘I want more juice.’
7. Don’t force your child
Never withhold something that your child wants until he asks for the thing. If your child is experiencing speech delays, then don’t wait for him to ask for something verbally. Provide him the thing even if he points at it. For instance, if your child points at milk, then ask him, ‘Do you want milk?’ and give it to him. Forcing a child to talk can increase your child’s frustration.
Becoming parents is a wonderful bliss, although, it is emotionally draining to deal with a child experiencing speech delay. But as parents, you need to be strong and focused while dealing with your child’s speech and language delay. As parents, you need to help your child learn and reduce his stress that may come with the delay. Following these steps can help you deal with this developmental delay. Be positive and appreciative about your child’s qualities.