As parents and teachers of young children, we have a lot to worry about. We are constantly keeping track of how well our children or students eat, sleep, move, grow and learn. Sometimes, our friends and family help us to know what’s expected at each age. For instance, when my daughter turned 1, my friends and family were always asking, “Has she started walking yet?” It was the topic of every phone call from every relative around that time. And, when she didn’t walk until 14 months (still well within the range of normal, mind you!), I have to admit that I was a bit worried about it because of the questions I’d been fielding for months!
But the thing is, those questions from family members and friends were actually helpful (although somewhat stressful!) as they let me know what was expected at that age for my daughter. Without the idea that my baby should be walking soon being planted in my head, I might not have given her as many opportunities to try to walk on her own.
Thinking back to that time in my life when I had a very young child, I recently realized that none of my friends or family members ever called to ask, “Is your infant making eye contact and laughing and smiling at you?” No one asked, “Does your toddler use gestures like pointing and waving yet?” No one asked, “Can strangers understand her speech now that she’s 2?” or, “Does your 2-year-old combine two words together like “mommy sock”?”
And that, friends, is something I’d like to change.
I’d like for the average grandparent or aunt or best friend to know what is expected at each age regarding communication development. Can you imagine what a clear picture my best friend would have had about the expectations for speech and language development for her 18-month-old son, if all of her friends had constantly asked her, “Does he know about 20 words yet?” Had my friends asked, “Does she turn when you call her name?” when my toddler daughter was having recurrent ear infections, it might’ve given me the impetus I needed to ask the pediatrician about pressure equalization (PE) tubes a few months sooner. If only the early signs of communication disorders were common knowledge, it would be so helpful for worried parents trying to figure out if they should seek help for their child who isn’t yet talking.
Identifying the Signs
For this reason, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recently started a campaign called Identify the Signs to help raise awareness of the early warning signs of communication disorders. This year-long campaign seeks to educate parents and caregivers (and grandparents, aunts and best friends!) about speech, language and hearing issues. A recent poll of ASHA’s members (speech-language pathologists and audiologists—the professionals who treat these disorders) found that lack of awareness of the warning signs is the leading barrier to early detection and treatment. Please visit www.IdentifytheSigns.org to learn about the early warning signs of communication disorders and find information on how to get help. I’ll also review key points here.
The following are some key signs of communication disorders in children ages birth to 4 years old:
- Does not interact socially (infancy and older)
- Does not follow or understand what you say (starting at 1 year)
- Says only a few sounds, words or gestures (18 months to 2 years)
- Words are not easily understood (18 months to 2 years)
- Does not combine words (starting at 2 years)
- Struggles to say sounds or words (3 to 4 years)
If you notice any of these signs in your child or student, it’s important to seek out evaluation and treatment. (Or, if you notice them in a grandchild, niece or nephew or best friend’s child, speak up!) As a speech language pathologist, I know that early intervention (beginning before the age of 3) is important. By treating the symptoms of communication disorders early, treatment is often less expensive and takes less time. So, don’t just worry about it—take action! Use ASHA’s searchable database of certified speech-language-hearing professionals to find professionals in your area who can help.
Helping Your Child With Communication Difficulty
If you have a child or student with communication difficulty, there are ways you can help him or her right now. First of all, talk with your young child. Narrate your thoughts and actions and describe your child’s actions. I often encourage parents and early childhood teachers to be “diaper sportscasters,” talking babies through the steps involved in changing a diaper (which happens, oh, maybe a zillion times a day!). Also, encourage your child to talk and interact with you.
Second, read with your young child. Reread their favorite books over and over, as many times as they would like to hear them. (This is an excellent video from the Rollins Center for Language & Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School about research-based strategies to build language while reading with young children.) Be silly and make reading times fun and enjoyable for both of you. Talk about the book as you read it—don’t just read the text straight through. Ask questions and help your child answer them. These strategies help build your young child’s language skills.
Finally, monitor your child’s hearing. Even if your child passed a hearing screening at birth, have your child’s hearing tested by a pediatric audiologist if you are concerned about speech or language.
I hope that now you can Identify the Signs of communication disorders. And now, I’m off to call my friends to ask whether their toddlers are using more than just a few words, gestures or sounds yet. And I think I’ll call my sister-in-law, too, to ask her whether we can video chat so that I can see my brilliant tiny nephew smiling and interacting socially, as is expected at his age!
How will you help those around you to “Identify the Signs” of communication disorders this week?