When parents have a concern about their child’s speech and/or language development, seeking out help earlier is better. Communication is a foundational skill upon which we as humans build our lives.

We build friendships and make connections with other humans through communication. We share laughter, joy and tears in story-telling and re-telling. We connect over meals by talking about our day. We catch up with a friend we have not seen in a while via telephone or video-calls. We play games and talk about who’s winning, who’s losing and, maybe, who’s cheating. We greet strangers while walking our dogs.

Communication helps us make connections. Every. Single. Day.

Waiting to seek out the opinion and evaluation by a professional delays the ability of a child to make those connections. It may not prohibit connections altogether at first, because let’s face it:

1) children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, are inherently cute and that cuteness factor draws people, adults in particular, in and they attempt those connections with waving, smiling, pinching cheeks and peek-a-boo games without being asked;

and

2) toddler & preschool-aged children are less likely to notice or care about communication deficits because they understand each other differently than adults understand children and they are also experiencing growth and changes in how their own speech and language sounds.

Those connections, however, will dwindle as a child ages. Soon, adults will have found a different cute face to entertain with their goofy facial expressions and peers will begin noticing the differences and shying away. Peers don’t do this because they want to be unfriendly and many may not even realize they are doing it; they do it because a deficit in communication skills makes those without deficits uncomfortable.

This is true for all ages. People become uncomfortable when they cannot communicate with others with traditional means, which is talking. I’ve seen it with adults recovering from a stroke–friends of decades disappear slowly because they don’t know how to communicate with their now disordered-communicating friend. I’ve seen it with children who feel uncomfortable because they don’t know how to interact or respond to a peer who uses behavior for communication instead of language.

Those possibilities seem far far away in the distance because your loving, kind-hearted child is still developing and maybe no one else has said anything or the pediatrician hasn’t voiced concern. I get it. I’m a parent. I have two children who are growing and developing in such different ways from each other. No one wants to think their child needs help from a specialist. No one.

Waiting, however, doesn’t dissipate the concern nor does it alleviate the problem if one exists. Evaluating helps in both ways.

A speech and language evaluation will determine:

1) if there is a deficit or if the area of concern is something that is ‘developmentally appropriate’

2) if therapy or other intervention (i.e. medical help) is appropriate

Similar to all those developmental milestones your pediatrician wants to see happening for physical growth, speech-language pathologists also have developmental milestones we want to see for communication growth. The speech and language milestones start when children are babies. That’s right. Beyond the first notorious communication milestone of crying, babies should coo and babble. These are the earliest versions of speech. That vocal play is important.

As children age, we expect them to start saying one word, then two word utterances. We expect a small vocabulary about about 50 words around 18 months and then some rapid expansion to about 200 words around age 2. This expansion continues exponentially.

But we’re looking for so much more than just words. That is one small fraction of what we evaluate with young children.

We’re looking at play skills. After all, children learn through play, as I previously wrote about. Play is essential to learning and building language, speech and communication skills. We’re looking for joint attention–this is the skill of being able to attend to a shared activity, such as reading a book, playing peek-a-boo, acting out a nursery rhyme. We’re looking for interaction skills, which are the skills that help build and develop language.

We’re also looking for receptive language skills–not just verbal expression. Receptive language is how much a child understands. A baby who is approaching 12 months should turn to his or her name being called, for example. A young child should be able to start following simple directions.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association just partnered with Read Aloud 15 Minutes and together created handouts to highlight the speech & language milestones expected at each stage started from birth through age 5 and how reading relates to these milestones. This is a great resource. Parents can use this to see if something they may have concerns about merits contacting a speech-language pathologist.

We’re also looking for motor skills–this include coordination, strength and mobility of the body parts involved in speech-sound production (i.e. think tongue, lips, jaw, breathing, etc.).

When a child has a speech & language deficit, delaying treatment will only lengthen the amount of therapy necessary to fix or improve the area of concern. As a child continues to age, the expectations continue to increase, so the gap between what is considered age-appropriate and what is below age-expectations continues to widen. This means there are more and more skills to bring up to the age-appropriate level.

A very simple comparison for speech and language development is building blocks. All of those skills we are looking for when children are babies, toddlers and then preschoolers are foundational to communication, the base blocks of a block tower, if you will. Without the base, the tower cannot stand. Speech and language is the same–without those early communication skills, the more complex language skills cannot be solidly acquired and put to use.

Often, this results in academic and literacy struggles. Children with speech-sound disorders (articulation, phonology, etc.) and language disorders are at a higher risk for literacy challenges.

Catching a problem earlier, however, helps set the child up for a better chance at success because they are not working on remediation of speech and/or language at the same time as they are learning new skills, such as learning to read.

Earlier is better for long-term academic outcomes; earlier is better for long-term social interactions; earlier is better to reduce undesired behaviors that may be used in place of verbal communication when none exists; earlier is better to reduce the amount of therapy a child will need.

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Speech With Sara LLC offers comprehensive evaluation services for speech-sound disorders, orofacial myofunctional impairments (tongue thrusts, orthodontic relapse, weak lip closure, etc.), receptive/expressive language and literacy development & remediation.

Have questions about your child’s speech and language development, contact Speech With Sara LLC, 313-815-7916 or email: sara@speechwithsara.com. 

Don’t Let the Cuteness Factor Trick You: Early Intervention is Best

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