As your child begins to express himself, it’s common to hear mispronounced words and sounds that are barely audible at a young age. However, as he continues to develop and does not correct the pronunciations naturally or exhibits signs of a stutter, it may be time to enlist the help of speech therapists in the community or within your school district.
The good news is that you can also help your child develop his speech at home. Through fun activities and lessons that will keep your little one talking and expressing himself, your child’s speech and communication skills will continue to develop.
Early Identification is Key
According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), concern about a speech or language delay should occur if your child is not speaking by the age of one, if his language or speech is different from that of children his age and if the speech is not clear.
A speech delay can significantly affect your child’s social, personal and academic life if not addressed. Early identification is key. According to the LDA, a child can quickly fall behind in learning or communicating with others if speech and language learning is delayed. Early identification includes evaluation and treatment for children who are three years old or younger.
Generally, children acquire speech and language skills naturally through exposure and experience with the language in their environment, says Lori Heisler, assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders at California State University – San Marcos. “They go through a series of developmental milestones, each of which are a necessary building block for progression to the next milestone,” she says.
Some of the milestones include babbling between six and 10 months, pointing and intentional communication through gestures and vocalization between 10 and 12 months, first words around one year and two-word combinations between 12 and 24 months. According to Heisler, after two years of age, vocabulary and grammar should continue to develop at a rapid rate.
“These oral language skills are necessary prerequisites to future literacy development and learning in school,” says Heisler. “Obstacles that toddlers face include late identification of delays and disorders.”
If you are concerned that your child’s speech is delayed, it is recommended that you contact your local school district for a speech and language evaluation. Although evaluations vary, it is likely a speech pathologist will conduct standardized tests, observe your child’s interactions with others and conduct follow-up visits for further observations.
If treatment is necessary, speech and language therapists may conduct home visit sessions to work with your child during play or at school where he or she can meet in a group session to learn communication, rules of conversation and language models with an expert.
Helping Your Child
Parent and caregiver guidance is crucial when your child needs speech and language treatment. Luckily, there are many activities you can participate in with your child that will complement the treatment your child is receiving by a professional.
Help boost your child’s speech development and offer a playful activity at the same time with these suggestions:
- Read Books Together: From bedtime stories to afternoon fairy tales, reading to your child exposes her to correct pronunciations and language models.
- Chatty Sessions: In order for your child to develop language skills, she needs practice. Begin modeling language by chatting with your little one on a regular basis. Offer phrases such as “Mommy is dusting the furniture right now” and “Daddy is cooking dinner” to prompt conversations and help your child identify daily tasks through words.
- Nature Explorations: A walk to the park can quickly turn into a learning moment for your child. While taking a walk or a hike, point out objects, such as trees and leaves and ask your child to repeat your words. Your child may learn a few words and begin to model your pronunciations naturally when a fun activity doesn’t seem like a speech lesson.
- Taking Turns: In general, most young children struggle with expressing their needs and wants when they cannot use their speech. Teach your child how to share and verbalize his needs and wants with turn-taking games. Help your child learn phrases such as “my turn” and “your turn” as you are playing cards, board games or blocks. This speech lesson may also help your child learn patience.
The key to helping your child’s speech delay is to employ patience while allowing him or her time to process words and pronunciation. When parents finish a child’s sentence or bombard him with questions, it can cause anxiety, frustration and eventually, temper tantrums that will only taint the fun activity.
By allowing your child to express himself during play and fun activities at home, he or she can explore and experience language in a natural environment, says Heisler. “These activities provide opportunities for parents to make vocabulary and language structures more salient for the child while he or she is acquiring language,” she says.