Baby Hints & Tips

Speech development in Children: When to Worry

Speech DevelopmentHave you ever wondered whether your child is “talking” enough? Have you ever questioned whether they should be saying more or sounding clearer for their age? Perhaps you have had someone else tell you that they are concerned about your child? What should you do? How do you know if it’s just part of the general worrying that comes with parenthood or if it’s something more?

Thoughts such as, “My first child was speaking in sentences by now” and “The other kids at preschool all sound so much clearer than my child” can be confusing and stressful for parents. Even though we are told not to, we cannot help but compare our child to their siblings, cousins, friends and even strangers at times.

Why do we do it? Sure there are some super competitive people out there who try to turn everything into a challenge, but on the whole I think we compare our children simply to help us make decisions.

If a child seems to match their peers in a particular area, we tend to relax and continue with whatever we are doing. On the other hand, if they seem to be falling behind their peers, we may start to think about whether we need to get them some help.

This is problematic when it comes to comparing children’s speech and language skills however, because you are never, ever, going to get the full story!

Speech and language skills do not develop in isolation. They are influenced by many different factors which speech pathologists are trained and experienced in identifying and assessing. Factors include but are not limited to, a child’s medical history, their comprehension skills, play skills, how they use gesture and of course their general personality/ temperament. No two cases are ever the same.

The good news is speech and language delays are treatable but early intervention is key! Some people mistakenly think that children can’t (or shouldn’t) see a speech pathologist until they are at least two. This is a myth! You should speak to a speech pathologist as soon as you have concerns!

Furthermore, please make an appointment with a speech pathologist as soon as possible if your child displays any of the following:

• Is not babbling (e.g. baba/mama/dada) by 12 months
• Is not pointing and waving by 12 months
• Doesn’t have at least 10 spontaneous (not copied) words by 18 months
• Doesn’t understand simple commands or questions (e.g. don’t touch, where’s your nose?) by 18 months
• Doesn’t have at least 50 words by 2 years
• Is not putting two words together (e.g. “daddy gone”, “more banana”) by 2 years
• Is not using 3 -4 word sentences by 3 years
• Is not understood by a stranger at least 75% of the time at the age of 3
• Has any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any time
• Never imitates any sounds or actions e.g. clapping or stomping
• Does not appear to understand you or hear you

Depending on the assessment results, the therapist may recommend starting treatment as soon as possible. In other instances we may suggest more of a wait and see approach. Finally, there are also times where an assessment reveals that a child is doing exactly what they should be doing and everyone breathes a sigh of relief and goes on their merry way.

If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language development I strongly recommend you speak to a speech pathologist. Why put it off or “wait and see” when there is the possibility that maybe something is not quite right? Why take the risk when help is available? Depending on your state and location you may be able to access speech pathology services via your public health service or via a private practitioner. What do you have to lose?

About the author: Clare Francis is a paediatric speech pathologist from Sydney and “more importantly” a mum of two wonderful (and crazy) kids! She graduated from University of Sydney and worked in both the disability and community health sectors. Wanting to have a better family and work balance Clare opened her own private practice and also blogs at Modern Speechie. Clare is passionate about sharing information and ideas about speech and language development with the aim to help children be the best communicators they can be! You can also follow The Modern Speechie on Facebook.

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