Communication is an essential tool for growth and development. It is difficult to imagine a world with limited interactions and no means of getting across to one another.  While there are many forms of communication, the most common is speech and language.

Many parents become very concerned when they notice that there child is developing language differently than other children their own age especially in the early years of life.  Parents may be worried when that they don’t hear common vocalizations, babble, sounds, sound patterns, or words at certain ages from their infant, toddler, or preschooler.   Although each child develops language at a different rate due to individual differences, it is important for parents to have an awareness and understanding of the basic developmental language milestones that their child will acquire.  Developmental milestones are things that most children can do by a certain age and allows parents to know what to expect next.  How your child talks, plays, learns, and interacts with others determines important clues about your child’s development.  It acts as a guide to help parents understand what skills are or are not being reached at important expanding periods during the early years.  Even if what parents or caregivers notice is not actually a problem, it would still be to their advantage if they have a general understanding of what to expect as their child acquires language during these crucial growing periods.

The first three years of a child’s life need to be monitored to determine if there are any difficulties or delays in the area of speech and language. Warnings, or what they call “red flags” can be identified by speech-language pathologists. These red flags include the absence of babbling, jargon, word approximations, first true words, word combinations, slowed or stagnant development in speech, problems understanding a child’s speech, and when a child does not show interest in communication. There are other “red flags” determined by speech pathologists such as when a child is spoken to and he does not respond normally, the sudden loss of speech and language skills which must be immediately addressed, and when a child does not speak clearly or is difficult to understand by the time he or she reaches three years of age.  Through imitation of other people, a young child can learn to speak and acquire language. It is important that what your child hears is proper speech and language and any language difficulties or delays noticed by parents should be sought out by a professional speech-language pathologist.

The term language delay is used when a child’s speech & language development is following the usual pattern and sequence, but is slower than other children that age.  A language disorder is used to describe language development which is not following the usual pattern or sequence.   Common difficulties include pronunciation or production of sounds (articulation), dysfluent speech (stuttering) or variations in optimal pitch levels (voice).   Also, when a person has trouble understanding others this is associated with comprehension abilities (receptive language) and difficulty sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings (expressive language) is linked to communication abilities.

Parents can address speech and language concerns by seeking out their child’s pediatrician at which time the doctor will make a referral for an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist affiliated with a speech clinic or agency. This is necessary in order to get the proper speech therapy treatments to help eliminate such difficulties that interfere with communication as well as create frustration on the part of both speaker and listener.

When parents attend to their children who exhibit difficulties or delays in the area of speech and language, they not only feel good inside for doing their job, but they give their children the confidence to cope during different kinds of emotional and social situations. It becomes a way of reaching out and showing their children that they are loved in this world no matter what experiences come their way.

Jo Ann Gramlich is an award-winning author and speech-language pathologist specializing in helping children with communication disorders in Buffalo, New York. She holds a Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology from SUNY Buffalo and has extensive experience in early intervention, preschool, and school settings. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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