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Speech Language Tips

Here are some parenting tips for helping along your child’s speech and language: from the American Speech language Hearing Association (ASHA.org)

  • Start talking to your child at birth.  Even newborns benefit from hearing speech.
  • Respond to your baby’s coos and babbling.
  • Play simple games with your baby like peek-a-boo and patty-cake.
  • Listen to your child. Look at them when they talk to you. Give them time to respond. (It feels like an eternity, but count to 5—or even 10—before filling the silence).
  • Describe for your child what they are doing, feeling and hearing in the course of the day.
  • Encourage storytelling and sharing information.
  • Don’t try to force your child to speak.
  • Read books aloud.  Ask a librarian for books appropriate to your child’s age. If your baby loses interest in the text, just talk about the pictures.
  • Sing to your child and provide them with music.  Learning new songs helps your child learn new words, and uses memory skills, listening skills, and expression of ideas with words.
  • Expand on what your child says.  (For example, if your child says, “Elmo!, you can say, “You want Elmo!”)
  • Talk a lot to your child.  Tell them what you are doing as you do it.
  • Plan family trips and outings.  Your new experiences give you something interesting to talk about before, during, and after the outing.
  • Look at family photos and talk about them.
  • Answer your child every time they speak—this rewards them for talking.
  • Ask your child lots of questions.
  • Use gestures along with words.
  • Don’t criticize grammar mistakes.  Instead, just model good grammar.
  • Play with your child one-on-one, and talk about the toys and games you are playing.
  • Follow your child’s lead, so you are doing activities that hold their interest as you talk.
  • Have your child play with kids whose language is a little better than theirs.

What about stuttering, and how can parents help?
Stuttering (sometimes called stammering or dysfluent speech) is a speech disorder.  In stuttering, the normal flow of speech is broken up by repeating or lengthening the sounds, syllables, or words.  A person may also have trouble getting a word started.  Most kids outgrow stuttering.

Parents can help by:

  • Once in a while, talk about the stuttering in an accepting, encouraging way. 
  • Find out how to listen to someone who stutters.
  • Talk to your child in a slow, relaxed way.
  • Take time each day to spend some relaxed, one-on-one time with your child.  Follow their lead, and let them be the center of attention.
  • Take turns speaking in the family, such as at dinner time—make sure family members aren’t competing for time to talk.
  • Slow the pace of life in the home, especially conversations.

If your child is getting treatment for stuttering, don’t set perfect speech as the goal.  Rather, expect treatment to help your child to arrive at more natural speech, with less struggle and work. 


Late Blooming or Language Problem?


Parents are smart. They listen to their child talk and know how he or she communicates. They also listen to his or her playmates who are about the same age and may even remember what older brothers and sisters did at the same age. Then the parents mentally compare their child's performance with the performance of these other children. What results is an impression of whether or not their child is developing speech and language at a normal rate.

If parents think that development is slow, they may check out their impression with other parents, relatives, or their pediatrician. They may get an answer such as "My son was slow too. Now he won't shut up" or "Don't worry, she'll outgrow it."

But suppose (s)he doesn't? I'd feel guilty waiting and then finding out that I should have acted earlier. Waiting is so hard, especially when I'm concerned and only want what's best for my child. What's a parent to do? How will I know for sure what to do?

You won't know for sure. Although the stages that children pass through in the development of speech and language are very consistent, the exact age when they hit these milestones varies a lot. Factors such as the child's inborn ability to learn language, other skills the child is learning, the amount and kind of language the child hears, and how people respond to communication attempts can slow down or accelerate the speed of speech and language development. This makes it difficult to say with certainty where any young child's speech and language development will be in 3 months, or 1 year.

There are, however, certain factors that may increase the risk that a late-talking child in the 18- to 30-month-old age range, and with normal intelligence, will have continuing language problems. These factors include:  

  • Receptive language: Understanding language generally precedes expression and use. Some studies that have followed-up late-talking children in this age range have found, after a year, that age-appropriate receptive language discriminated late bloomers from children who had true language delays. Other researchers doing follow-up studies included only children whose receptive language was within normal limits because they believed that delay in this area was likely to produce worse outcomes.
  • Use of gestures: One study has found that the number of gestures used by late-talking children with comparably low expressive language can indicate later language abilities. Children with a greater number of gestures used for different communication purposes are more likely to catch up with peers. Such a result is supported by findings that some older children who are taught non-verbal communication systems show a spontaneous increase in oral communication.
  • Age of diagnosis: More than one study has indicated that the older the child at time of diagnosis, the less positive the outcome. Obviously, older children in a study have had a longer time to bloom than younger children but have not done so, indicating that the language delay may be more serious. Also, if a child is only developing slowly during an age range when other children are rapidly progressing (e.g. 24-30 months) that child will be falling farther behind.
  • Progress in language development: Although a child may be slow in language development, he or she should still be doing new things with language at least every month. New words may be added. The same words may be used for different purposes. For example, "bottle" may one day mean "That is my bottle," the next, "I want my bottle," and the next week, "Where is my bottle? I don't see it." Words may be combined into longer utterances ("want bottle" "no bottle"), or such longer utterances may occur more often.

It should be re-emphasized that negative aspects of these factors increase the risk of a true language problem but do not mandate its presence. For example, one research group found that one of their 25- or 26-month-old children with the worst receptive language had the best expressive language outcome 10 months later. On the other hand, children on the positive side of these factors may turn out to show less progress than predicted. The research group found that the child with the poorest outcome had the best receptive language and the largest vocabulary at the beginning of the study.

One study has found that the number of gestures used by late-talking children with comparably low expressive language can indicate later language abilities.

Individual children may not behave like children in a group. Group data can only be used to predict what most children who are very similar to the children in a study might do. Predictions, by their very nature, are not always correct.

So what's a parent to do?

Parents don't have to rely on the predictions of others or to guess that their child will be just like a friend's and eventually catch up in language development. If parents are concerned about their child's speech and language development, they should see a speech-language pathologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for a professional evaluation. The speech-language pathologist can administer tests of receptive and expressive language, analyze a child's utterances in various situations, determine factors that may be slowing down language development, and counsel parents on the next steps to take.

The speech-language pathologist may give suggestions on stimulating language development, and ask that the parent and child return if parental concern continues. Or, the speech-language pathologist may want to schedule a re-evaluation right then. In more severe cases, the speech-language pathologist may want the parent and child to become involved in an early intervention program. The programs typically consist of demonstrating language stimulation techniques for home use, and more frequent monitoring of the child's progress. In the most severe cases, a more formal treatment program may be recommended.

Waiting to find out if your child will catch up will still be hard, but you won't feel guilty that you did not do everything you could.

 from American Speech Language Hearing Association   www.asha.org

What is a language-based learning disability?

Language-based learning disabilities are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling, and/or writing. This disorder is not about how smart a person is. Most people diagnosed with learning disabilities have average to superior intelligence. 

What are some signs or symptoms of a language-based learning disability?

Dyslexia has been used to refer to the specific learning problem of reading. The term language-based learning disability, or just learning disabilities, is better because of the relationship between spoken and written language. Many children with reading problems have spoken language problems.

The child with dyslexia has trouble almost exclusively with the written (or printed) word. The child who has dyslexia as part of a larger language learning disability has trouble with both the spoken and the written word. These problems may include difficulty with the following:

  • Expressing ideas clearly, as if the words needed are on the tip of the tongue but won't come out. What the child says can be vague and difficult to understand (e.g., using unspecific vocabulary, such as "thing" or "stuff" to replace words that cannot be remembered). Filler words like "um" may be used to take up time while the child tries to remember a word.
  • Learning new vocabulary that the child hears (e.g., taught in lectures/lessons) and/or sees (e.g., in books)
  • Understanding questions and following directions that are heard and/or read
  • Recalling numbers in sequence (e.g., telephone numbers and addresses)
  • Understanding and retaining the details of a story's plot or a classroom lecture
  • Reading and comprehending material 
  • Learning words to songs and rhymes
  • Telling left from right, making it hard to read and write since both skills require this directionality
  • Letters and numbers
  • Learning the alphabet
  • Identifying the sounds that correspond to letters, making learning to read difficult
  • Mixing up the order of letters in words while writing
  • Mixing up the order of numbers that are a part of math calculations
  • Spelling
  • Memorizing the times tables
  • Telling time

How is a language-based learning disability diagnosed? 

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is part of a team consisting of the parents/caregivers and educational professionals (i.e., teacher(s), special educators, psychologist). The SLP will evaluate spoken (speaking and listening) and written (reading and writing) language for children who have been identified by their teachers and parents as having difficulty. 

For preschool students, the SLP may do any or all of the following:

  • Gather information about literacy experiences in the home. For example, are there books and other types of reading material around the home? How frequently does the child see family members writing letters, notes, lists, etc.? How often do family members read stories to the child? 
  • Observe the child during classroom activities.
  • Evaluate the child's ability to understand verbal and written directions and to pay attention to written information on the blackboard, daily plans, etc.
  • Look for awareness of print.
  • See if the child recognizes familiar signs and logos.
  • Watch to see if a child holds a book correctly and turns the pages.
  • Determine if the child recognizes and/or writes name.
  • Evaluate whether the child demonstrates pretend writing (writing that resembles letters and numbers).
  • See if the child recognizes and/or writes letters.
  • Have the child tap or clap out the different syllables in words.
  • Evaluate if the child can tell whether two words rhyme or give a list of words that rhyme with a specified word.

For the older child, the SLP may also do any or all of the following:

  • Observe whether the child can read and understand information on handouts and in textbooks. 
  • Assess the student's ability to hear and "play with" sounds in words (phonological awareness skills).
  • Have the child put together syllables and sounds to make a word.
  • See if the child can break up a word into its syllables and/or sounds (e.g., "cat" has one syllable but three sounds c-a-t).
  • Assess the older child's phonological memory by having him or her repeat strings of words, numbers, letters, and sounds of increasing length.

For all children, the SLP will also provide a complete language evaluation and also look at articulation and executive function.  

Executive functioning is the ability to plan, organize, and attend to details (e.g., does he or she plan/organize his or her writing? Is he or she able to keep track of assignments and school materials?).

What treatments are available for people with a language-based learning disability?

The goals of speech and language treatment for the child with a reading problem target the specific aspects of reading and writing that the student is missing. For example, if the student is able to read words but is unable to understand the details of what has been read, comprehension is addressed. If a younger student has difficulty distinguishing the different sounds that make up words, treatment will focus on activities that support growth in this skill area (rhyming, tapping out syllables, etc.).

Individualized programs always relate to the school work. Therefore, materials for treatment are taken from or are directly related to content from classes (e.g., textbooks for reading activities, assigned papers for writing activities, practice of oral reports for English class). The student is taught to apply newly learned language strategies to classroom activities and assignments. To assist the child best, the SLP may work side-by-side with the child in his or her classroom(s).

Intervention with spoken language (speaking and listening) can also be designed to support the development of written language. For example, after listening to a story, the student may be asked to state and write answers to questions. He or she may be asked to give a verbal and then a written summary of the story.

Articulation (pronunciation) needs are also treated in a way that supports written language. For example, if the child is practicing saying words to improve pronunciation of a certain sound, he or she may be asked to read these words from a printed list.

The SLP consults and collaborates with teachers to develop the use of strategies and techniques in the classroom. For example, the SLP may help the teacher modify how new material is presented in lessons to accommodate the child's comprehension needs. The SLP may also demonstrate what planning strategies the student uses to organize and focus written assignments.