For parents whose children are not hitting these milestones at the ‘typical’ times, observing other children apparently racing ahead developmentally, fear can set in quickly.
But at what point is late speech and/or language development considered delayed? When should a parent seek expert support?
We spoke to Speech and Language Therapist, Andria Calicchio, to find out…
Each child is unique and will develop at different rates, but most children will utter their first words at around one year. Prior to this however, children start to imitate sounds and attempt to say words (e.g. "ba" for baby). They will also usually point and using gestures with vocalizations (ie. Babbling, saying sounds/words) to communicate their needs and wants.
By the age of 24 months, your child should be using approximately 50 words consistently and combining two words to make short phrases to express their needs and wants. In terms of understanding, a two-year-old can usually identify objects and body parts when named, and following simple instructions.
By the age of three, your child should be using short phrases to communicate. At this age, a child’s speech should be clear enough for an unfamiliar listener to mostly understand what they are saying. Pointing at this age is reduced and they will use more words and short sentences to communicate. They can now follow two-step simple instructions with minimal or no prompting.
It is important to note the difference between “speech” and “language”:
Speech involves the sounds within words and how a child uses their muscles of their mouth to form these sounds.
Language is the words we use and understand, how we use these words to express our needs and wants, and our understanding of the words others use.
There are many factors which may cause a speech and language delay in children. These include:
Exposure to more than one language does NOT cause a language delay. However, children who are learning more than one language may appear to take longer to learn the languages as they have more to learn. They may also go through a silent period, as they take their time to process newly learned information. This does not mean that they have a language disorder.
Parents / caregivers need to be “language role models” for children. They need to model, repeat and add to what the child is attempting to say.
Below are a few tips to assist with helping the child to further develop their language skills:
All children develop at different rates, but developmental milestones (i.e. skills your child should have by a particular age) can be used to as a general guide to what your child should be doing at a particular age.
It is important that if you are concerned, or your child’s teacher has expressed concern, you seek help and guidance from a qualified trained professional. Early intervention is key and will assist in your child’s development. So if you are concerned, it is best to seek help early than wait.
Speech and language therapists use a variety of games, pictures and activities during therapy. Research has shown that children need far less repetition learning a new skill when it is done through play. Play-based therapy incorporating movement and fun activities will better aid with the acquisition, development and retention of a new skill when working with children.
Andria Calicchio is a South African trained speech-language therapist and audiologist, currently working with Kids FIRST Medical Centre, Dubai. Andria works with children with a wide range of speech-language, hearing and feeding difficulties using an interactive, play-based approach.