The first cry of a newborn baby signaling that a new and separate life has begun, brings a host of overwhelming emotions to every new mother. The sense of relief that her baby is alive and kicking is usually coupled with tears of happiness as she hears those first sounds from her offspring, seemingly yelling, “I’m here!” She now embarks on the journey of motherhood and parenting, with its many joys and inevitable challenges.
As expectant mothers, we experience changes in our bodies that create a perfect ‘nursery’ for our developing baby. Hearing starts while the baby is in the womb and, possibly, the most significant sound is the voice of the mother. Once the child arrives in this busy and noisy world, they begin to communicate through sounds and non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and gestures and they soon begin to discover their own voice. Spoken language is one of the most important ways that we communicate and, as young children grow, their communication skills become more complex. At first, parents tend to speak to their baby using simple grammar and words such as “Mama” and “Dada” and exaggerated ‘baby language’ words such as “uppie” and “doodoo”. Babies mimic these sounds and they soon learn to understand the world around them and how to express themselves. As parents, we usually understand what our own children are saying – even if they struggle with some words. Other members of the family and siblings may be the child’s communication models and, sometimes, families will develop their own verbal codes. However, children need to use acceptable expressive language in order to communicate effectively at playgroup or at school as well as in broader society.
Parents are the most important people in the lives of young children. Some worry about their child’s progress relative to other children, and may not be knowledgeable about the various stages of speech and language development, which occur at a different time for each child. It is therefore important that they learn about the red flags of speech delay, and when to approach a specialist.
Remember that there is help available and the first step to take is to seek professional help. Remediation can start if, and when, a problem is identified.
- Some early warning signs that your child may have speech delays, include:
- Your child is over 14 months old and has not started talking.
- Lack of babbling, gestures, or first words between 4-18 months.
- Not having at least 50 words by 24 months.
- Difficulty pronouncing many sounds and words correctly.
- Limited vocabulary or language skills compared to peers.
- Stuttering or struggling to talk.
- Regressing or stopping talking.
- He or she is selectively mute at school and only speaks to you at home.
- Not reacting normally or consistently to sounds.
- Being overly sensitive or indifferent to sounds. Concerns at school: When your child enters a playgroup or preschool, he or she will spend most of the morning, or the entire day, surrounded by other children. Because they compare children of similar developmental ages, an early-childhood educator or experienced caregiver may be the first to notice that your child is not speaking in an age-appropriate manner. The teacher may tell you that your child does not seem to listen during story time or even appear to hear when he or she is spoken to. Solutions: As your child grows, and you are concerned that your child is not hearing properly, a screening by an Audiologist should be organised – even if they were screened at birth. Any ear pathologies and hearing loss will be identified and the Audiologist will refer your child for appropriate management. Additionally, a full assessment by a Speech and Language Therapist should be arranged to assess your child’s speech in detail. Speech therapists use various assessment and management techniques to help develop children’s speech sound systems.
It is very important to note, that early intervention is the key to prevention and elimination of a speech disorder at any age. Finally, as a mother, the most important thing is for you to trust your gut feelings. You know your child!
Alison Reddi is an Early Childhood Educator at a school for Learners with Special Needs and she works closely with an Audiologist, a Speech Therapist and an Occupational Therapist.