As children grow, there are typical milestones in their development that parents and physicians look for to indicate a “normal” development trajectory. When our kids don’t hit those milestones in a timely fashion, we get concerned. When your kid’s communication skills and language abilities are limited or delayed compared to children of similar ages, it’s time to get a professional evaluation.
What’s the problem?
There are a variety of things that can affect early communication, including:
speech disorders, language disorders, and hearing impairment.
When children have trouble producing speech sounds correctly, stutter or hesitate when talking, they may have a speech disorder. Speech disorders that impact a child’s ability to communicate effectively include: Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Dysarthria, Orofacial Myofunctional disorders and stuttering.
These, for the most part, are motor disorders where the tongue, lips and other speech apparatus don’t work correctly or the brain has trouble communicating to the body parts what to do. The effects of these disorders include:
- First words are late and may be missing sounds
- Problems combining sounds
- Hard to understand
- Can understand language better than he/she can talk
- Abnormal pitch and rhythm when speaking
- Slurred, choppy, or mumbled speech
Language disorders impact a child’s ability to understand what others say or share their own thoughts. Specific language impairment is a language disorder that delays the mastery of language skill. Children with it may not begin to talk until their third or fourth year. Problems for kids with these disorders can include both understanding language and expressing themselves, such as.
- Understanding and using gestures
- Following directions
- Asking and answering questions
- Putting words together into sentences
- Learning songs and rhymes
- Naming letters and numbers
Hearing is critical to speech and language development, communication, and learning. Children with listening difficulties due to hearing loss or auditory processing problems may have trouble expressing themselves well through language, experience reduced academic achievement, and even face social isolation.
The effects of hearing impairment on a child’s developing communication skills include,
- Limited vocabulary
- Shorter, less complex sentences
- More mumbling, high pitched or loud speaking
- Inability to hear quiet speech and certain sounds which they then eliminate from their own speech
- One to four grade levels lower achievement than peers with normal hearing
Diagnosing a speech impediment
You may have noticed in the above descriptions that there is much overlap with the symptoms of these different conditions. Determining the cause of the speech impediment is essential for determining effective treatment and diagnosing a hearing problem is typically the simplest first step. A certified audiologist can conduct a hearing test to determine if there is any impairment contributing to the child’s communication challenges.
If a language or speech disorder is diagnosed, you will be referred to a speech-language pathologist. The pathologist may prescribe speech therapy, suggest home activities to stimulate your child’s development, group or individual therapy, or working with a developmental psychologist.
If hearing impairment is the cause, there are two general courses of treatment: hearing aids or introducing sign language. Depending on the degree of hearing loss, a combination of the two may produce the best results. The earlier the impairment is diagnosed, the sooner intervention can begin, leading to the best outcome. Recent research indicates that children who begin services early may be able to develop language (spoken and/or signed) on par with their hearing peers.
If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language development, get a professional evaluation. Dr. Heather Dean of Sierra Nevada Hearing Aid Center has the expertise and technical equipment to diagnose, or rule out, hearing loss as a cause. Call 775.882.3277 for an appointment.