Is Your Child On Track For Normal Speech and Language Development?
A recent meet-up with a former nursery school student of mine, who is now a parent, raised the following question: How can I tell if my child is on track for normal speech and language development? I love seeing my students all grown up, and I am more than happy to help them navigate the many queries that parenthood raises for them whenever I can.
Because speech and language development is critical for social and school success, the Little Folks School, where I worked for 38 years, would routinely provide a brief speech and language screening each September. The goal in scheduling this evaluation by a licensed Speech and Language Therapist was to determine which students were developing within the normal range and which students might profit from a more extensive assessment to help support their growth in these areas.
First of all, let me explain what we are referring to when addressing speech and language development. Speech is the ability to form sounds and involves the use of the tongue, teeth, and lips, or what is known as oral motor skills. Educators and therapists refer to articulation when discussing these skills.
Secondly, there is language development, which refers to comprehension skills or a child's ability to understand language - both receptive, which relates to processing sounds and their meaning, and expressive - how one uses language to verbalize thoughts and information.
Like all development, there is a range of what is considered normal. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association provides a list of milestones for the first five years on their website that can be helpful in determining whether or not your child's development is on target.
If your child is in daycare or nursery school, a discussion with their teacher or caregiver can also be valuable. How do they view your child's verbal skills, especially in relation to their peers?
If you are having any doubts about your child's speech and language progress, I would encourage a discussion with your pediatrician. He or she will first check your child's hearing since chronic ear infections can sometimes compromise a child's ability to hear and reproduce sounds. They may ask about the use or overuse of a pacifier, which can negatively affect speech and language development.
Your pediatrician may recommend a speech and language professional who can further evaluate your child. In most cities, this type of testing is available for free or at low cost since early detection of delays is critical. Ask your doctor about these services in your city or county, or for a referral of a private Speech and Language Pathologist.
Finally, continue to provide a language-rich environment for your child, exposing them to sounds, sights, and the speech and language of others. Talk to them, providing names for them of what they see. Repeat back to them the words that they are saying. Read to them as often as possible. Sing and recite nursery rhymes. Songs like "Old MacDonald had a Farm" or “Wheels on the Bus” are good examples of the kind of practice and repetition of sounds that young children need.
All children strengthen their speech and language development when parents and family provide these stimulations and parents can begin providing them as early as birth. The first three years in a child’s life are a critical window in the development of speech and language. So, even repeating the cooing of an infant plays a role in a child’s development.
If you have concerns, addressing them sooner rather than later is highly recommended.