The month of September is all about language in early childhood here at Educa. We’ve asked Helen McLauchlan, a speech – language therapist based in New Zealand to give us her expert view on young children’s speech development. What does “normal” speech development look like, and when should you become concerned?
Here’s what Helen has to say…
As a Speech – Language Therapist (SLT) my advice has never been more sought after than since I became a parent, and other people find out my profession. Parents and educators alike will often ask me about a child they know who:
- isn’t talking
- is hard to understand
- has started to stutter, or
- cannot concentrate in a group.
As a Speech – Language Therapist (also known as a Speech pathologist or Speech Language pathologist) who works with adults I was initially reluctant to offer any specific professional advice, as children have not been my area of clinical experience. What I have realized, however, is that these concerned parents and educators are not asking me for specific advice but rather saying “I’m concerned, what should I do next?” With this question I can help!
So, what do you do if you think a child has difficulty with communication?
For the parents
As a parent or caregiver, don’t panic but don’t ignore your concerns either! There is a huge variety within the ‘normal’ range of speech development. You know your child best and if you have concerns, use the resources that surround your child. Ask the opinion of your child’s early childhood educators, they have a wealth of knowledge and experience regarding children’s development and a good understanding of what represents something to be concerned about. Get them to be another pair of ears and eyes and report back to you about any specific areas that worry you.
Consider getting your child’s hearing tested. This is often a good starting point and will help any further assessment process.
Reading together is one way to support speech development
Provide a language rich environment. Talk to your little people. Talk about anything and everything that surrounds you in your daily routines. And remember that reading with your child is one of the best things you can do to help with communication. If you are still concerned, do ask your local education service or medical centre about how to access SLT/SLP services in order to get an assessment.
And the educators
Early childhood educators are often the first to identify a possible issue with a young child’s communication. If you think that a child in your care is having difficulties with communication, talk to the child’s parent or caregivers. Sometimes in order to avoid a potentially difficult conversation there is a temptation to ‘wait and see’ however, we know that early intervention makes a difference so the earlier the issue is raised the better.
Be specific! If you are raising an issue with parents or caregivers use specific examples of the communication behavior you have observed.
“I’ve noticed that Johnny finds it hard to attend to the story at mat time”
“Sue seems to be having trouble with some sounds at the beginning of words”
“Jane gets frustrated when the other children can’t understand her speech”
And follow up. Make sure you check in again if things don’t seem to be addressed. Sometimes people just need a reminder that they are not on the journey alone.
A really useful thing educators can do is to find out about local SLT or SLP services in your community and how they are accessed. Being able to guide parents on how to get started will help ensure timely assessment and intervention, if required. You may even find local therapists who are willing to come and provide information evenings for parents or training for educators. Also don’t overlook training institutions as often University programs have student clinics that can provide another avenue for assessment of children.
My top tips
In conclusion, as both an SLT and a parent, my top tips for anyone concerned about a child’s speech development are:
- Keep talking and reading with your child
- Don’t delay! The earlier professional help is accessed the better
- Be polite but persistent in asking for help
Download this fact sheet from Speech Pathology Australia Sound of Speech PDF. It’s a great summary of ‘normal’ speech development in young children.
There’s loads more useful information from international professional bodies available on the following websites:
Also check out the International Communication Project, an initiative focusing on communication as a basic human right. People need to be able to communicate to fulfill their social, educational, emotional and vocational potential. Every person – including every child – has the potential to communicate effectively.
* This article was brought to you by the team at Educa. For more information about how our preschool software transforms parent – teacher communication and frees up teacher time check out our website.