How to Support your Child's Speech and Language Development
You are your child's biggest supporter, cheerleader, and teacher! As a new parent, there are so many questions and things you learn day by day. Google and advice from mom groups become your best friend. From learning about the best baby gear to purchase to feeding tips and baby sleep patterns. Figuring out why your baby won't take a soother or why they refuse to be wrapped up in a swaddle. You read through countless replies on your posts about "What is the best diaper cream to use?" or "My child is waking up multiple times in the night, and I am exhausted; what do you recommend?" We seek answers and advice daily!
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As a mom, I can truly say that having an online support system has been wonderful! A community of other moms navigating and doing life together is invaluable. As a mom, I have been the one to need advice on many accounts, and I welcome this support! But not only am I a mom who needs support, I am also a Speech-Language Pathologist who wants to offer support! It is my passion to empower and teach other moms about very important areas of child development- speech, language, and literacy. I hope to answer some of the questions you may have by providing you with researched-based information and strategies. I want to help you become your child's biggest supporter and teacher!
Let's start at the beginning and talk about milestones. "Milestones" may be a scary word that elicits fear or anxiety for some. Worry that their child is not measuring up or that they are failing in one or more areas. However, this does not need to be scary. Try to view milestones as a road map for your child - a guide to show you where they are and where they need to go. The question is - how do we get them from point A to point B? It is said that information is power, so when we have all the information about where our child is at and where they need to go, then we can better support our child. Milestones are not meant to discourage you as a parent; rather, they are meant to help you.
Now that we know "milestones" are not scary, let's talk about them! There have been years and years of research on child development, and although each child is unique, we know that there are norms (a range in abilities that are expected at certain ages). There are norms for when a child should sit, crawl, walk, and speak. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I have the opportunity to educate and empower parents in the areas of speech, language, and literacy.
The terms "speech" and "language" may be new terms for some and are two very different areas that we are experts in. Below I am going to define each and talk about the milestones for each.
When we talk about speech, we refer to the sounds that a child makes, how they say words, or their articulation of words. A child needs to have coordination, and their muscles need to be fully developed in order to correctly make a series of sounds to form words. Certain sounds are easier to make than others, and this is why a child says 'mama' or 'dada' before they can say words like 'milk' or 'help.'
Check out this helpful visual that shows which sound we expect at which ages. If your child is not correctly producing these sounds by the age expected, it is important to reach out to a Speech-Language Pathologist for support as the sounds may not correct with age. If a child continues to produce sounds in error, it will make it hard for others to understand them and/or affect their spelling.
When we talk about language, we are referring to how a child uses words to communicate and how they understand what is being said to them. Language is divided up into two areas:
1) Expressive Language- this can be verbal or written expression
2) Receptive Language- this is how a child understands questions and directions
In this article, we are going to focus on language and HOW a child communicates! Before a child even says their first words, they learn to interact with the world around them. They will start to observe people by turning their head and gazing in the direction of others' voices and faces. These pre-language skills are the foundation for first words and important milestones in a child's development. You may start to notice gaps in your child's development as early as 8 months when they reach the stage of intentional communication, which means they start to understand cause and effect and start to communicate to a person with purpose. You should consider reaching out to a Speech-Language Pathologist for a consultation/assessment if your child is NOT:
• Engaging in eye contact
• Trying to imitate gestures, such as waving or clapping their hands
• Interacting with you by laughing or smiling in play and/or songs
• Babbling or imitating sounds
• Responding to their name
• Smiling when they hear a familiar voice
• Turning their head towards sounds
Knowing the number of words is important as well, as we EXPECT a child to have at least one or two words at 12 months, and by 18 months, they should have at least 10-50 words. However, there is more that we are concerned about when it comes to language OTHER than just the number of words a child has. We want to know how they are communicating and what they are trying to do to communicate. This is why the number of words is not always in and of itself an indicator of a language delay, BUT it is important to know! Here is another visual that shows the number of words (a range) that we expect at certain ages.
If your child is not meeting their communication milestones, I would encourage you to reach out! Statements such as "if you wait and see, they will start talking" or that "boys talk later than girls" are far too common and are not true. Early intervention is key to a child's success now and later in life.
Literacy is another area that we are trained in and very passionate about! A large number of children are not being taught literacy directly through a structured, research-based approach and are struggling with reading. This significantly impacts a child's ability to communicate and be successful academically. We know that approximately 1 in 6 Canadians are illiterate, and I am very passionate about changing this by teaching children how to read and coaching parents in this area. Unfortunately, this topic is so large that I will not be able to cover it in today's blog post!
I want to end this article off on an important note: DO NOT WAIT AND SEE! While it may be true that some kids develop language a bit later, that is not the norm. Most children who are not meeting their milestones will need support (minimal support in parent coaching or maximal support in the form of direct therapy). We want to close the gap as soon as possible so that your child can succeed! By waiting and seeing IF a child catches up to their peers, we lose valuable time to help our child learn and grow. These are critical years in terms of learning and development, and we need to be aware of this! We need to use this time to the best of our abilities to help our child reach those milestones, and this is where I am here to help! If your child is not saying words yet or is not saying the number of words we expect for their age, I encourage you to join in on our free early language workshop to learn more. I developed this workshop to provide parents with valuable information on speech and language development to support families and children in some small way!
Written by: Melissa Gagnon, Speech-Language Pathologist, and Owner of Empower Communication Services