So I am writing this post from both a professional and personal perspective. Yes, I am indeed a speech and language therapist, I am also however the mother of a little boy who until recently was using very few words, despite his exceptional ability to understand just about everything. After years of reassuring worried parents in my clinic room, my own personal experience of supporting a toddler who is slow to talk has given me a new found understanding of how worrying, frustrating and challenging it can be.
Much like other areas of development, the rate at which children acquire speech and language varies significantly. From the moment our kids are born, we are unconsciously comparing them to their peers, in a bid to reassure ourselves that they are doing well developmentally. We become fixated on what the baby books say they should be doing. Be this when they smile for the first time, roll over, sit up, walk and indeed say their first word. Being informed is incredibly important as a parent, but sometimes Google can be a parents worst nightmare when their child is slow to hit one of these anticipated milestones.
What Can I do?
Sometimes the feeling of not knowing what exactly you can do to help is the most frustrating of all. Here are five things you can do to help support you child’s speech and language development in everyday routines. It is often the simplest of things that can be very effective. With younger children under 3 years, we as parents often have to make small changes to the way we ourselves communicate in order to support them in the best way possible.
- The Hanen Centre which is a not-for-profit charity, whose goal is ‘to enable young children to develop the best possible language and literacy skills’. They offer lots of training to speech and language therapists and many therapist worldwide are trained in their techniques and programmes (myself included). The Hanen website is a really great resource for parents, where you can download ‘Top 10 Tips’ advice sheets depending on what communication stage your child is at. I regularly give these handouts to parents in work and think they are a really excellent resource.
- Face to Face. Get down to your child’s level and being Face to Face as much as possible is key. Looking at your child and allowing them to see your face, let’s them know you are engaged and interested in interacting with them. It also means that they can see your mouth movements and listen to what you are saying more easily. Sometimes being face to face might mean kneeling down to your child’s level, or lifting them up to sit on a table whilst you stand beside them.
- The Running Commentary of Life. Try and talk to your child about everyday activities around the house, during playtime or when you’re out and about. Maybe it’s naming everything that goes into the trolley at the supermarket, or describing how you are preparing the dinner, e.g. ‘Chop chop chop the carrots’ or ‘Let’s stir the sauce’. It is important to use a combination of naming words (e.g. apple, car, girl), describing words (e.g. wet, red, fluffy, small) and action words (e.g. run, jump, turn, open) in order to model to your child the different components that make up sentences. During playtime, you could narrate what your child is doing, describing toys and actions.
- The 1+ Rule. Try and expand on what your child is saying by adding one word to what they have said. So for example if your child says: ‘Ball’ you might respond ‘Big ball’ or ‘red ball’. If your child uses a two word utterance like ‘big cat’ you could add a word like ‘soft big cat’ and so on. By doing this you are acknowledging to your child that what they have said is important by repeating it back to them whilst expanding their sentence further.
- Nursery Rhymes and Songs are a great way of introducing language and new vocabulary. Some children will be more interested in nursery rhymes than others, but the repetitive nature of nursery rhymes is great for hearing new words over and over. As your child becomes more familiar with rhymes or songs, maybe leave the last word out and pause to see if they attempt to say the word e.g. ‘Twinkle twinkle little…….(pause)…star’. To begin with, your child might not say anything, but as they become increasingly familiar and confident they may start to join in over time.
Do I need to attend a Speech & Language Therapist?
There does come a point where it is appropriate to see your local speech and language therapist. If you feel your child is significantly behind and using very limited language compared to their peers, or is finding it difficult to follow simple directions, it may be reassuring to attend for a speech and language assessment. Different geographical areas have different wait times, so make sure you find out what the situation is in your local area before panicking about waiting times. Here in Ireland the HSE website should guide you as to where your local speech and language therapy clinic is located, similarly the NHS website should also be able to guide you on this.