By Jordan Sadler, SLP
New parents look forward to their child’s first words with great anticipation. We want to hear that cute little voice, and start to understand better what our child is thinking about. We dream about how easy parenting will be when our child is able to tell us what he wants with words rather than cries.
But what does it mean when the child in your life is the last one in the playgroup to utter those first words? What if you are the only one who understands those first words? What if he starts to stutter all of a sudden at age 3? And what about that 1st grader who is still lisping? When is it normal and when does it require remediation? How do we know when we should become more concerned?
“Einstein didn’t talk until he was four,” well-meaning people are fond of saying. Then there’s the other playground stand-by, “He’s a boy--boys are slower than girls to talk.” And finally we have the pediatrician’s response, “Let’s just wait and see,” which does many children a huge disservice because it delays critical early intervention so often.
So how do we know?
First of all, we need to realize that “normal” is a range when it comes to development. In other words, although there is a distinct sequence of developmental milestones, there is a somewhat broad time line in which they should emerge. Some children are going to be verbally precocious, while others take their time; both profiles are perfectly fine, most of the time.
It can be difficult, even for professionals, to tell the difference between a child who is simply a “late bloomer” and one who is presenting with a true speech and language delay or disorder. Researchers have not learned to discriminate clearly between the two at an early age. Often, a professional will recommend speech-language therapy just in case there is a true delay in development, and knowing that even the “late bloomer” would benefit from a little boost.
There are excellent free online resources available today for parents who are concerned about a child who seems to be having difficulty understanding and/or using language. Here are a few of the most trusted sources:
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
ASHA is the professional, scientific, and credentialing association for speech-language pathologists and audiologists in the U.S. Their website (http://www.asha.org) has many useful tools, including information on typical development, bilingual development, stuttering, age-appropriate activities to enhance development, how to find a professional in your area, and more.
Zero to Three
This national non-profit organization is dedicated to promoting education regarding healthy development for infants and toddlers. Zero to Three also has a fantastic website at www.zerotothree.org which has many reliable offerings for parents.
Found at www.firstsigns.org, the First Signs website provides parents with information related to early identification of developmental delays and disorders. For families concerned about the presence of a possible autistic spectrum disorder, First Signs has an exciting new offering – there are video clips available online which show specific comparisons between children developing typically and those with an autistic spectrum disorder.
If you are seeking a speech and language screening or evaluation for a child in your care, there are a few options. All families are eligible to request assistance from trained professionals through Early Intervention (ages 0-3) or your local public school district (ages 3 and up). Also, some insurance carriers provide coverage for therapists in private practice. Your pediatrician may be able to make a referral for you.
When it comes to concerns about your child’s development, please don’t take a “wait and see” attitude. If your child would benefit from intervention, pursue it sooner rather than later.