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Are You Worried About Your Child’s Speech?

You may be concerned that your child is having difficulty with his speech. There are common problems that are often diagnosed and this is a guide to how you can detect them, how to help your child and also how you can seek professional help.

Stuttering – a sign to spot early on is if you notice that your child is getting stuck on a sound in a particular word. An older child who is developing a stutter will be more self conscious so will attempt to hide it which means they might not talk so much and avoid using words they are struggling with.

You can seek help at various stammering associations or help lines depending on where you are in the world. The associations can put you in contact with speech and language therapists in your area. There is no need to be referred by your doctor, although some parents may prefer to do this.

In terms of what you can do yourself at home then it is advisable that for at least three times a week for five minutes arrange some time in the day to give your child your one-to-one attention and do so in a quiet, calm and relaxed atmosphere. Speak slowly to your child so that he can understand and follow what you say more easily but not so slow it becomes unnatural. Just try and communicate in a relaxed way. Pausing for a second before you ask or answer a question can help and express your interest in what he is talking about, not in how he is saying it. Keep your sentences simple and concise whilst keeping eye contact with your child; do not look away if he stammers. Try not to ask too many questions and when you do allow sufficient time for him to answer them. At meal times ask the rest of the family to take turns to speak so that it limits the occasions your child who is struggling with speech is interrupted. Praise and discipline this child as you do the other children. Try and keep to an organised lifestyle so that you are not rushing all the time or feeling like you do not have time to help your child adequately. Tiredness can aggravate stammers so maintain regular sleeping patterns. Another piece of good advice is to resist the urge to finish your child’s sentences off as he may find this frustrating and could hinder him further.

Phonological development describes the process of a child learning new sounds, storing and then accessing them to form words correctly. It is a complex system and is connected to the child’s ability to organise and use new sounds. A phonological delay usually becomes apparent when a child is late in developing speech sounds or has difficulties with speech. It occurs in the absence of any physical difficulties using the muscles for producing speech. This disorder is also known as articulation disorder and developmental phonological disorder. If a child suffers with a phonological delay then associated difficulties with language and literacy can also be expected. Bear in mind that children gradually develop the sounds used for speech and it is to be expected that mistakes in pronunciation will be made and is usual up to and beyond the time a child starts school. Do not expect perfect speech in a toddler. If, however he is not understood by anyone outside your family by three and a half years then you are right to be concerned.

To spot a phonological delay look out for the following. If your child struggles with words that most of his peers do not have problems pronouncing and you cannot see any improvement over a three month period. If you think your child cannot seem to hear the difference between the correct way of saying a word and the way he says it. For example, if he says ‘cap’ instead of ‘tap’ show him pictures of both and see if he can tell you which one is which.

You can assist your child by seeing a speech therapist and asking their advice. Also work on listening skills and you can use games with pictures to practice pronunciation. When you are looking at toy animals or images make the associated noises like a ‘miaow’ for a cat or ‘woof’ for a dog so that your child can associate sounds with meanings.

By Eirian Hallinan

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