When should you worry about your child’s speech (or lack of)?

Kinderling News & Features

The gorgeous babble and chatter of a growing bub is probably the most adorable thing in all of life. But when should we worry if the baby talk doesn't develop into proper speech?

While all kids develop at different paces, sometimes we need help deciphering when our little ones need help. Speech Pathologist Janelle Curry from Melbourne and Peninsula Speech Pathology shares how you can help your child’s speech development and when you should seek professional advice. 

Respond carefully when you don’t understand 

Sometimes our children’s words and sentences sound like a whole lotta babble but your response is important to their language development. Janelle recommends following a few basic guidelines when you don’t understand what they’ve said. 

Listen to Janelle on Kinderling Conversation:

“Ask a second time and if you still don’t understand ask them to show you what they meant,” Janelle says. “Obviously if you heard that last word, it was car and you have a car in your hand, if you have asked him twice you don’t want to make him feel bad. Just say ‘Yes that’s a great red car! I bet you that goes fast!’ And maybe that’s not what he’s said but you’ve made an appropriate comment on what he’s shown you.” 

“He might have asked ‘Mummy can I throw this car in the bin?’ and you’ve said ‘Yeah sure darling!’ and you’ve pretended you’ve understood him. It’s gonna go wrong.”

 Add to their language 

An important step in language development is to build on their vocabulary. We do this by picking out a word you’ve understood and building sentences around that. 

So if you’ve hear your child say ‘car’, you can add onto it, like saying how big, red and fast it is when you push it. 

Janelle explains, “Then you’ve added a concept of big, a descriptive word, you’ve added a colour and you’ve added push and fast, adding to their interaction. Developing language skills are all about those conversations and interaction! You don’t need the big whiz bang shiny flashing toy, it’s about following your child’s lead.”

“You’re keeping that conversation going, teaching him new vocabulary and teaching him new sentence structure. But it’s still fun, you’re not hounding him with questions. Kids want to feel listened to.” 

Get on their level 

To further aid your child in speech and social development Janelle recommends to get on their level, be attentive and in the moment. 

“Put down your phone, maintain eye contact, get down to their level,” She says. “When they talk to you, get down to their level and show them that you're listening. It’s not just to expand their language, it’s also to show them that’s how they should listen to others for their social skills.” 

Understand potential issues 

Understanding the why to speech development is imperative to solving the problem but there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer to why speech delays occur. 

Janelle says, “The ‘why’ can be anything. Our job is to look at the why and really get into that. 

  • Is there any hearing loss? A hearing test is always done first.
  • Then the cognitive skills are looked at, is it a receptive language problem? (their understanding of language)
  • Could it be an expressive language problem? Some children have wonderful understanding and can follow instructions but they just can’t express themselves adequately.
  • There’s also investigation into whether autism playing a part in the language delay?
  • Does an older sibling do all the talking so the little one never get a chance to answer? 

“There are many factors and we look at each family individually,” Janelle explains. 

Know when to seek help

There is such a big range of what's average in language development. As a guideline, Janelle recommends taking note when your child turns two. If they’re not yet using 50 words then, you should keep an on eye on it. 

“When I say 50 words they don’t have to be clear words. They could say a particular sound like vroom and that’s their word for car, or moo and that’s their word for cow. They don’t have to be clear adult words,” Janelle assures. “Language delays can be picked up at any time but the earlier it’s picked up the better. Closing that gap between them and their peers is really important.”