By Amy Stuart, Speech Pathologist – The Benevolent Society

As a parent, few things are more rewarding than watching your children reach their key milestones. Every time they make eye contact, giggle, crawl, clap or even stumble, it’s cause for celebration.

All children develop differently, and sometimes those milestones look different, too. Untreated speech and language delay can persist in 40-60 percent of children, and these little ones are at a higher risk of social, emotional, behavioural and cognitive difficulties in adulthood.

Communication skills need to be encouraged and monitored early. Research indicates the power of early intervention is due to the plasticity of the brain . Children’s brains are rapidly growing and are very capable of adapting and changing. The main growth is seen in the years prior to three years of age.

By the time your child is ready for school, they should have developed the foundations needed to participate in learning in the classroom and interacting in the playground. What can sometimes happen, is parents take the ‘wait and see’ approach, leading to late diagnosis and intervention for communication delay.

Through my training and experience as a Speech Pathologist at The Benevolent Society, I know the earlier a child is assessed, the better chance they have at developing the foundations for lifelong learning and wellbeing.

For over 20 years Amy has been working in Paediatric Speech Pathology with the main focus being children 0-5yrs and their families.

There are five signs to keep an eye out for when considering communication delays:

1. Early markers: It’s essential for parents to remember that communication begins at birth. While a baby may not be able to talk in their first year, you want to see various communicative indicators. These can include:

  • Crying differently for their different needs
  • Turning and responding to the voice of others, especially loved ones
  • Being vocal and doing their cute baby babbling throughout the day

2. Use of language: Babies generally use their first words around their very first birthday. Words can be slow at first, but it does not take long for young children to gain momentum fast. You would expect them to be combining at least two words by their second birthday. By that stage, they would have a vocabulary of 50-75 single words.

3. Understanding of language: Children will understand many more words and phrases before using these words themselves. You want to see these growing youngsters understand familiar words starting as young as 10 months. Understanding will also rapidly grow, and children should be following two-step commands by the time they are 2 years old.

Individual speech sounds develop at different ages.

4. Speech clarity: Individual speech sounds develop at different ages. We are learning sounds up until the age of 8 years old. The first words will be unclear. It is not until children are using more language and having more practice that their speech will start to gain more clarity. At 3 years of age, you expect people outside the family to understand most of what your little one is saying.

5. Social skills: Even when children are little and unable to communicate with words, you want to see that they are interested in people. Young children should be responding to the voice of others; they should be making eye contact, smiling and using gestures and pointing if they are not yet able to use words.

Once children have words, you want to see them using these words to communicate with others, not just label things in their environment. You want to see words being used to request, to greet, to comment and to refuse.

Finally, what is important to remember is that early intervention can never be too early. Your child should be reaching speech, language and hearing milestones before 18 months of age. If you have concerns and your child is older, please reach out to a professional Speech Pathologist for further guidance. If you do need support or want more information visit www.benevolent.org.au