As a baby, your child communicated through crying. When she became a toddler, people outside the family may have found it hard to understand her words. But by the time she starts school, your child needs to make herself understood clearly to a wide world of teachers, peers and adults. The most important time for learning language and speech occurs during the first three years of life, although children will continue to develop speech skills right up to the age of 12. If your child is speech-delayed, there are activities that can help her develop her speech and language skills.
Speech delays can be the result of hearing difficulties or of not paying enough attention to sounds. Build your child’s ability to listen carefully. Turn off the TV for at least one-half hour each day while you talk to him. Use family meal times to sit down together and talk so that he hears your speech often. Play sound games like “Sound Bingo” in which you record sounds around the house and play them back to him to see if he can recognize them.
Model Clear Speech
Monitor your own speech to make sure you speak clearly to your child so that she copies good speech patterns. Leave pauses between phrases, giving her time to process the sounds she hears and catch up with what you say. Play with sounds, spelling out words sound by sound, so that “ship” becomes “sh-i-p” and see if she can recognize the word. When she says a word incorrectly, avoid asking her to say it again. Just say it back to her yourself so that she hears the correct version.
The Importance of Reading
Share books with your child every day from babyhood onwards. The written word can help your child work out the order of the sounds. Work closely with his teachers to choose books that target sounds he finds difficult. Say rhymes and sing songs together in the car to help develop his sense of rhythm and introduce sound combinations in a fun way.
Your child needs to make minute and accurate movements of her face, lips, tongue, cheeks, throat and voice box when she talks. She can build muscle strength and flexibility through games like blowing bubbles. Show her lip and tongue exercises, blowing kisses or touching every tooth in turn with the tip of her tongue. Join her in humming and puffing out candles.
Speech delay may sometimes be part of a wider spectrum of difficulties. Learning delay, autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may affect your child's speech and language development. Cerebral palsy or dyspraxia, where he finds it difficult to organize his body movements, make the production of speech sounds in the right order hard for him. Brain damage from head injury may make speech difficult. Seek help from your health professional and speech-language pathologist if you have concerns about his speech, or if he has been stuttering for more than a few months.