May is Better Hearing and Speech month. This is the month when everyone is talking about their child’s speech and language development. But what is “normal” speech and language development? How do you know if your child is on track or needs a little extra help?
Speech is how your child says sounds and words. Articulation is how a child makes the speech sounds using their mouth, lips and tongue. Even before your child says their first words to communicate their needs and wants, they communicate through coos, cries, smiles and giggles. During the first year of life, babies use sounds to communicate when they are happy or sad. They use gestures to indicate they want something to happen or need something, imitate speech sounds and babble long strings of words (ex: mama, upup, bababa). Between 12 months and 24 months of age, children begin to put two words together, ask wh-questions (ex: Where is Daddy? Who is that? What’s that?) to gain information and consistently produce the sounds p, b, m, h and w. Becoming your child’s narrator is the most helpful thing you can do for your child at this time. For example, “Look, I see the cow. He says moo. The cow is eating grass.” It is essential to follow your child’s lead and expand on their utterances so you can teach them how language works. For example, your child says “cat” you could say, “I see the orange cat. He says meow.” During 24 months and 36 months of age, a child produces the sounds k, g, t, d, and n in words, uses 3 words when talking and begins to ask Why questions.
Hearing plays a significant role in a child’s ability to develop appropriate speech and language skills. During the first 12 months of age, a baby recognizes their parents’ voices, turns their head to locate sounds, turns when you call their name and responds to simple phrases such as “no”, “want more?” and “all done”. Between 12 months and 24 months, your child enjoys listening to books and points to objects in books when they are named, follows 1-step directions and answers simple WH questions (“Where’s your shoe?” ,“Who is that?”). At this stage, children are highly engaged in books and are interested in what a parent is saying. Take this opportunity to read to your child every night before bed! During the next two years, your child begins to understand and follow two-step directions, understands opposites (go-stop, open-closed, big-little) and hears you calling them from a distance and other rooms of the house.
What questions should you ask yourself to see if you need to seek a speech and language evaluation? Every baby in Indiana has a newborn hearing screening , if your child failed the screening it is essential that you follow up with further testing. However, during the first 12 months you should ask yourself does your baby respond to sounds? Do they follow directions? Are they babbling? Do they respond when you call their name? A child’s ability to hear can affect how they produce sounds. We all find it cute when a toddler says “nana” for banana. However, if it continues after they are 36 months, it could be a sign that they need a speech evaluation. If you have questions about your child’s speech and language development , ask your pediatrician and seek out more information. You are your child’s best advocate!