This series will take a deeper look at different areas of child development. Hopefully this can help you recognize what typical development may look like, and give your family some ideas on how to integrate development into your daily lives.
Everybody wants their baby to talk. Since this is such a big milestone in childhood, this is often one of the first things that family members notice may be delayed. But there’s a difference between communicating and speaking. Let’s break it down.
When I look at communication, I typically focus on the function of a child’s skills, rather than what is “typical.” So for communication, this means that your child is able to get their wants and needs met. This might be by signing, using words, pointing, using pictures, or getting it themselves.
For our purposes, language is referring to the actual method a person uses to communicate, typically verbal language. It can also include things like sign language, picture communication, and use of an alternate communication device. So when I talk about language, assume all of these modes are included.
Yes, we want children to use language, be it verbal language or not. But to me, delays in communication are usually of more concern than a child with a language delay who has great communication skills.
So what can you do if you suspect a communication or language delay? Here are some easy tips to get you started.
Talk all the time. Children need to hear language from actual, live people in order to be able to repeat it (so no, playing NPR all day doesn’t really work). It can really be that simple. One of my favorite speech therapists tells families to pretend they were a sportscaster, and just narrate everything they were doing. Yes, it may feel silly, but I promise it helps.
Talk to your child in the language that’s most comfortable for you. This goes back to that idea that children are going to repeat what they hear. Because of this, you should be speaking in a language that’s easy for you to speak fluidly throughout the day. So, if you are a native Spanish speaker, speak to them in Spanish! Not only will they be learning about their family’s native language, and hopefully also something about their culture, but studies show that being raised in a multilingual household can have benefits on various areas of development.
Use simple language. When you want your child to repeat something or use language to request or comment, use easy language. For a 2-year-old, its going to be a lot easier to repeat “more water,” when you simply say, “more water.” It's going to be a lot harder to do when you ask them “Can you say more water? I want you to say ‘more water, please!’ if you want me to give it to you!” Adjust the words you use to what your child already knows.
Give enough wait time. Oh, have you heard me say this before? Well it’s because I really want you to do it! Children take longer to process things sometimes, especially when they’re learning new things. If you want them to repeat something, say it once, using simple language and give them a few seconds of silence. Usually, they will repeat it after hearing the word or phrase a few times. But you really have to wait!
Let’s try this: Count to 10 right now. I’ll wait. Longer than you’d think, huh? That’s how long I want you to wait before you repeat the phrase again. Here’s how it could go:
Family Member: Ball? (wait 5-10 seconds)
Child: (stares blankly at you)
FM: Ball? (wait 5-10 second)
FM: Yes, ball! Here’s the ball (give the child the ball)
Remember that although all children develop at their own pace, there is a range of what is considered “typical.” There are lots of things you can do if you suspect a delay, and many resources you can check in with.
If you think that your child is having challenges with functional communication, reach out for support.
Have a question about a particular area of development not covered yet? Suggest one by reaching out to us.