Communication plays a crucial role in the early years of a child’s life. Without the ability to hear and speak clearly, children lose vital access to many educational experiences as they grow. Early speech and hearing intervention can make a dramatic difference in the developmental progress of children from birth through early childhood.
Hearing problems can delay speech and language development, so it’s important to recognize normal milestones in your baby’s development. Most infants from birth to three months of age react to loud sounds and have special cries for different needs. From four to six months, babies follow sounds with their eyes and begin to babble. From seven months to one year, babies understand words for common items such as “cup” or “shoe” and imitate speech sounds. So what’s a parent to do if their child isn’t meeting these markers?
“No baby talks coming out of the womb,” says Julie Yeater, an audiologist at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. “For the first six to eight months, we rely on other factors to test hearing issues.” Julie evaluates newborns as young as four to twelve hours old and recommends retesting at twenty-four to thirty months of age. Babies who stayed in the NICU for more than five days or had mothers with prenatal infections or other health issues are more at risk for hearing loss, so follow up care is especially crucial.
Does birth order or gender matter?
“There’s some truth to the ‘youngest child syndrome,’” states Leigh Carr, a Toledo area pediatric speech and language pathologist. “Older kids help the youngest to speak, but they are good language models as well. Boys tend to speak a little bit later.” If a pediatrician does not seem concerned, Leigh recommends advocating for your child. “Parents know their children best, so we recommend they tell their doctor they want a referral for a speech evaluation.”
Encourage speech at home
There are many things parents can do to enrich the home environment and model appropriate speech. Especially with little ones, it’s important to keep things simple. Use word approximations such as “ba” for bottle or “apo” for apple. “Spend at least fifteen minutes a day playing a child-directed activity,” Leigh suggests. “For example, when giving your child a bath, talk about whatever they reach for or want to play with.” Above all, from the time of birth, read to your child every day. Visit readaloud.org for more information about enriching your child’s budding vocabulary.
The first few years of life are vital for the speech and language development of your child. Make the most of this time to avoid more complex issues in the future.
Everyday activities are teachable moments to encourage speech:
– Play with bubbles. As children blow and pop them, articulate the “p” and “b” sounds.
– Play with cars. Children can make action sounds like “beep beep” and “vroom”.
– Play with stuffed animals. These are portable conversation starters and teach naming skills, as well as action words and sound identification.
– Cook together. This inspires color recognition and following simple steps.
See “Time To Talk: Lucas County Learning Collaborative” for more information.