One of the joys of being a parent is hearing your baby’s first word. At 12 months old, babies can already say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’. But what if you’ve observed that your child is not talking yet although he is now 24 months old? Chances are, your child has speech and language delay. You might ask, How can I be sure that my child really has speech and language delay? What might have caused it? What can I do to help my child?
First, you need to remember that the age at which a child can develop speech and language skills may vary. Of course, the stages of development are the same—at first, they start babbling, then they try to imitate sounds they hear, and then gradually be able to speak a single word, then combine two words until they are able to express in complete sentences. Speech and language development work hand in hand for a child to be able to express himself verbally. Speech refers to the technical part of using the anatomical structures to produce sound and enunciate the words. On the other hand, language refers to the overall system of acquiring a set of vocabulary, learning grammar, understanding what he hears, and knowing the right words to express his feelings and intention. Thus, speech and language work together and the development of these are expected to occur as a child gets older. Sadly, that is not always the case.
Now, what causes speech and language delay? There are a number of causes. The most common is hearing impairment. It would automatically mean that a child is not able to hear anything. Thus, he is not able to experience that stage of imitating a sound, of learning any vocabulary and grammar, and he has no idea of how to express something verbally. His tendency is to express through gestures. Other causes also related to development are mental retardation, slow development, and autism. However, other cases of speech and language delay are caused by external factors such as when adults don’t spend enough time talking to a child, or when a household uses two languages to communicate. Hence, if you suspect that your child’s speech and language development is delayed, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about it. You might be worried that he doesn’t speak as much as other children his age. The only way to have a proper diagnosis is to have your child checked. Your doctor might perform a hearing test. Of course, the treatment depends on the cause. But you can personally help your child.
As much as possible, spend time talking with him. Use every opportunity to express verbally—when you are preparing a meal, fixing the bed, eating together, and other everyday routines. To make it enjoyable, you can teach him action songs. You can also read him stories with age-appropriate pictures. Try to use the visual aids—point them while saying the vocabulary. These may just be simple steps, but they can greatly help your child’s speech and language development. Don’t underestimate what family and teamwork can do; involve everyone in the family. Also, cooperate with the treatment that the doctor has recommended.