Is my child late?

Fiona Mcdonald, Head of Learning Support, Chiltern Learning Circles has worked with many children and parents. Over the years, there have been several questions that are frequently raised by parents. Here are two of the frequent concerns expressed by parents.

Q: When will my child talk?  

A: All parents treasure that first word and love to hear their child expand their spoken language. For some parents, it takes a long time before they hear the first word, others only get to hear a few and then things seem to come to a halt. Lack of speech is often a big concern raised by parents.

It is important to consider:
Language is not just speech – language is the ability to understand and to express both in verbal and non-verbal forms.Language develops over a period of time and through some clear stages. Children move through these stages at different rates although there are general milestones which are a good indicator of whether to be concerned or not.

For language to develop opportunities need to be given and positive reinforcement for communication need to happen.Aspects of feeding can play an important role in developing the muscles, etc. required for speech.  

Parents can help develop the communication skills of their child by taking things in stages according to the child’s development – for example, to sing and talk slowly to a baby is more appropriate than talking to them in long complicated sentences. Children need exposure to the non-verbal aspects of language – facial expressions and gestures are vital parts of the parent’s “tool kit”. 

Again, play and engagement with people is important to develop this area. Parents need to take an active role in developing their child’s communication skills by spending time with them, answering their questions, giving those opportunities to express themselves and by modelling positive communication skills.

Basic developmental milestones for parents to keep in mind:
12-18 months – babble, some gestures (such as waving), shows understanding of words (eg. Come, hello, cup, Mummy, etc), names certain objects and people, tries to imitate sounds/words, points/reaches for things.

18-24 months – combining simple words “daddy gone” “want ball”, continues to expand use of gestures, understands many more phrases, responds to simple instructions “take cup”, “give hat”.

2-3 years – longer phrases and short sentences, understands differences (such as up/down, put in/take out), vocabulary increases much more, names lots of objects, adds description to phrases (big truck, blue ball, etc)

If a parent is concerned about their child’s language they should talk to their child’s teacher, their family doctor and then seek out the advice of a speech and language therapist if the concerns are shared or progress is not noted.

Q: When will my child learn to read?

A: Increasingly, there is an expectation that children will learn to read at a young age. Current studies still indicate that the age of acquisition for reading ranges from the age of 4 years to 8 years old. Some children will learn to read at a younger age, but in the majority independent reading tends to happen more from the age of 5 or 6 years old. 

If parents are concerned about their child’s progress, it is important for them to consider:
Does the child have appropriate language skills to enable them to read and understand what they are reading?Have they been exposed to appropriate models for reading, is reading seen as a valuable skill to have?

Do they have important pre-reading skills – enjoyment, ability to tell/retell/predict, phonetic foundation skills, sight words, etc.It is important that parents set the appropriate positive tone for working on reading skills.  Reading is not something to be rushed, but should be a pleasant positive experience for both child and adult.

Parents should continue to read to their child even after they start to want the child to read to them, it should continue as a shared experience. Reading should remain as a “special moment” for as long as possible. It is disheartening to find that many independent primary school readers no longer read for pleasure, but purely for study purposes. 

If parents are concerned about their child’s reading they should discuss the progress with the child’s teacher, reflect on what involvement they have with their child and the process and if necessary, seek the advice of a learning specialist who may help identify the key areas that need more work before progress will continue to happen. 
If a parent has concerns about any area of their child’s development, they should seek feedback from the child’s teacher, from their family doctor and also trust in their own observations and feelings.  Specialised help is available through Child Development Units (within hospitals) as well as through a range of private practices. All studies indicate the value of early intervention, so concerns should not be ignored.