Speech, language and communication skills are essential for the development of a child’s learning and their social and emotional wellbeing. It can be easy to take these skills for granted and believe that they will automatically be acquired. Worryingly though, approximately 50% of children are starting school with delayed speech and around 1 million children in the UK have long term problems with their speech, language and communication. Research also shows that a pre-schooler’s vocabulary and communication skills have a direct impact on their academic performance and future outcomes. Children with better spoken language skills do better at school, have better social skills, lower mental health issues and better life chances. Although there are many factors that can affect a child’s speech and language development, there is also a great deal that we as parents can do. Factors that can affect speech and language development Developmental Factors There are a number of developmental factors that can affect speech and language, but with the correct intervention and support children can still become proficient communicators. Hearing Loss Hearing loss will have a profound effect on speech without early intervention. Children need to be able to hear speech and sounds in order to produce them correctly. Even a child who has mild hearing loss can experience difficulties with speech and language as they may not hear some of the softer sounds and may not be able to distinguish between certain sounds and words. This can be the case with a child who has glue ear or suffers from reoccurring ear infections.
Speech Difficulties A child may have a specific speech difficulty that affects their ability to speak. Speech difficulties include: speech apraxia and Dysarthria (motor speech disorders), orofacial myofunctional disorder (tongue thrust), stuttering, articulation disorders (problems making certain sounds), cleft palatte. Sight Impairment Vision plays an essential part in communication and in the acquisition of speech. From birth babies use eye contact to communicate; they learn to turn their caregivers ‘on’ and ‘off’ by looking at them or away and adults respond accordingly. Facial expressions play a large part in communication on the part of the caregiver and the baby. Babies with sight impairment will smile less and do not automatically smile in response to the caregivers face. A smile can provide a cue for interaction and communication. Imitation is very important in communication development and plays an important part in how babies learn to produce the speech sounds of their native tongue, without sight a baby is unable to see the shape of the mouth used to make sounds. Sight impairment will also have an impact on cognitive development which will affect speech and language acquisitions as children rely heavily on sight to explore and understand the world. Children’s speech and vocabulary develops very much in the ‘here and now’, talking about what they see. A child with sight impairment will find it difficult to understand object permanence and cause and effect. Although children with sight impairment have many barriers to learning effective communication skills, with the right level of support and understanding these barriers can be overcome and some babies with sight impairment become very effective communicators. Environmental Factors Maybe surprisingly, a child’s environment can play a huge part in the development of speech, language and communication skills. The environment that children are brought up in is something that all parents need to consider.
Noise Too much background noise can interfere with what a baby/young child hears. Sounds may not be heard correctly and some softer sounds may not be heard at all. It is important to be mindful of the environment and amount of background noise as this can have a detrimental effect on speech development. Examples of background noise are the television, loud music, lots of talking/shouting.
Lighting Just as a sight impaired child will struggle with not being able to see visual communication, poor lighting can create similar problems for a sighted child. Poor lighting can also limited the amount of and quality of print that a child sees. This can have an impact on literacy skills. Social Factors
Bilingual Children who are learning more than one language may experience communication delay and difficulties in developing literacy skills.
Parents with a reading disability Children whose parents have a reading disability may not be read to at home or have limited access to books.
Lack of opportunities to experience spoken and written language Speech and language is partly innate and partly learnt; for children to acquire speech and language they need to be emerged in a language rich environment. Children need to be spoken to, sung to, read to. They need to see the written word and understand what it is for and how it relates to the spoken word. If children grow up in a language-poor environment, their speech and language development is likely to be delayed.
Too much screen time Children learn to talk and communicate through interactions with other people and by imitation. These are not skills that can be acquired from the television, a tablet or smart phone. In fact, there has been considerable research carried out on the amount of screen time a child has and the effect on their speech and language. A study by Chonchnya and Pruksananonda found that children who began watching television before 12 months and who watched more than 2 hours a day were 6 times more likely to have speech and language delays.
It is also important for parents and carers to limit their own screen time. All too often you see children being pushed along or walking with a parent, while the parent seems completely engrossed in conversation on their phone or on social media. Vital opportunities for communication are being missed. How to help develop speech, language and communication skills With speech, language and communication skills being vital to a child’s cognitive and emotional development, shouldn’t we all pay more attention to how we help our children acquire these skills? Just by being mindful of the importance of speech and language and the impact that our environment can have, can make a real difference to a child’s development. Top five tips for improving speech and language skills
1. Read to your children It’s never too early to start reading to your baby. Children learn words long before they can say them, so reading helps broaden their vocabulary and aids their comprehension. Young babies will also love the sound of your voice and the time spent with you. 2. Reduce screen time Babies and young children need physical interaction to develop their speech, language and communication skills - something even the best apps can’t provide! 3. Reduce background noise in the home Be conscious of the noise in your home. Do you have the radio or TV on all day? Are there plenty of opportunities for your little one to clearly hear speech. 4. Sing to your children For some parents, it can be difficult to know what to say to your baby or young child. This is where songs and rhymes really come in to their own. Learn a few simple rhymes or have fun making up your own. 5. Play with your children Last on my list but by no means least, play provides a fantastic opportunity to develop speech, language and communication skills. Talk about what toys are being played with. Describe shapes, colours, sounds, textures, etc. Use verbs (doing words), e.g. the cow is jumping, the dolly is drinking, the car is racing. The list of what you can do through play is endless and such a powerful tool for learning and development. Need help with play ideas and songs and rhymes? Our classes provide great inspiration. Check out my website for details of our classes. For certain, the acquisition of speech, language and communication skills should not be taken for granted. Although developing these skills is a complex process and there are a number of factors that can affect a child’s development in this area, parents and carers can all take action to ensure that children have the best possible outcomes. Where there is a concern about delayed speech and language then professional advice should be sought as soon as possible. If you have any concerns you should speak to your GP or Health Visitor. https://ican.org.uk/ is also a good source of help and advice.