Pediatric speech and language: Frequently asked questions

baby boy reaching for man's face

Cropped image. Harsha K R, Flickr. CC license.

Pediatric speech-language pathologists get asked a lot of questions about childhood development. After all, we work with children every day! Below are a few of the most commonly asked questions about speech and language development.

Q: What are important early speech and language milestones for young children?

A: Children are developing skills constantly, and at different rates, but here are a few basics to look for at various ages.

  • 0 to 3 months: Cooing, smiling at familiar faces, crying differently for different needs, calming or smiling when spoken to, and recognition of your voice.
  • 4 to 6 months: Babbling with different consonant sounds (e.g., /p/, /b/, /m/), laughing, vocalizing excitement and displeasure, moving eyes in the direction of sounds, paying attention to music, and responding to changes in the tone of your voice.
  • 7 months to 1 year: Babbling long and short groups of sounds, using speech to get and keep your attention, using gestures to communicate (e.g., waving, holding arms to be picked up), imitating different speech sounds, using one or two words around first birthday, enjoying simple games like peek-a-boo, turning and looking in the direction of sounds, listening when spoken to, recognizing some common words, and beginning to respond to requests.
  • 1 year to 18 months: Shaking head “no;” may use between 5 and 25 words; begin making animal sounds; communicating needs by using single words, pointing, grunting, gesturing, facial expressions, or eye contact; imitating common actions (e.g., brushing hair, feeding, talking on phone); pointing to objects when named; and following simple one- and two-step commands.
  • 18 to 24 months: Using 50 to 200 words, responding to “yes/no” questions, attending to books, following multiple step directions, pointing to pictures, and attending to activities for 10 to 15 minute stretches.

Q: What are the best ways to stimulate my young child’s speech and language skills?

A: For children from the age of 0 to 1 year old, the best ways to stimulate their language include:

  • Responding to your child’s coos, gurgles, and babbling
  • Staying simple and consistent with your vocabulary and using the words repetitively
  • Matching language with your activities (e.g., “Shoes on,” “Mommy driving”)
  • Looking at simple picture books. Label the pictures, take your child’s hand and point to the objects.
  • Telling nursery rhymes, singing songs, and playing simple games together such as peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake
  • Encouraging simple directions (e.g., “Give me the cup,” “Kiss the baby,” etc.)
  • Teaching your child the names of everyday items and familiar people
  • Taking your child with you to new places and situations

For children from the age of 1 to 2 years old, the best ways to stimulate their language include:

  • Rewarding and encouraging early efforts at saying new words. Asking your child to “show me” if something is unclear.
  • Talking to your baby about everything you’re doing while you’re with them
  • Having your child imitate new words and ideas
  • Talking simply, clearly and slowly to your child
  • Describing what your child is doing, feeling, and hearing
  • Going on trips and adventures (e.g., visit the zoo, plant flowers)

Q: What are the best toys for young children working on improving their speech and language skills?

A: As a speech-language pathologist, one of the questions I’m asked most often is, “What toys should I buy to help my child talk?” The toys listed below include those that I often use with children working on increasing their speech and language skills, as well as those that I would generally recommend to parents of young children. The best toys to promote speech and language development for your child are the simplest toys. Items that allow children to get creative with play and allow them to use the toy in a variety of ways are great for promoting language development. These toys include:

  • Blocks
  • Cars/trucks/trains
  • Play kitchen and food
  • Farm set
  • Baby doll and accessories
  • Doll house
  • Dress up clothes
  • Tool set
  • Tea set
  • Mr. Potato Head

Q: What is the best way to introduce a second language? Is there a “window” of time that is best?

A: It’s never too early or too late to introduce a second language, but research shows that for the most part, earlier is better. Children learn language by listening to people who speak that language, whether it is their parents, family members, teachers, friends or others. The best models for language are native speakers, but when that’s not available, there are classes, apps, games and high-quality television programming that teach other languages to children.

Children who are bilingual experience benefits that reach into adulthood, including higher academic achievement, better problem solving, increased executive control, and overall better communication skills!

Q: What should I do if I think my child is falling behind in his speech and language development?

A: If you suspect any kind of difficulty or delay in development, talk to your pediatrician. She may recommend a speech and language evaluation by a certified, licensed speech and language pathologist, who can help determine if intervention is needed.

– Erin Reaume, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

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