Kids don’t necessarily all grow and learn the same way and at the same speed, especially when it comes to talking. However, it is undeniable to say that it’s not worrying when your kid is still not talking at a certain age.
Approximately one in 10 five-year-olds have some type of difficulty with speech, language or general communication skills. But by finding out what the causes and concerns are, and the ways to go about solving it, your kid will soon be on his/her way to fluent communication.
Common Communication Concerns
- Speech Delay / Disorder / Impairment
- Language Delay / Disorder / Impairment
- Expressive Language Disorder
- Having difficulty expressing information to other people. They may have trouble remembering vocabulary, grammar, asking questions or telling a story.
- Receptive Language Disorder – Having difficulty in understanding the meaning of information being given to them.
- Dyspraxia – Having difficulty in using the muscles needed for clarity of speech.
- Central Auditory Processing (CAP) Disorder – A neurological disorder which affects ability to listen to and understand language.
- Semantic / Pragmatic Disorder.
- Difficulty in understanding the nuances of language necessary for social purposes.
Communication problems can range from mild, moderate to severe. Sometimes, it can be one of those that deteriorates with time. Hence, as with many developmental delays or disorders, early intervention is best in managing communication development. Don’t wait before consulting an expert.
Common Causes of Communication Difficulty
Syndromes or Disabilities
- Autism – This affects communication skills and can include Central Auditory Processing Disorder as well as Semantic and Pragmatic Disorder.
- Hearing Impairment – If children are unable to hear well enough this will affect their ability to develop speech and language.
- Intellectual Impairment – This will often lead to a delay in speech and language development.
- Visual Impairment – This affects understanding information that is communicated through facial expression, gestures and body language.
- Chronic ear infections in babies or young children can affect hearing over a long period of time leading to delays in speech or language development.
- Poor muscle tone means it can be difficult to coordinate the muscles involved in speech.
- Cleft palate can prevent clear speech.
- Muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy can affect nerve and muscle control which affects speech.
- Lack of stimulation – If a baby or young child is in an environment where there is little or no stimulation, their communication skills will be delayed. This has been seen in cases of babies who grow up in underprivileged orphanages.
- Limited opportunity to talk to others as language is caught, not taught. Generally children who develop expressive speaking skills are exposed to strong communication models.
- A brain injury may affect parts of the brain related to speech and communication. Depending on the type of injury, this may be temporary or permanent.
What can I do to help?
- Increase opportunities for your child to communicate by arranging play-dates for your child or making proper conversations with them at home.
- Speak to a doctor, teacher or speech therapist to know more details and arrange a hearing test as this is a common reason for delayed speech development.
- Always remind your child to simply take a breath and slow down before they talk to reduce stuttering because many times, they have so many ideas and thoughts they wish to express; and physically their mouth is unable to “keep up”.
- Communication problems could also be a contributing factor to a child’s social and emotional behaviour. Studies have shown that there’s a strong link between Behavioural Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD) and communication problems.
Common behavioural problems which can mask a communication problem:
- Repeatedly interrupting, as they don’t understand or cannot pay attention to the conversation.
- Seeming rude, as they are unable to use a different language in different social situations.
- Giving monosyllabic answers or swearing, because they have a very poor or limited vocabulary.
- Seeming rude or isolated because they do not understand jokes, inferences, sarcasm or idioms.
- Uncaring about school work, by being unable to organise information, follow deadlines or seem forgetful.
These behaviours tend to become more evident in primary or secondary school but can certainly affect how a child is treated and definitely, their self-esteem. Early awareness and intervention can allow the problems to be avoided as much as possible.
Originally published in “Communication Problems”, written by Fiona Walker, in Singapore’s Child January 2013.