Is speech delay a serious business? We speak to two experts – Agnieszka Debowska, senior speech-language therapist from Bubble Bee Therapy Centre and Tee Suat Chin, speech-language therapist from Little Chatterbox Speech Therapy Centre – to find out.
- What constitutes as speech delay?
Suat Chin: Speech delay is a general term to describe children “who can’t speak well”. They may have one or more of the following disorders: Language – receptive language and expressive language, Speech – pronunciation, articulation and/or speech clarity, and Communication – using language to socialise. In fact, speech and language problems are said to be one of the most common developmental delays among young children.
- What are the causes of speech delays in children?
Agnies: Often times, the cause of speech delays are other conditions, such as sensory processing difficulties, low muscle tone, motor delays, oral-motor problems, hearing problems, emotional and relationship based difficulties, and many more. There is also the genetic factor – children of parents who used to have speech or language difficulties are more likely to experience speech delay. Sometimes, speech development issues co-exist with more serious conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and Apraxia.
- What are some signs to look out for?
Both: Lack of or absence of babbling during infant stage (six to 12 months), lack of or absence of single words at around 18 to 20 months, non-verbal at 24 months, and unclear speech at three-years-old. Other signs include using gestures to communicate, not stringing words together to form two-word phrases, not being able to respond to simple questions and follow and participate in classroom activities for pre-schoolers.
- How serious is speech delay?
Suat Chin: Speech delay can affect children both socially and academically. When the child is affected socially, they are withdrawn because friends can’t understand or communicate with them. This may cause the child to shut down due to hearing “Can you please repeat? I do not understand you” often from others. Academically, a child may not be able to comprehend classroom instruction and the lesson due to receptive language problems.
- What can parents do to curb their child’s speech delay at home?
Agnies: Go down to the child’s level, follow the child’s lead and provide opportunities to interact, while not overwhelming the child with language. Provide an easy-to- follow model, and stress on the important words. The rule of thumb is to use just slightly more advanced language than the child. So, for instance, when the child is able to use single words, parent should talk in two-word combinations. It doesn’t mean they can’t use sentences; just focus more on the interaction rather than talking, talking, and talking.
Parents can sit around and wait for the child to ‘outgrow’ the problem. But, what if the child does not? If your child is still struggling with their speech and language when they enter K2, then their overall learning will be affected. Early intervention is key.