Parenting a child with a speech delay can prove difficult as communication is so important in all aspects of life. Jenna Farmer is a mother of one and has discussed the rise in speech and communication problems in her son’s life and how families can help.
Whether it’s the first time you hear ‘mama’, or perhaps a shrill ‘NO!’, the memories made when your child begins to talk can be really exciting. For some parents, however, these milestones may take longer. If you’re concerned about your child’s speech and communication development, then you might have already spent some time on Google. It’s important to understand what it means and how you can get the right support for your child. I’m a mom to a 3-year-old child with speech delay. We chatted to experts about how to help them communicate.
What is speech and communication delays?
Speech and communication delay is a broad term that covers a range of different causes for why your child’s speech and communication skills may be late to emerge.
The term ‘delay’ can sound scary, but it’s really just a way for you to understand if your child needs a helping hand. What’s ‘normal’ can really vary, but there are a few key things to look out for which may help you figure out if your child might need support.
Speech therapist Joanne Jones explains: “In general, we advise reaching out to access support if you have an 18-month-old who isn’t babbling, or isn’t trying to get their message across; a two-year-old who isn’t putting words together; or a three-year-old who isn’t yet able to have a two-way conversation or tell you about their day.” If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, having a chat with your health visitor could be a good idea.
What causes speech and communication delays in children?
These current school and nursery starters have spent part of the past decade in lockdown. Recent Ofsted reports found that half of four-year-olds were not ready for school due to the Covid pandemic. A Kindred2 survey revealed that 91% said at least one child in their classes lacks basic language skills.
It’s reassuring to hear I’m not the only one experiencing this as a parent. It is why does it have such an impact?
“There’s definitely more children having difficulties right now – schools and nurseries that I attend have said they would previously have one or two children in their class with significant communication delays, and now it’s more like five or six. This definitely is partly due to lockdown, but from talking to parents, they were finding it very difficult to access early support during this time too,” says Joanne Jones, who runs The Can-Do Bootcamp, a support group for parents who are often waiting to access NHS therapy.
That’s not to say this is the only cause of speech delay. Some children may take a while to speak but then catch up quickly. For others, speech delay can be a sign of another condition. These conditions include autism, hearing problems, and verbal dyspraxia, which is a condition in which children have difficulty coordinating their mouth movements so that they can speak clearly.
What can parents do to prevent speech and communication delays?
It’s important to acknowledge that living with a child who struggles to communicate can impact everyone in the family.
“Children who can’t communicate have a feeling as to what they need, and are more likely to be withdrawn or disruptive because they’re unable to communicate,” says parenting expert Sue Welby, of Little Life Steps.
This is something parents can find difficult to handle. I, myself, struggled with comparison and guilt at the start of our speech delay journey, and would often ask myself, ‘Am I a bad mum? Is there more I could be doing for my son?’
But it’s normal for parents whose child has a speech delay to feel frustrated and upset at times. “Lots of parents I speak with get triggered when their children struggle with listening skills and following instructions (these are all key for communication). Having some tools parents can use, such as positive self-talk, or even just going to get a glass of water to take a pause, are important,” adds Sue.
Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) expert Georgina Durrant says these feelings are normal and very common: “Parents I support share concerns about both day-to-day life now, as well as worries over their child’s future.”
It can be crucial to find a group of people who are going through the same thing.
“It’s so important to find other families who share the same concerns, and speaking to others, especially those who have speech, language, and communication delays, is really helpful,” Georgina adds. There are many Facebook groups and online communities that focus on speech delay. Your doctor may be able refer you to group classes. This can be a great way to meet other parents who are in the same boat.
Top tips for supporting your child’s speech and communication
Speech therapist Joanne Jones shares her top five tips to help your child’s speech and communication…
1. If you’re concerned, I advise getting a referral sooner rather than later – don’t wait and see. Early intervention can make a huge difference.
2. Don’t ask your child to say or repeat things. It’s tempting, but it’s more effective to input the words they would like to say.
3. Play more. The three ‘Ms’ are mess, movement, and manipulation. Encourage them to move around, make a mess, touch and feel many different objects, and get them moving!
4. You should balance screen time and play time. Don’t feel guilty about screen time, but getting a good mix between types of play and screen time can help.
5. Communication is not always about words. Listen carefully to what your child has to say. It could be a gesture or a facial expression. It’s all valid.
Both you and your child may find speech and communication delays difficult to navigate. It’s important to know that there is support out there if you’re experiencing this. Talk to your doctor. For more information, visit ICAN or The Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice. To find a qualified speech therapist, you can also visit ICAN.
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