As a speech-language pathologist (SLP) people generally assume that I work with kids that can’t produce certain sounds or are hard to understand. Or, if they’ve seen The Kings Speech, they also know that I cure stuttering through a variety of wacky methods. While I don’t operate quite like the SLP in The Kings Speech, I do work with children with speech impairments or delays that may impede their academic or social development. This, however, is only a small piece of what I do and is only covered by the first word in that absurdly long title.
What many consider even more important than speech is the second word, ‘language’. Language development is an area that is often taken for granted or overlooked. While it can be quite obvious that a child’s motor development is not on track (i.e. are they crawling/walking etc.) at, it can be harder to tell if their language skills are where they are suppose to be.
Strong language skills are incredibly important to a child’s school experience. Vocabulary size at kindergarten entry is one of the best predictors of school success at later grades. Language learning begins at birth with those first 5 years being critical for building the foundation for all later learning. Many linguists argue that there is a ‘critical period’ of language development, meaning our brain is only pliable and flexible enough to do the necessary wiring for language in the first few years of life. The few studies that have looked at children that were not exposed to language prior to this critical age have indicated that normal language skills may not be achievable beyond a certain point. While these were obviously extreme cases and not the norm, anywhere from 2 to 12% of children suffer from some sort of language delay. If caught early and provided with the necessary support these children can catch up to their peers by school entry.
A language delay can result from a variety of causes but are generally influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Some children are born predisposed to language delays while others may not have an environment that is conducive to them learning language as quickly as expected. This may be as simple as a poor ‘fit’ between parents and child in terms of communication style. Some children need a certain amount of exposure as well as a certain style of language modelling to develop appropriately. So what to look for in preschool children in terms of their development?
The following provides a brief description:
What to expect:
- By 5 months will react to various tones of voice
- Cooing and vowel sounds
- Babbling in response to you (bababa, dadada)
- Towards 12 months may say his first word and should understand around 100 words
12 months- 2 years
- Babbling should contain a variety of sounds: bada, maba and consist of long and short groups
- Words should be starting to appear regularly
- Pointing towards desired objects
- By 2 years you should expect a minimum of 50 different words and some 2 word combinations
2 years- 3 years
- Your kiddo should be regularly adding new words to their spoken vocabulary (should have a word for most things)
- 3-4 word sentences should be common by age 3
3 years- 4 years
- Your child should communicate primarily in sentences of 4 words or more. They should be able to ask and answer questions about their day
- Tells stories and talks about daily activities
Providing a child with a solid foundation with respect to language is providing them with the opportunity to do well in school. If you have any questions, concerns or would like additional information about supporting your child’s language development, please feel free to contact your local SLP!