When you are worried, by Maggie Redshaw
Most toddlers learn to talk and to follow what is being said to them. However, some may struggle and some may have problems. They may be slower than other children, or talk less clearly but don’t worry – they are likely to get there in the end. The most common reason for what is called ‘language delay’ is that a child may have hearing problems which are preventing them from following and understanding what is being said.
Here are some tips about what to be aware of if you feel your child may be struggling a bit:
- Some children get frustrated and may turn back to physical signals if the spoken language is not working as quickly as they would like – pulling you down so they can be carried, taking your hand and showing what they want.
- Communication is the thing and responding to this type of signal by doing what is wanted at the same time as talking is important and can take the pressure off the language learning for a moment.
- Late talkers are often good at understanding what is being said and responding to quite complicated requests. You will know whether this is the case for your child, by watching, for example, how he or she helps you put the shopping away, organises a pretend tea party for her teddies or gets what you wanted from another room.
- Even if children are not chatting back, it is important that you continue to talk to them, play games and share books because this kind of positive interaction and turn-taking, while underpinning language development, also fuels social and emotional development.
Sometimes there does seem to be a problem and it is important to get advice. If you notice that your child is not responding to noises that you would expect, or is making less effort to communicate with sounds than previously, it is worth talking to your health visitor or family doctor about it.
Get your child‘s hearing checked if you are at all worried. Most babies will have had their hearing checked quite early on, however middle ear infections (‘otitis media’) are common and can cause mild hearing loss that may last days or months. This may show up in children becoming less attentive and easily distracted. For a child with this problem it may be harder to follow a conversation, to join in a game or to do exactly what they are asked. By trying to prevent your child getting sore throats, coughs and colds, this is likely to help if ear infections seem to be a problem. If there is a problem that your family doctor identifies then you and your child may have an appointment made with a paediatrician or children’s doctor who specialises in assessing hearing difficulties (an audiologist). Following assessment, a plan may be worked out that could include one or more sessions with a speech and language therapist. If your child does have hearing problems, reducing background noise, ensuring your child can see your face and hear what you are saying and making some allowances can help his or her language and communication skills continue to develop.
Communication is something that uses all our senses and while it involves hearing, it also relies on vision and touch, which are vital when hearing is difficult. Signing and sign language show us this and for children with serious hearing problems this can be a really effective way to learn to communicate, along with other interventions. Good communication involves the ability to listen, being aware of non-verbal cues like facial expression and body posture, and talking clearly. Most children do learn to talk, though they may follow different routes to get there. What is clear is that all children benefit from parents taking the time to talk and interact with them in ways that are enjoyable and which help their understanding of how the social and physical world work. This enables children of all abilities to make the most of themselves and the opportunity to enjoy the world around them.
Maggie Redshaw is the Pampers Village Parenting Panel baby development expert. The Pampers Village Parenting Panel is a group of professionals specially selected from all areas of pregnancy and child development fields, as well as family wellbeing, to help provide media and general public with the latest advice and information to aid baby, as well as parents, during the crucial pre-natal and post-natal period of their life.
More information on the Pampers Village Parenting Panel can be found on www.pampers.co.uk