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Communication Concerns?

If your child is off to school for the first time and you're worried about their speech and language development - read on for some great advice from ISLTS Speech Therapist Lorna Bailey.

As much as I love the summer holidays, I am breathing a sigh of relief now that the kids have returned to school and life gets back to a nice orderly routine in the Muddy house.

Many of you may have waved your little ones off for the first time with a mix of trepidation and joy as the pre-school juggle shifts to the next stage of development for both mother and child.

I clearly remember all three of my girl’s first days and a few of my insecurities included;

  • Had I done enough to prepare them?
  • Will they be able to cope with the new environment?
  • Will they make friends?
  • Will they make it to the toilet in time?


Child development – the competitive years!

The playgroup and nursery years seem to thrive on a slightly unhealthy competition. Are they: sleeping through the night, potty trained, dry at night, crawling/walking and speaking? The last one in particular becomes magnified as a child enters the school system and indeed speech and language is the most common developmental difficulty during the early years. As many as 1 in 10 children in the UK have speech and language difficulties that can impact on their ability to make and retain friends and their ability to learn.

Quite often parents have a niggle that something might not be right but tend to hope that it’s because children develop at different rates. It’s especially hard if it’s your first child because you have nothing to compare them to.

I certainly remember saying to friends that my youngest child was more physically advanced at two which is why her speech and language development was taking longer – their tiny brains can only do so much right?

I had the opportunity to chat with Lorna Bailey – Lead Speech & Language Therapist at Norwich based Independent Speech & Language Therapy Services (ISLTS) and she shared some great advice for parents concerned about their child’s speech and language development. Below are Lorna’s key red flags to be aware of in the early years.

9 months – No babbling.

12 months – Not using gestures such as waving “bye bye” or shaking head for “no”; doesn’t communicate in some way when she/he needs help with something; doesn’t point to things.

18 months – No consistent spoken words and/or doesn’t understand simple instructions like “don’t touch” and “where’s your nose?”

24 months – No spoken word combinations (e.g. putting two words together) and/or doesn’t understand simple instructions containing two important words (e.g. give your coat to daddy) and/or isn’t developing early pretend play (e.g. feeding a doll, making a toy person drive a toy car).

36 months – Not using short sentences of three words and/or not developing adult grammar (e.g. adding ‘s’ to make something plural) and/or not using a range of word types (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives etc) and/or speech often unclear and difficult to understand.

Other signs include – speech & language development that seems to have slowed down, stagnated or even deteriorated at any stage during the pre-school years. If they are not showing an interest in communicating at any age. Stammering or stuttering.

Frustration & Challenging

Children with speech & language development difficulties may be frustrated, resulting in challenging behaviour. You might recognise some of the below in your pre-schooler.

Understanding spoken language – difficulty understanding the meaning of words, concepts and/or grammar. This makes it difficult for them to follow instructions, understand tasks, learn rules of games with their peers, etc. They may be labelled as ‘naughty’ if they don’t do what they are told when actually they just didn’t understand.

Spoken language – reduced vocabulary, difficulties putting words together to make sentences and poor grammar use which makes it difficult for them to express themselves, tell people how they are feeling, explain what has happened.

Speech sound production – difficulty making certain speech sounds and/or a reduced number of sounds in their speech which makes them difficult to understand and can make them reluctant to speak if they think they will not be understood.

Attention and listening – lots of children with speech and language difficulties have problems with listening to spoken language (even if their hearing is okay). They can find it hard to concentrate on a task, have a short attention span and have difficulty listening to adult instructions.

Social skills – children may have difficulties with their social interaction skills, making it difficult for them to make friends.

Speech and Language Development Therapy 

young girl playing a board game with a therapist

If you have any concerns, Lorna and the team of speech & language therapist at ISLTS can assess your child to identify if there are any speech and language development difficulties. If there are, they will be able to offer a range of options depending on the seriousness of the problem. They will share advice on how to support your child’s development at home (see the tips below), they may offer your child speech and language therapy sessions and can even provide training to nursery/school staff about how to support communication development in the early years.


10 top tips to support speech & language development

The more vocabulary a child hears, the better their language skills are likely to be. Make every activity, even routine ones, a language learning opportunity.

  1. Get the child’s attention before you give them an instruction.
  2. Repeat back what the child said and add one more word to it.
  3. Use simple, repetitive language.
  4. Emphasise the important words in the sentence.
  5. Use a sentence that’s just a little bit longer than the child uses.
  6. After you have said something to the child, wait at least 10 seconds for the child to respond before you say anything else.
  7. Comment on what the child is doing rather than asking questions.
  8. If the child pronounces something incorrectly or uses incorrect grammar, model back the correct utterance – don’t correct the child.
  9. Position yourself so that it is easy for you and the child to look at each other as you interact.
  10. Reduce distractions – only have a few toys out at once and keep background noise (radio, TV etc) to a minimum.

Read more about ISLTS services visit their page in our Little Black Book

Find more ideas here


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