May is better speech and hearing month - What did you say?

By Dorothy P. Dougherty

May, Better Hearing and Speech Month, is a great time to take a close look at your child's ability to speak clearly. Learning to say all sounds correctly is a gradual process and often a young child's pronunciation of sounds is endearing and not a cause for concern. However, if your child's speech sounds significantly different from his age peers, or he frequently avoids talking because he is hard to understand, he may have a speech sound disorder. Articulation disorders, difficulty saying speech sounds correctly, is identified in approximately one million preschool children each year. Research suggests that problems with articulation, if left unchecked, can lead to reading and spelling difficulties, social challenges, and self-esteem problems. What did you say!! Below you will find guidelines - or the predictable order that many children develop their ability to speak clearly. You should be able to answer yes to the questions listed below that pertain to your child's age level. 1. Do you understand approximately 25 percent of what your eighteen-month-old child is saying? 2. Do you understand approximately 60 -75 percent of what your two-year-old child is saying? 3. Do family members and caregivers understand your three-year-old child's speech? Does he correctly produce vowels and such sounds as: p/, /b/, /m/, and /w/ in words and repeat when not understood without becoming frustrated? 4. Do people with whom you do not associate with regularly understand your four-year-old child when he speaks? Does he correctly produce the /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/ and /f/ sounds? 5. Is your five-year-old child's speech understood my most listeners in all situations? 6. Is your child who is eight to nine years of age able to make all the sounds of his language correctly, including /r/, /s/, /z/, and consonantal blends. For example, /pl/, /tr/, and /str/. Are you Helping Your Child Learn to Talk? The strongest resource any child can have is a well-informed parent who knows which speech sounds are normal, which are not, and how to help a child say speech sounds when they are developmentally ready. Review the following questions and answers, and take a close look at how you interact with your child. Do you speak clearly, naturally, and most of all, correctly? X Yes ___No Speaking clearly and naturally includes establishing eye contact, speaking at an easy-to-understand rate, and saying sounds precisely. Do you ask your child to repeat a word she has said incorrectly? ___Yes X No In most cases, it is wise not to ask your child to repeat a word after she has said it incorrectly. (Of course, if your child is participating in speech therapy, follow the speech/language pathologist's instructions.) Many children are not able to say a sound correctly because they do not hear the difference between the correct and incorrect production of the sound. Therefore, give your child many opportunities to hear the sound modeled (said) correctly. As you repeat the word, over-enunciate the sound your child is mispronouncing by saying it louder and longer. Continue talking and make the troublesome word a natural part of your conversation. For example: Child: "I see a dot." Parent: "Yes, I see the doggg. He is a big doggg. Would you like a dogg like that?" Child: "Yes, I want a dott." Parent" Maybe we can get a doggg soon. Do you praise your child often? X Yes ___No It's important to recognize your child's strengthens often. Perhaps she can climb the jungle gym faster than all her friends, or she can build a fantastic castle with her legos. Let her know that you are proud of her when she makes sounds correctly too. Example: "I like how you said look, not wook," rather than saying just, "Good." Your pleasure and excitement will motivate your child to speak and will also contribute to her self-esteem. Do you pretend to understand your child even when you don't? ___ Yes X No .In most cases, it's best to gently tell your child that you are having trouble understanding what she is trying to tell you, rather than pretending to understand her words. Try to focus on what she says, rather than how she is saying it. Show by your words and actions that you are trying to understand. Try understanding just one word. Use that word to ask her questions. You might ask, "Can you help me understand, please?" If your child feels she needs to help you, and that you (not she) has a problem, she may repeat her words more slowly, try to say them another way, or point or use some sort of gesture to be your helper. Show your acceptance with nonverbal responses such as smiles, hugs, and friendly words. Do you listen and compare your child's speech to other children? ___ Yes X No Many parents compare their child's speech development to that of other children in the family or neighborhood. However, even though some children can say speech sounds correctly at a very early age, others may be eight or nine before they can say all of the sounds correctly. If you have any questions about your child's development in any area at any age, it's always to seek professional help. Do you educate others about your child's speech difficulties? X Yes __No Of course, you would never allow anyone to tease, laugh, or imitate your child's speech mistakes. Privately, talk to her preschool teacher or babysitter and explain her difficulties with sounds. When your child is obviously frustrated and needs your help, step into the role of translator. Do you prepare your child for new situations? X Yes __ No Children who must struggle to communicate often feel self-conscious or apprehensive, especially when facing the unknown. Talk to your child about a new situation she may be facing. Rehearse the words she might hear or say in this situation. Ask you librarian to help you find a book about an upcoming situation, such as a trip to the hospital, the birth of a new sibling, or the first day at school. As most children mature, their overall speech patterns usually become more understandable. However, some children need speech therapy. A speech/language pathologist is trained to assess, treat, and help prevent speech and language problems in children (beginning at birth) and adults. This professional may work in a variety of settings, including colleges or universities, hospitals or medical clinics, local public schools, and private offices. It is certainly not necessary or wise to wait until you child is in kindergarten to seek help. If your child meets state requirements, your local school district or county health department is required to provide appropriate free services for children from birth to five years of age. To find a private speech/language pathologist close to your home, you can look in the yellow pages, call the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (1-800-638-8255), or go to the ASHA website and click on "Find a Professional." This will certainly set your mind at ease if you learn your child is developing as he should, or getting help, at an early age, will make treatment easier. You can relax and have fun helping your child reach his true potential. About the Author: Dorothy P. Dougherty, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech/language pathologist who has worked with children and adults in school, clinical, and private settings for over 25 years. She is a certified member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Mrs. Dougherty is the author of How to Talk to Your Baby: A Guide to Maximizing Your Child's Language and Learning Skills (Perigee/Putnam 2001) and Teach me How to Say it Right: Helping Your Child with Articulation Problems (New Harbinger Publications) to be released in May, 2005. Ms. Dougherty enjoys traveling around the country doing workshops for teachers and parents. To contact the author, or for more information about speech sound disorders, go to