The early years of a child’s life are the most significant for building strong communication and language skills.

This is because, during the first three years of life, a child’s brain is developing at a rapid rate and the child is extremely receptive to learning. A child’s relationships and experiences during their early years greatly influences how their brain grows.

Typical language development is established through children participating in back and forth interactions with important adults in their lives. When a child communicates through gesture, sounds or words, a parent’s positive response helps encourage and reinforce the child’s learning. This positive feedback is essential in promoting a child’s language development. However, if a child is communicating less than peers their age, they are unlikely to be receiving as much of this positive feedback. This is because adults naturally communicate less with children who are not speaking. As a result, the child is not receiving the essential input needed to further develop their language skills.

Children with speech and language delays often have difficulty participating effectively in everyday activities and conversations and can fall further behind if they are not given the support they require. If you notice any signs that your child’s communication development may be delayed, it is important not to “wait and see” if your child will catch up. This approach leads to valuable time being lost during a child’s most crucial learning phase. Early intervention is fundamental in helping children to develop the communication skills they need for future social and academic success. The earlier a child receives help, the better the language outcome will be for the child.

When should you seek help?

It is recommended that you seek help from a Speech Pathologist if your child:

By 12 months

  • doesn’t respond to his/her name
  • doesn’t make eye contact
  • doesn’t recognise and use gestures like waving “bye bye” or shaking head for “no”
  • doesn’t babble e.g. dadada
  • isn’t starting to use sounds, gestures and a few words to communicate

By 18 months

  • can’t follow simple instructions (e.g. “throw the ball”)
  • has difficulty pointing to familiar objects when named
  • isn’t saying 6-20 single words such as ‘mummy’ or ‘up’
  • doesn’t copy lots of words and noises
  • doesn’t use objects in pretend play (e.g. holding a toy phone to their ear to say ‘hello’)

By 2 years

  • can’t follow simple two part instructions (e.g. ‘give me the ball and the car’)
  • doesn’t respond to simple questions such as ‘what’ and ‘where’
  • can’t point to several body parts
  • isn’t saying more than 50 single words
  • is not combining two words together (e.g. ‘no ball’, ‘bye teddy’)
  • isn’t using most vowel sounds and a variety of consonants (m, n, p, b, k, g, h, w, t, d)

By 3 years

  • isn’t using 4-5 words in a sentence
  • isn’t using action words like “running”, “eat”, “fall”
  • isn’t asking questions using ‘what’, ‘who’ and ‘where’
  • doesn’t understand concepts of ‘same’ and ‘different’
  • can’t sort items in to groups when asked (e.g. toys vs food)

By 4 years

  • can’t understand and answer wh-questions (who, what, where, when, why) about a story they have recently heard
  • doesn’t show an awareness that some words start and finish with the same sounds
  • isn’t using words such as ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’ to make longer sentences
  • isn’t using personal pronouns (e.g. he/she, me/you) and negations (don’t/can’t)

Take action now If you have noticed any of these signs in your child, don’t panic, instead become informed. Making an appointment with a speech pathologist is the first step in ensuring your child receives the help they need.

How do speech pathologists help?
Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speaking, listening, understanding language, reading, writing, social skills and stuttering. They also work with children who have difficulty communicating due to developmental delays, intellectual disability, hearing loss, as well as other problems that can affect speech and language.

A speech pathologist will firstly assess your child’s communication. If there is a clinically significant language or speech delay, the speech pathologist will devise an evidence-based therapy plan.

This therapy plan will target your child’s needs, whilst also considering your goals for your child. It is designed to stimulate and accelerate your child’s speech and language skills to ensure they develop as expected. Speech pathologists can provide families with the tools, skills and training to support children in developing functional communication in everyday environments.

To book an appointment to see Sonia our Speech Pathologist, please speak to our friendly staff by calling 9987 2226 for our Northbridge Practice and 9440 9441 for our St Ives Practice.

Principal sources: The Hanen Centre, at www.hanen.org and SPA, at www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au

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