Many children suffer with some form of speech, language or communication difficulty. Roughly 1 in 10 children will be affected in some way. These children may struggle with producing speech sounds, using verbal language to communicate, or using language to interact with others.
Speech difficulties can be the earliest sign of another learning disability and further investigation may be needed. It is very common for the cause to remain unknown. However, hearing loss, neurological disorders or physical impairments such as cleft palate, or psychological trauma are possible causes.
This article has been written in conjunction with Polly Ross, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist.
Development areas to encourage
In order to increase the chance of being understood – Speak in a clear, short manner. Keep language simple. This will give children more chance of understanding what is being said and will give them a much easier model to attempt to copy than complex sentences that they are unlikely to attempt to repeat
The use of visual prompts, signs or gestures where available will aid a child’s understanding. For example, when asking if they want a drink, pretend to place a cup to your mouth.
Singing, Rhymes and repetitive phrases will help with recognition and familiarity with words.
Read plenty of books regularly, particularly those with repetitive phrases. Trying to encourage listening skills, these will then assist with speech.
Talk about what the child is interested in. They are much more likely to talk about things they are interested in rather than things adults want to talk about.
Activities that they can engage with
Blowing bubbles will increase breath and lip control.
Play mirror games – making faces can increase awareness of what the child can do with their tongue, lips etc.
Sing nursery rhymes and songs. A good way to encourage single words is to sing the first part of a familiar rhyme and leave off one word e.g. ‘Humpty dumpy sat on a wall, humpty dumpty had a great ________’.
Read plenty of books, and the same ones regularly to aid recognition of words.
Sequence story games print out and cut into sections a short chapter from a story they know well and mix up the pieces. Ask them to put the story back together again, in the correct order. Once this is easily achievable ask them to predict and anticipate the next part of the story.
Try not to correct a child if they make a mistake with speech, just repeat the statement or question they are trying to articulate back correctly.
Allow a child plenty of ‘thinking’ time to respond to a question, around 10 secs is appropriate.
Participate in role play in an area the child shows interest.
Narrate often what you and your child are doing in simple language e.g. ‘You’re kicking the ball’.
Clap the number of syllables in words e.g. El-e-phant to increase a childs phonological awareness and help them to hear how the word is produced slowly.
Play games like eye spy or pulling items out of a bag where children have to identify the sounds at the beginning of words.
Children need to hear words over and over again before they will use them so repeat them several times in a sentence e.g. ‘Mummys eating dinner, oh look daddy is eating too, mummy likes eating!’