This series was written in consultation with Rachel Bromberg, MACCSLP - Speech and Language Therapist
* TAKE THE EARLY CHILDHOOD LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT CHECKLIST.
The results of the checklist should give you some indication of how your child is doing compared to other children his age. His ability to do well on this checklist does not guarantee that he does not have a language problem, but it does let you know if he is developing at least some age appropriate speech and language skills.
* DON'T WORRY -- Remember the checklist is a tool to help you decide if you should have your child evaluated. Even if he has trouble with some or most of the questions, this does not mean that there is a problem.
* SPEAK TO YOUR PEDIATRICIAN.
Your pediatrician is not just there for illness and broken bones. Tell your pediatrician that you are concerned about your child's language development. You can show him the checklist and point out areas in which your child is having difficulty. Check that there is no physical reason for any lag in development.
While I definitely recommend going to the pediatrician as a first step, I must also point out that not every pediatrician is an expert in child development. Some doctors are excellent at diagnosing every rare form of childhood disease, but do not jump to deal with possible developmental delays in the hope that the child will "grow out of it" without treatment. I worked for many years as a pre-school special education teacher. I cannot count the number of parents who told me they did not seek treatment for their child because their pediatrician told them "not to worry."
Some pediatricians are developmental experts. If your pediatrician is, then consider yourself lucky and follow his instructions. If you are not certain that your pediatrician is also an expert in the field of developmental delay, then I would suggest consulting with the following professionals:
* CONSULT WITH AN AUDIOLOGIST - Take your child for a hearing test!
An audiologist is the professional who tests your child's hearing.
A HEARING TEST IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF ANY SCREENING FOR LANGUAGE DIFFICULTIES.
If a child cannot hear properly, then he will not develop appropriate language. Even if you are positive that your child hears properly, this test is still essential. Sometimes a child can only hear at certain frequencies. In this situation, the child might hear fine at home, but have trouble hearing in locations where there is more background noise, such as pre-school. If a hearing problem is discovered, this can be the source of a child's problem and then the most important task may be to work on the hearing difficulty. Ask your pediatrician to recommend an audiologist with experience working with young children and the facilities to work with children your child's age.
* SPEAK TO YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER OR DAY CARE PROVIDER.
If your child is enrolled in a formal pre-school program, then your child's teacher is one of the best first stops for getting information and relieving possible concerns. If you feel confidant that your child's teacher is experienced and has a good feel for your child, then ask her how she feels about your child's language development. Do not assume that because your child's teacher has not approached you about a problem, she does not feel any problem exists. Some teachers are very hesitant to approach parents about potential problems unless the problem reaches significant proportions. If your child has an experienced teacher and she is not concerned, then likely as not, there is nothing to worry about
* HAVE YOUR CHILD EVALUATED BY A SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPIST.
The bottom line for ruling out any risk of a language difficulty is taking your child to a speech and language therapist for a formal evaluation. Choose a speech and language therapist that specializes in children your child's age. Just as most people take their children to see a pediatrician and not a general practitioner (although there are G.P.'s who are great with children), you need a speech and language therapist who specializes in young children.
* NO CHILD IS TOO YOUNG TO SEE A SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPIST.
There are speech and language therapists whose specialty is working with children in neo-natal intensive care units and other newborns. Try and get recommendations from your pediatrician or from other parents.
You can help the therapist by providing him or her with as much information as possible about your child. Bring the results of your child's hearing test and even feel free to show the therapist the results of the Early Childhood Speech and Language Development Checklist.
The therapist will evaluate your child in all areas of language development, speech (articulation and voice quality), receptive language and expressive language. (For an explanation of these terms, see What Does the Term Speech and Language Development Really Mean?) She will be able to tell you if your child's language development is fine for his age, whether there are areas in which your child's development is slightly delayed and if he may require speech and language therapy to help improve his language development.
If the speech and language therapist feels that your child does require speech and/or language therapy, then she will design a program of therapy that is specifically suited to work on your child's problems. A good therapist is always happy to talk to parents and explain what this program is and usually can also give the parents suggestions for additional activities to work on specific problems at home. She will also be regularly available to speak to parents (at reasonable hours and lengths of course) about any concerns relating to their child's difficulties and progress.
The most important thing that you should do if you are concerned about your child's speech and language development is to take action. Young children usually respond quickly to therapy, so the earlier you start dealing with a problem, the easier it will be for your child to progress. If you take your child for an evaluation and it turns out there is no difficulty, well then you can sit back, relax and cross the issue off your list of worries.
In the next section of this series, we will give you some answers to Commonly Asked Questions About Speech and Language Problems in Young Children.