Early Intervention Of Speech & Language Delays And The Dangers Associated With 'Waiting It Out'

We have all heard the saying 'Parents are the child's first teachers' and we couldn't agree more because they are the ones spending insurmountable amount of time, energy and efforts in taking care of their children.

We would agree that a parent's knowledge on child development greatly affects the quality of their child's progress and their opportunities for learning. If asked about the importance of adequate ''nutrition'' in the developmental years of the child, we would hear loud and confident affirmations by all the parents. Well, of course nutrition is vital in the overall development of the child, but what if we tell you that nutrition doesn't not restrict itself to food?

Language Nutrition: The term ''language nutrition'' was coined by a group of language scientists to describe the use the of language that is sufficiently rich in engagement, quality, quantity, and context that it nourishes the child neurologically, socially and linguistically. There has been wealth of data and discussions to incorporate language rich interactions with children between the ages 0-3 years and its importance. The goal of these studies however has been to discuss speech and language development with paediatric healthcare providers who can the further integrate language nutrition coaching into their daily practice to help support families in optimising their child's future health and education trajectory.

Identify Red Flags: If you are a parent or a primary care giver of a child, we urge you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you felt that your child does not speak as much as other children?
  • Have you noticed that your child has difficulty in understanding what you say?
  • Is your child having a tough time socialising with other children and building peer relationships?
  • Is your child exhibiting any inconsistencies in responding to their name calls or following verbal requests?
  • Does your child exhibit temper tantrums and indulge in self injurious behaviours?
  • Is your child's speech unintelligible to strangers?

If the answer to any of these questions is ''yes'', then it is definitely a cause of concern because it points at a atypical development of your child.

The Risk Associated with "Waiting it Out"

As children grow they are expected to achieve certain milestones in their speech and language both (Speech & Language are two different intersecting entities) and if any of these milestones are delayed then it indicates age inappropriate development that could leave the child behaviourally, socially and emotionally vulnerable. There has been ample amount of data where both parents and primary healthcare providers of the children with delayed speech and language milestones adopt a ''wait it out'' approach where they ''hope'' that the child will catch up on their speech and language skills. While there are no qualms in having hope, banking a child's development and progress on it sounds pretty risky.

Many years of research has suggested that 70-80% of the late talking toddlers will outgrow a language delay if it is an expressive delay only, which implies that a significant proportion (20-30%) will not catch up with their peers. But it becomes almost impossible to know which late talkers will catch up and which won't. Research also shows that when children don't catch up in their language skills, they may have persistent language difficulties, as well as difficulty with reading and writing when they get to school.

Why Intervene Early?

  • Children with speech and language delays are at the risk of developing anxiety and stress. As children are unable to express themselves they develop 'avoidance behaviours' which significantly limits their interactions and they miss out opportunities to communicate and build interpersonal relationships. Anxiety may be difficult to detect in a child with a language delay, but it is arguably the most critical and hence has to be identified and addressed on time.
  • Children with delays develop behavioural problems to deal with their inability to communicate and release frustration. If not intervened early, these behaviours eventually turn into habits that can be detrimental to the child's social, emotional and psychological development.
  • Children with good 'language nutrition' in their formative years are most likely to succeed at school. There is no dearth of research that indicates that the brain's capacity for change decreases with age. The neuroplasticity of the brain is highest until 3 years of age, which is clearly why 0-3 years is called 'the critical age' for a child's overall development. After age six, neuroplasticity is reduced and it becomes more difficult (but not impossible) for the human brain to learn speech and language.
  • Children who have received language rich environment have already established a strong foundation in reading and writing skills. It is needless to mention that our spoken language directly/indirectly influences our written language. Therefore, early the intervention, better is the progress at school.

To conclude, it is always advisable to educate oneself about the developmental milestones and speech and language red flags and then take actionable steps to bridge the speech and language gap identified in your child by a certified speech and language pathologist. It is imperative that you ACT swiftly than to later remediate the behaviours and challenges that comes with the 'wait it out' approach.