Parents and professionals use milestones to determine and monitor a child’s development and progress. Aside from knowing the skills achieved at a given age, it would be very useful to have an idea on the possible factors affecting progress and skills acquisition.
Take for example, the ability to speak or communicate verbally. There are a number of possible factors on why a child may find it difficult (or easy) to produce sounds and say words. Here are some factors to consider:
It is through hearing and listening that children learn sounds, how to combine sounds to create words and how to combine words to form sentences, etc. If there is impairment in the ear structure/s, the clarity of the input (sounds) heard is compromised. Thus, there is a higher chance for an unclear verbal output.
Children should acquire a bank of words (vocabulary) to be able to express what they want. Some children find it difficult to state their thoughts and needs because they don’t know the right words to use. Hence, out of frustration, they may throw a tantrum, shout, cry, point or gesture. Also, they may simplify the words by creating their own words (jargon).
This is related to hearing and language. You may be amazed at how children hear things and then store the information heard for later use. Hence, more sounds and words they hear from the environment will most likely boost their vocabulary and the ability to verbally communicate.
Speaking involves a number of body structures including the throat, lips, tongue, jaw, teeth, palate, etc. If there is an irregularity with the appearance and/or function of the structure, it may affect a child’s speech clarity.
For instance, there are medical conditions (Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy) that affect the muscle tone such as being flaccid (mouth is drooping, tongue sticks out) or tensed (tight jaw, lips tightly sealed). If the articulators (lips, tongue, jaw, palate) are too weak or too tensed, speech sounds may sound soft, harsh or unintelligible.
Sometimes, the appearance and function of the articulators appear fine. However, the difficulty lies on performing or executing the desired movement upon demand or need. There are some children who can open their mouth and stick out their tongue upon seeing food but are unable to perform the same skill upon request. This will translate further into speech such that when saying a string of sounds, example “beep”, they find it complex to sequence and transition from one movement to another (lip sealing for “b”, lips retract for “ee” then lip closes for “p”).
The above are just some possible factors that can influence your child’s speech development. These help us in determining measures on how to further teach your child. We must remember that each child is unique and special. Science may suggest specific speech developmental stages but children develop differently from one another. Some children may show differences and require extra assistance but it doesn’t mean they don’t have other potentials. It is our responsibility to be aware of their development, the possible factors and the actions to take to help them.
If your child needs help, fret not! There are professionals who could help such as developmental paediatricians, psychologists, audiologists, otolaryngologists and speech therapists. With time and some effort, I am sure you will be marking down progress milestones soon!