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Why is my child not speaking yet?

Are you a concerned mother or father, wondering why your child is not speaking yet? Then this blog might help answer some of your questions.

Speech and language delay refers to when your child is not able to learn speech and language skills that would have been considered appropriate for his or her age. As a general rule of the thumb, a child is expected to say his first words at around the one year mark. He begins to use two words together ('Look mummy!', 'Where daddy?' 'Big car') etc at around his second birthday. And three word combinations come around the three year mark. This is followed by an explosion of vocabulary and concepts, and by his fourth birthday, your child will be quite the conversation partner.

However, not all children are able to keep up this schedule of language learning. Usually, children who go on to get a diagnosis of having a speech and language delay, start showing delays very early on. Occasionally, children might develop within normal limits over the one year mark, but start showing delays when it's time to put words together. Very rarely, children might show a period of normal language development, before they start regressing - ie, losing language they have learnt earlier. This is much rarer though, and if it happens, should be taken seriously and addressed straightaway.

In our modern age, with excessive digital entertainment, fragmented / isolated families and busy schedules, speech and language delays are becoming much more common. If your child is showing signs of falling behind, see if the following needs to be addressed:

  1. How much language is your child hearing through the day? In other words, do you speak to your child? Language is a learnt skill. Your child needs to have sufficient language models (which will be from the adults around him) to be able to succesfully copy and learn it for himself.

  2. How much TV / device time does your child get? The previous American Paediatric Association guidelines for screentime recommended that children below two be kept away from a screen altogether. While this has been revised in more recent years, keeping homes screen free, at least for the first two years of life remains very good advice. Children cannot learn language from YouTube or TV shows. They need actual human interaction to learn language.

  3. Do you anticipate your child's needs? If you are constantly anticipating that your child needs food, or a sweater, or a drink, and just giving these to your child, you are not giving your child enough opportunities to speak. Instead, wait for your child to ask for what they want.

  4. Is your child learning more than one language? While learning more than one language is definitely good for your child's brain, and must be encouraged, it could possibly lead to mild delays in spoken language development. There is no need to worry about this though. As long as your child does not show any other risk factors, your child will mostly just catch up.

Apart from the above factors, it is also possible that your child has some conditions that can cause speech and language delays - hearing loss, autism, speech disorders, learning difficulties etc. Once you have addressed the above questions, please take your child to see a speech and language therapist. When delays are addressed early and well, there is a good chance that your child will go on to learn language to levels expected of your child's ability.

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