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Language Delay: “They’ll grow out of it……won’t they?”

Communication is a basic human need. Both verbal and non-verbal communication is how we connect with the people around us and interact with our loved ones, our peers and society in a meaningful way. It is a fundamental skill that some seemingly possess without effort and then there are others that, for any number of reasons, find it more of a challenge. When it comes to kids, they magically seem go from baby babble to conversation in the blink of an eye, but what about when that magic doesn’t happen?

As a Mum, I absolutely agree that children do develop at their own pace, and that is the number one argument I hear on Mummy Facebook pages, when a concerned Mother turns to the general public for advice because their 3 year old isn’t talking yet. As a speech pathologist I silently plead, “within reason!” Your child has about 5 years to get up to speed, before the demands of school are placed on them. Early communication is a complex web of expressive and receptive language, speech sounds, reading, writing, cognitive, motor skills and social development. The biggest problem with the ‘grow out of it’ argument is, that these skills accumulate. Your child needs to develop one, before they can develop the next! This is when we see carry over of difficulties into the school environment.

The risks of communication impairment are not without significance, when you consider that:

· 20% of four year olds have difficulty using and comprehending language

· 14% of 15 year olds have only basic literacy skills

· Children with a language impairment are six times more likely to have reading difficulties

· 46% of young offenders in Australia, have a language impairment

· There is a high correlation between communication difficulties and poor mental health

(Speech Pathology Australia)

When communication impairment is something so fundamental that can impact a child’s ability to learn, to engage in literacy and numeracy and to interact with their peers and educators, is a ‘wait and see’ approach always the best?

I often hear that parents are worried about their child being ‘assessed’ and ‘examined,’ but I can only reassure you that speech sessions are usually a lot of fun (we have the best toys) and most toddlers wouldn’t even know they’re language is being looked at. In fact, the primary goal of an early language assessment, is to make the child as relaxed as possible so they feel happy to communicate and interact with us. In the end, a great speech pathologist is the most qualified person to tell you honestly whether they believe your child’s communication could benefit from some extra help, or whether they think there actually is leeway to ‘wait and see.’ Sometimes there is!

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