When parents have started to realise that their little one’s speech, language or fluency development is falling behind average age expectations, they often ask - what next? Should I just wait? Will they grow out of it? Will they just catch up? Am I over reacting?
Research indicates that early intervention is one way to minimise the impacts of speech and language difficulties long term. The power of early intervention, lays in the fact that the paediatric brain is most ‘plastic’ (meaning: flexible or capable of change) during the first three years of life. It has also been demonstrated that therapy is likely to be more effective when administered in the early years.
We also know that speech, language, play, and cognition are all inter-related and are skills which build upon each other over time. In this way, children develop their communication abilities in a step-wise, hierarchical manner. It is unlikely that a child will suddenly start having conversations at 3 years of age, if they have not consolidated their ability to use single words, word combinations and early phrases. In clinical practice, speech pathologists provide intervention to children as young as 16 - 18 months of age. When we also consider that children are expected to have a well developed oral language system before starting prep at age 4.5-5 years, we begin to see how critical their early years are for preparing for ongoing success.
Take home messages
- Early intervention can never be too early! Your child should be reaching speech, language and hearing milestones before 18 months of age (Read this article to find out more about your speech & language milestones). If you do have concerns before 18 months, call Speech Clinic or your local speech pathologist to voice your concerns and to learn more about early interventions. We routinely collect data and monitor children before undertaking therapy.
- Trust your gut! Research indicates that maternal concern is a strong indicator for childhood speech and language difficulties.Trust in your own judgement and right to seek out health-related information.
- Remember that speech and language abilities build upon themselves. Early developmental milestones need to be consolidated to allow for ongoing growth. The old mantra of “let’s just wait and see” may potentially cause your child more harm in the long run.