A young mother sought an appointment with me. Her son, Atharv aged 4 years was not able to speak or express his demands verbally till now. Thorough case history and assessment revealed that Atharv had delayed speech and language development with behavioral issues. Many such cases are encountered in my practice as paediatric speech language pathologist. To exactly pinpoint the reason of speech and language disorders in children is not possible but certainly such problems seem to be on a rise.
With the increase in double income nuclear families, parents are not able to spend as much quality time with their children as they should. Children are deprived of the rich language exposure during their early ages which comes with the stories of grandparents. The early years are spent in crèches or in the hands of maids who though fulfil their basic needs but cannot provide the same nourishing environment full of love and warmth. Research has shown that the early 0-3 years are the critical years in a child’s life and lack of exposure to speech and language has far reaching effects. In fact, in a study done in university of Ohio, it was found that those children performed better in their college whose mother used varied and rich language patterns while talking or reading to them when they were under 3 years of age than those whose mother talked less or never read to them.
Another factor that is adding to the woes is the menace of screens. With the digital age and tech savvy parents, more and more children are being exposed to screens at very young ages. I pads and mobiles have taken the role of soother and story teller. Babies as young as 6-8 months of age are given mobiles to calm them or feed them. The long term screen exposure hampers children’s ability to regulate their emotions and leads to irritability and inability to focus. Screen exposure has also been found to make children hyperactive and reduce their attention span. Digitalisation has without doubt made our life easier but for the proper development of children in all spheres there is no shortcut and nothing can replace the human touch. No amount of YouTube rhymes and apps can replace the effectiveness and emotional bonding of lullabies sung by the generations of mothers or the animated stories told by grandparents.
Now what can you do as a new age parent?
It may not be possible to prevent all kinds of language and speech delay or disorders. Hearing impairment and learning disability is not always preventable. However, there are few things that you as a parent can do to boost speech and language of your child.
- Read to your child: the importance of reading books to the child can’t be emphasized enough. Start reading to your child even when they are baby. You can start with board books with colourful pictures and few words, describing the pictures as you point. Gradually you will notice how the child starts recognizing the pictures and naming them when you point at them. Then you can move on to nursery rhymes. Books that allow the child to predict what happens next. Use lots of variations and intonations while reading. Try to make it a fun time as that will foster a stronger bond between you and your child.
- Respond to your child: acknowledge whenever your child talks to you, even when they babble as a baby. Come to your child’s eye level so that they know they have all the attention. Eye contact is very important aspect of a child’s development and needs to be encouraged since the early months.
- Use everyday situations: talk to your child describing everyday situations like when you went to the grocery store, things you did during the day etc. Meals are important time for communication. Use language appropriate to the child’s age but avoid baby talk.
- Be patient: your child will stumble and may falter while speaking during the early years. But try to avoid giving in to the temptation to finish off her sentences. Wait for her to finish and reinforce her newly acquired skills by praising the efforts. Listen to the content and ask for repetition in case it is not clear what she said by modelling the correct response. Saying
“great” when she asked for chocolate won’t be exactly flattering!
- Limit screen time: in today’s time, screen has become a great impediment to child’s development. Excessive exposure to TV, mobiles or ipads leads to the child missing out real life conversations or sounds and negatively impacts a child’s speech and language.