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College of Human Ecology

Keep an ear out for language delays in children

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

MANHATTAN -- "Baby talk" may be cute for young toddlers, but if your child babbles for too long, there may be a problem.

Linda Crowe, associate professor in the communication sciences and disorders program at Kansas State University, has many tips for identifying if your child has a language delay. Language delays can range from a child being slow to begin talking, slow to develop vocabulary or slow to acquire proper sentence structure and word endings to slow to understanding the language. Children with language delays may repeat words but not understand them. Language delays also encompass children from different cultural environments who may be slow to acquire use of English.

Crowe said there are many milestones to check off to ensure a child's language is progressing at a proper rate. General guidelines include that children should be able to speak using as many words as their age -- one-word utterances for 1-year-olds, etc.

6-9 months: Children at this age will babble, and begin combining sounds like "ba-ba" or "da-da." During this time children should also be alert, attentive, turn toward your voice and recognize your face.

9-12 months: During this time, children will begin to experiment with variations of sounds. Instead of just "ba-ba," they will try out "ba-la," for example or utter their first true words, "Mommy" or "Daddy."

12-24 months: Parents should hear consistent intelligible words during this period, Crowe said.

Parents should be concerned, Crowe said, if their 18-month-old isn't acquiring new words or that 50 intelligible words are not acquired by 2 years of age.

"That would be your red flag," she said.

3 years: At 3 years of age, the three-word sentences children put together should be fairly intelligible, Crowe said.

Before kindergarten: Children entering kindergarten should be able to count to five or 10, know their basic colors, know and can say their own name, be able to ask questions, use complex sentences and attend for longer periods of time to stories.

"They can repeat parts of favorite stories," Crowe said. "They should be completely intelligible. That doesn't mean they produce every sound correctly, but you should be able to understand them."

Crowe also said pre-kindergartners should be able to do a little bit of rhyming and know some alphabet sounds -- especially those in their name. They should now be using correct pronouns and the correct forms of the "to be" verbs as well. For example: "he is eating," instead of "him eating."

"These oral language skills are all important precursors for reading," Crowe said.

Although there are many red flags to look out for, there are also many things parents may mistake for a language delay. Crowe said parents should not be concerned if their toddler has trouble saying "r" or "l" sounds.

"Those sounds develop late for many children," she said.

She also said children will not typically put multisyllable words or complex sentences together at young ages. Children up until 3 years of age also can't sit and focus on things for a long period of time, such as books, even though they may enjoy hearing stories and interacting with books.

"They can't sit forever at story time," Crowe said.

That said, if parents suspect their child has a language delay, Crowe advises contacting early intervention services through the school district. They will screen or evaluate the child and determine if the problem is significant enough to warrant services. If they do not find a significant problem but the parent is still concerned, Crowe said parents could seek independent services, like those provided by private practitioners or through the K-State Speech and Hearing Center.

Treatment, whether through a school district or an independent provider, would include a combination of parent education and service, Crowe said. Home or clinic visits would range from weekly to monthly.

"We also give parents activities and ideas," Crowe said. For example, she has helped develop a Language Intervention Tool Kit with protocol to guide in discerning possible factors affecting infant or toddler development and suggestions for parents and other caregivers including specific activities to support infant and toddler language development.

Parents can encourage language and literacy in children from birth, Crowe said.

"Be really responsive to the child -- don't ignore gestures and don't expect the perfect form of words," she said. "Keep your own language very simple, focusing on objects the child can see."

Reading stories is also a good way to foster language development. Crowe recommends active books, with things to touch and manipulate.

This article was posted on Tuesday, June 28, 2005, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.