Experts in hearing technology and highly specialised speech therapy

Changes in children's hearing

Hearing loss can happen at any age and may affect a child’s ability to communicate and learn. A child’s hearing can change gradually over time, often without them, their parents or teachers noticing. In fact, as many as 13.8 per cent of primary school children may be affected by some level of hearing loss.1

Children Drawing On Easel

Signs that a child might have hearing loss

it’s important to monitor children’s hearing, even if they have passed previous tests, as it can impact their speech and language development.

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How does language and speech differ?

It’s common to hear the terms speech and language used interchangeably, however they have quite different meanings – particularly in a clinical setting.

Speech refers to the way we produce sounds to form words. It’s the physical act of talking; it’s how we articulate our vowels and consonants in a way to make recognisable sounds that form words.

Language is how we use words to communicate our messages to other people. Language is made up of vocabulary (the words we use), expressive language (conveying our own thoughts through words, phrases and sentences) and receptive language (how we understand the words, phrases and sentences used by others).

People at any age can experience challenges with speech, language or even both. Knowing some of the typical developmental stages to look out for in children will help identify any developmental concerns early.

What are speech and language delays?

The signs to look out for in children who might be experiencing speech development delays or language delays can vary.

Speech development delays

Some of the concerns relating to a child’s speech development can include:

  • You or others having trouble understanding what the child is saying
  • Child is producing the same word in a number of ways (e.g. saying dar or gar for ‘car’)
  • Saying words with incorrect vowels (e.g. car becomes core)
  • Dropping off initial sounds of words (e.g. car becomes ‘ar)
  • Frustration when communicating with other people.
Child Reading Book In Speech Therapy Appointment
child with hearing aids

Language development delays

Some areas relating to a child’s language development may include:

  • Trouble following instructions (e.g. “Go and put your shoes on.”)
  • Signs of echolalia – where a child repeats back what was said without following through (e.g. a parent says, “Go and put your shoes on” and the child repeats the sentence or part or it, without understanding and carrying out the task)
  • Poor vocabulary, with limited understanding of what words mean or unable to name objects, animals etc.
  • Having trouble answering the “Wh-” questions
  • Poor concentration
  • Appears to understand what an object is (e.g. by pointing), but is not able to articulate what it is called
  • Frustration when communicating with other people.

Signs of speech and language development issues

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is taking a little bit longer to reach a speech or language milestone or whether there are possible developmental issues. Here are some key indications in a child’s first two years:

  • Not babbling by the age of 15 months
  • Not talking by the age of two
  • Has difficultly in following instructions
  • Struggles to put words together in a sentence
  • Leaving words out of sentences
  • Unable to articulate or understand, at a basic level, what is being said to them

Risk factors for language delay

Some conditions that might increase the risk of language delay in young children could include:

  • Prematurity
  • Birth trauma
  • Congenital medical conditions or syndromes
  • Family history of hearing loss or language delay
Img Child Wearing Hearing Aids With Toy Bear
Toddler Reading Box With Adult

Diagnosing speech and development issues

If you suspect your child might have speech or language development issues, a speech pathologist can help. They will undertake a speech and language assessment which looks at your child’s current developmental level and ability to interact and communicate with people around them. The assessments use standardised and dynamic tests such as play, conversation and other strategies to gain insight into your child’s strengths and weaknesses.

Speech, language and literacy development for school children

Most children at Hear and Say enrol in an intensive Early Intervention program from birth, with the number of specialised speech therapy sessions they need reducing as they reach school age. Ongoing monitoring and support throughout children’s school years is also important to ensure they maintain and improve speech, language and literacy skills that are achieved through early intervention.

Specialised speech therapy for school-aged children focuses on specific speech and language targets as well as consultation with teachers to facilitate education support and inclusions, such as ensuring the classroom is set up so children with hearing loss can better hear what is going on around them (e.g. use of personal remote microphone systems). This provides children with the opportunity to use their hearing to reach their speech, language and academic potential. Each child is provided with an individualised plan that supports them to meet their specific goals and reach developmental milestones.

Changes in hearing

Some children can experience a change in their hearing which requires updates or changes to the hearing technology they use. We support students with their new hearing devices through the programming of the device, auditory skills training to interpret sound through their new device and information and guidance to their teachers and school community.

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How to encourage late talkers to speak

A late talker often refers to a toddler aged between 18 months and 30 months who is not communicating verbally and in some cases the reason is not apparent. All babies in Queensland now have the free newborn hearing screening at birth, however in some cases a baby may pass this test and develop hearing loss later on.

There are some typical milestones children reach as they grow and develop however late talkers often hit these milestones later than their siblings or peers.

With early identification and early intervention, coupled with hearing technology and speech therapy support, kids can grow up hearing and speaking. In fact, most children with hearing loss who receive early intervention prior to 12 months of age, develop age-appropriate speech and language skills by the time they are three years old.1

Two Children With Adult Doing Craft

Tips for late talkers

A late talker typically refers to a toddler aged between 18 months and 30 months who is not communicating verbally and where often the reason is not apparent. All babies in Queensland now have free newborn hearing screening at birth; however, in some cases, a baby may pass this test and develop hearing loss later on.

There are some typical milestones children reach as they grow and develop, however late talkers often hit these milestones later than their typically hearing siblings or peers.

With early identification and early intervention, coupled with hearing technology and specialised speech therapy support, kids who are deaf or hard of hearing can grow up hearing and speaking just like their typically hearing siblings and peers. In fact, most children with hearing loss who receive early intervention prior to 12 months of age develop age-appropriate speech and language skills by the time they are three years old.1

The building blocks of speech and language are set very early in life. Below are some quick tips for families to consider when encouraging late talkers to speak:

Sometimes families will find they’re asking children questions over and over again and not getting a response. If a child is not talking, asking them lots of questions might be overwhelming and frustrating. Instead of asking a child, “What’s that? Is it a bird?”, change your comment to, “Hello bird!”. As a rule, try to balance every question with two comments.

Kids love to play games. Imaginative play is key for learning new skills and practising in a safe and comforting environment. Play is vital in encouraging children to develop their language. One example is getting together a doll’s tea set, bottles and something that can be a pretend bed. Encourage the child to act out the situation through play and as they’re doing this, talk to them about what they’re doing. Keeping sentences short and using just the words needed will help.

Children also love to read books. Reading aloud to children is one of the greatest opportunities to expose them to lots of different sounds, language and vocabulary. This is particularly important for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Sometimes, for late talkers, alongside the later development of speech and language, comes some mistakes in their ability to pronounce certain words or phrases. They may also make some grammatical mistakes. When this happens, rather than correcting the error they have made, be supportive and encouraging of their effort to try and facilitate further attempts to speak. Make sure that you always use the right words, pronunciation and grammatical structures, so that the child is hearing correct models of language and speech.

When you’re trying to help a child express themselves, it’s natural to tell them the names of things such as cat, dog or chocolate. It’s important for a child to learn the other kinds of words for the same things. For example, a dog could be referred to as a puppy or even a pooch.

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FAQs

There are a number of things that could impact speech or language developments in children, including hearing loss, or ear infections such as glue ear.

Many areas of development are inter-linked with language and speech. For example, cognitive processes such as understanding concepts of ‘big’ and ‘small’, counting, learning names of shapes – these all rely on language. Similarly, social skills have a huge language and speech component – the simple routines of greeting and farewelling need language and speech to convey those social interactions. Literacy skills (such as beginning to learn to read and write) are underpinned by strong language and speech skills.

With early identification and early intervention, coupled with hearing technology and specialised speech therapy support, kids who are deaf or hard of hearing can grow up hearing and speaking just like their siblings and friends.

There are typical milestones children tend to reach as they grow up which can be used as a guide to determine if they’re showing symptoms of hearing loss. Typically, by about 12 months old, a baby will start to produce simple words and sounds of common animals, objects or vehicles.

References

1 Choi, S. M. R., Kei, J., & Wilson, W. J. (2017). Rates of hearing loss in primary school children in Australia: A systematic review. Speech, Language and Hearing20(3), 154-162.

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