Why Hasn’t My Toddler Spoken Yet?
Often as parents, we take great pride in our children’s milestones. We watch out for and try to document them, from their steps to their words. As much joy as these firsts bring us, they can also cause us worry as we impatiently wait for them. We start asking other parents when their children utter their first words and compare them to our own.
Why do some children experience speech delay, and what can we do as parents to help? Etcetera spoke to Samar Haidar, Beirut-based speech therapist and the Vice President of the Lebanese Association of Speech Therapy to find out more about this issue and its prevalence nationwide.
Was that a First Word?
It’s difficult for parents to pinpoint their child’s exact first word because of the word-like sounds that babies tend to make. “We consider it a first word when it is clearly understandable and is being used to express something” insists Samar.
“Generally, children are expected to utter their first words around the first year” states Samar. Before that, we hear a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” where they use one-syllable words to express themselves.
“The simple word ‘no’ is considered to be a significant word, since it means the child is using it to influence or affect those around them”, adds Samar.
Is Early Age Speech a Sign of Intelligence?
Speech at an early age was always thought to be a sign of intelligence. However, Samar assures that “There is absolutely no link between intelligence and early age speech. Children that speak at an early age are not necessarily more intelligent than those that don’t.”
According to Samar, in the realm of child development, some children take their first steps sooner than others, and while some children use their words to express themselves, others tend to do so physically.
Children have a lot they wish to express, but when they have no means to express them, they can get anxious and tense. “They may even begin to express this frustration in a number of ways”, warns Samar.
So What Can Cause Speech Delay?
The factors behind speech delay are mostly environmental. Children need to be a lot more stimulated. Samar points out that “Parents are not spending enough time with their children”.
In general, birth order may also play a role in early speech. First-borns utter their first words at an earlier age than their siblings. This is because as parents, we tend to engage our first-borns much more.
Jealousy of a sibling could also cause delay. Samar explains that “siblings can definitely affect each other, positively or negatively.”
How do I Know if My Child Has Speech Delay?
The question remains; is my child experiencing speech delay? According to Samar “You can only start to consider possible speech delay when your child is over 20 months old and hasn’t spoken yet”.
If so, Samar reassures us that “Speech delay does not mean there is a problem. Whenever the child starts to talk, their language will develop and progress normally as they grow.”
Should I Worry about a Learning Disability?
Unfortunately, speech delay can possibly affect reading, writing, and especially comprehension abilities. “Whether or not the child is treated will play a role here”, Samar warns.
Being a proponent of early intervention, Samar encourages parents to opt for it, describing it as a preventive shield that can ward off future disabilities. “Even though the child may eventually speak, the key is helping them get to their goal faster”, Samar rallies on.
To find out more about what you can do as a parent, read the second installment of this two-part series on speech delay.
Samar Haidar is a Beirut-based speech therapist and an expert in special education. She is the former president and now vice president of the Lebanese Association of Speech Therapy with over 20 years of experience in the field.