As our kids hit toddlerhood, making sure they’re on track with major development milestones such as talking can sometimes be difficult to judge.   

Experts have noticed a rise in problems among young children in the UAE, with prevalence of speech-sound disorders (SSD) such as stuttering, apraxia, lack of social communication and other impairments affecting around nine percent of kids. Roughly five to eight percent of preschoolers experience language delays that continue throughout their school years and into adulthood while 15-20 percent of two-year-olds are delayed in their expressive language development.

“Red flags to watch out for at any time in those up to four years old include any loss of speech or babbling, never gesturing or imitating, not appearing to understand speech or to hear very well and never developing words beyond repeating what others say,” says Rugaiyah Majed Hamidaddin, speech-language Pathologist at the Child Early Intervention Medical Center (CEIMC) who recently gave a talk on the topic at British Orchard Nursery.

“Research confirms that the first five years in a child’s life from the building blocks for later life,” adds Vandana Gandhi, founder and CEO of British Orchard Nursery. “It is important that we are vigilant in our observation of physical and mental progress at this age. This can only be achieved through a combined effort of teachers as well as parents.”

If you suspect a problem, the earlier a child receives the help he or she needs, the better the outcome.

“Early intervention also reduces behavioural problems such as anxiety of low self-esteem that may occur due to a speech or language issue,” says Rugaiyah. “As a starting point, get a hearing test done if their child is not responding normally since hearing disorder could be the root of the problem. If in doubt, consult a speech-language therapist. Getting an appointment is the first step in providing your child with the help he or she needs but you may encounter long waiting lists for speech therapy services, which can be frustrating when you’re anxious to help.”

Tools you can use at home
In the meantime, there’s lots you can do to give your child’s speech and language therapy a head start, as Rugaiyah suggests…

  • Talk while doing things and going places.
  • Use simple but grammatical speech that is easy for your child to imitate.
  • Expand on words. For example, if your child says "car," you respond by saying, "You're right! That is a big red car".
  • Continue to find time to read to your child every day. Try to find books with large pictures and one or two words or a simple phrase or sentence on each page. Name and describe the pictures on each page.
  • Have your child point to pictures that you name.
  • Continue to sing songs, play finger games and tell nursery rhymes. These songs and games introduce your child to the rhythm and sounds of language.
  • Strengthen your child's language comprehension skills by playing the yes-no game.
  • Sort pictures and items into categories and ask your child to point out the item that does not belong in a category.
  • Read books that have a simple plot, predict and talk about the storyline. Help your child to retell the story, or his or her favorite part, or act it out with props and dress-up clothes.
  • Look at family picture, and have your child explain what is happening.
  • Work on comprehension skills by asking your child questions. Have him or her try to fool you with his or her own questions. Pretend to be fooled!
  • Talk about spatial relationships (first, middle and last; right and left) and opposites (up and down; big and little).
  • Offer a description or clues and have your child identify what you are describing.
  • Expand on social communication and storytelling skills by "acting out" typical scenarios with a dollhouse and its props.
  • Follow your child's directions as she or he explains how to do something.
  • Give full attention to your child when he or she is speaking and acknowledge, praise, and encourage him or her afterward.
  • Build on your child's vocabulary. Provide definitions for new words, and use them in context.
  • Encourage him or her to ask for an explanation if he or she does not understand.
  • Ask "wh" questions (who, what, when, where, or why) when reading a book or watching television and monitor his or her response.
  • Give your child two-step directions and encourage he give them to you.
  • Have your child help you plan and discuss daily activities.

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