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Your baby begins communicating with you from the day they are born. Their cries are their way of communication and the type of cry differs, whether they are hungry, cranky, sleepy, or not feeling well.
As the months pass, your child’s way of communicating changes. They begin making sounds and start babbling and try to express themselves in different ways.
Your baby’s first words will definitely be a precious milestone parents anxiously wait for. Like any other milestone, some kids may not start talking during the average time they are required to. This is called Language Delay.
Some kids may have underlying conditions, while others can simply be late talkers for other reasons.
To get a better understanding of what language delay is, the warning signs, and tips to help your child, we spoke to phoniatrics specialist Dr. Donia Ayman Adly.
What is language delay?
“Language delay is a type of communication disorder where the child does not meet the language milestones for their age,” Dr. Donia explained. “Mothers of children with language delay usually complain that their kids do not speak or communicate with other kids of the same age.”
“Children with language delay do not have the same vocabulary as other kids of the same age. They cannot say sentences like those of the same age, or have a proper conversation depending on their age.”
There is a big difference between speech-related issues and language delay. Language is basically the ability to communicate, while speech issues are things such as stuttering, lisps, cluttering and dyslalia which are caused either due to genetics or developmental issues.
What causes language delay?
According to Dr. Donia, language delay can be due to many factors such as:
- Neurological impairments such as cerebral palsy
- Other psychological factors such as Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or brain damage
- Hearing and visual impairments
A new phenomenon that may be causing language delay in children these days is environmental deprivation. This scenario usually happens because both parents are busy working and the child goes to a family member and ends up staying in front of the television screen or on the iPad or mobile all day. This is not a stimulating environment for children, which of course causes them to become delayed in speaking.
What are the warning signs of language delay in children?
“At around 3 months of age, babies start communicating with their mothers. If your baby does not interact with the sounds around them like a doorbell and smile to their mothers, this could mean the child has issues in the sensory channels, which will affect their language skills,” Dr. Donia stated. If the child at this age does not try to follow the mom with their eyes or interact with loud noises around them, this is a warning sign that there could be a hearing-related issue.
Dr. Donia further pointed out some red flags for language delay:
- At the age 9 months, the child does not start babbling
- At the age of 1, the child does not say “mama” or “papa”
- At the age of 2, the child does not say two-word sentences such as “mom came” or “I’m hungry”
When should a child start language therapy?
Dr. Donia assures parents that the earlier the therapy, the better the prognosis, especially if there are neurological, psychological, or medical-related issues. If there are no medical-related issues and the child is late because of environmental deprivation, then we usually recommend parents to bring their children to language therapy at the age of two if they believe there is a delay.
“I usually first ask mothers to send their children to nurseries if they are delayed due to environmental issues. If the child does not improve within 3-6 months after starting nursery, then I recommend starting language therapy.”
Are boys more prone to language delay?
According to Dr. Donia, these are all theories. Some theories state that it is related to the Y Chromosome, while others refuted this theory. There is no proof that boys are more prone to language delay.
What should I expect from language therapy sessions?
After the child begins language therapy, the parents of the child should expect improvement within 3-6 months. According to the speech specialist, some parents expect results after one or two weeks of starting therapy, and if they are not regularly attending the sessions, they should not expect to see any progress.
Dr. Donia stressed on the importance of understanding that language delay does not have any medication. It is treated through therapy sessions. “This is not the case in Egypt only, but all over the world. we just need to be patient to see results,” she added.
How can parents help a speech-delayed child?
Parents should create a stimulating environment for their children. She advised not to leave them in front of the television screens to watch movies or cartoons all day. She stressed on the fact that children under the age of two should not be exposed to any screen time, even if it’s academic videos.
Children above the age of two should have one hour of screentime per day and it is preferable if parents co-watch, which means that you comment with your child on what you are watching to encourage them to speak.
Dr. Donia further advised expecting mothers to speak to their unborn children, tell them stories, and make them listen to music.
If your child has language delay, then you should encourage them to communicate and speak at home. Play with them, speak to them in short clear words or sentences. For example, if you are baking a cake, explain every step in detail by telling them what you are doing step-by-step. Do not expect your kids to speak to you in return, but it is important to help your children.
Read stories to your children and play a lot with them. If your child points at an object they want, try to encourage them to speak by telling them “Do you want your water?” and have them try speaking to you and express themselves.
With regards to nurseries, Dr. Donia stated that she does not recommend children to go to nurseries to learn academics, children should be in play-based nurseries at young ages. There must be other kids to play with to encourage children with language delay to speak.
Finally, Dr. Donia advised parents of children with language delay not to pressure their children to speak, for example asking your child to repeat after you. She advises them to speak to their kids during every activity their child is performing. Dr. Donia ended our talk by telling us, “As language therapists, we always tell mothers to imagine themselves reporting on a soccer match, simply stating every action taking place.”
Further reading: 5 Places in Cairo to Aid Children with Learning Difficulties