SPEECH PROB­LEMS IN KIDS:

what's nor­mal what' s not

Young Parents (Singapore) - - FRONT PAGE - YP

Al­though chil­dren aren’t born talk­ing, they do lis­ten from day one and be­come fa­mil­iar with the dif­fer­ent speech sounds around them.

There’s so much for a baby to learn when he’s born – how to crawl, wave bye­bye, use a cup and talk – and some­times in more than one lan­guage! It’s no won­der that many have a few stum­bles when learn­ing to speak.

To get those tiny teeth and tongues to pro­duce so many new sounds and sound com­bi­na­tions cor­rectly is tricky. And er­rors that may seem cute at age two or three can start to worry you when your lit­tle one reaches age four or five.

Rest as­sured that it’s com­mon for kids to make mis­takes when they’re learn­ing to com­mu­ni­cate. But if his prob­lems con­tinue be­yond a cer­tain age, you’ll need to call in the ex­perts.

SO WHAT’S NOR­MAL?

Ar­tic­u­la­tion, as ex­perts call it, is the for­ma­tion of clear and dis­tinct sounds in speech made by the “ar­tic­u­la­tors”. These are the tongue, lips, teeth and palate (roof of the mouth).

You may hear your child chang­ing sounds within a word. For in­stance, he may say “lel­low” in­stead of “yel­low”, “free” in­stead of “three” and “sicken” in­stead of “chicken”. And if he misses sounds, he’ll say “ca” in­stead of “cat”, “og” in­stead of “dog” or “bu” in­stead of “bus”.

The sounds “s”,“z”, “r”, “l” and “th” are par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing, and usu­ally the

last ones mas­tered be­cause the tongue has to be placed in spe­cial po­si­tions to pro­duce them (try them yourself and see). These speech slipups are all part of a child’s nor­mal speech and lan­guage de­vel­op­ment. An “s” which be­comes “th” is known as a lisp and is one of the most com­mon ar­tic­u­la­tion prob­lems. This is an in­abil­ity to pro­duce the cor­rect tongue place­ment for the pro­duc­tion of si­bi­lant sounds, or “s” and “z”. The tongue is raised to­wards (or be­tween) the teeth, mak­ing “s” and “z” be­come “th” in­stead.

It can be frus­trat­ing to hear your child mis­pro­nounce a sound, es­pe­cially as he gets older. But if he can pro­duce it and use it cor­rectly some of the time, it’s likely he’ll im­prove with­out help.

Thank­fully, most chil­dren sim­ply grow out of their lisps and other devel­op­men­tal ar­tic­u­la­tion dif­fi­cul­ties at an early age. Most can pro­duce all com­mon speech sounds by about six years old. Some will still have prob­lems pro­nounc­ing the trick­ier sounds (“th”, “s”,“z”, “r” and “l”) at age seven or even eight.

Look­ing at in­tel­li­gi­bil­ity – the abil­ity to be un­der­stood – is a use­ful mea­sure in small chil­dren. Can you un­der­stand what he’s say­ing? When he’s at age two, you should be able to com­pre­hend about half of his speech; when he’s three, about 75 per cent; and you should usu­ally be able to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing he says when he’s four. This doesn’t mean there won’t be er­rors, though.

Gen­er­ally, if his speech is im­prov­ing each year, then it’s likely he’ll be fine with­out any ex­pert at­ten­tion. Speech and lan­guage ther­a­pists (known as speech pathol­o­gists in Aus­tralia and the US) usu­ally rec­om­mend wait­ing un­til such kids are around seven years old be­fore seek­ing help for ar­tic­u­la­tion prob­lems.

NO­BODY’S TALK­ING TO ME

In an age where screen time has re­placed face time for many kids, it’s not sur­pris­ing to find that prob­lems have started to crop up.

The num­ber of pri­mary school pupils in the UK with com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems jumped a star­tling 58 per cent be­tween 2005 and 2010, a 2011 study by its Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion re­vealed.

In­stead of play­ing and eat­ing to­gether, more fam­i­lies now use screen-based

BILIN­GUAL KIDS MAY MIX UP GRAM­MAR RULES FROM TWO LAN­GUAGES, OR USE BOTH LAN­GUAGES IN ONE SEN­TENCE. SUCH SLIP-UPS ARE NOR­MAL, SO DON’T WORRY.

tech­nol­ogy – from TV to smart­phones and com­put­ers – to oc­cupy kids, Jean Gross, the UK govern­ment’s for­mer Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Cham­pion for Chil­dren, ex­plained to the

Daily Mail news­pa­per. Mean­while, par­ents are in­creas­ingly work­ing long hours to make ends meet, forc­ing them to rely on child­care, which varies in qual­ity.

When they’re used ap­pro­pri­ately, elec­tronic de­vices can be a re­ally use­ful ad­junct to a child’s speech de­vel­op­ment. How­ever, you should spend most of the time sim­ply chat­ting with your kids.

Here’s what you can do to boost growth in their speech:

Re­peat their phrases with cor­rect ar­tic­u­la­tion. “Mama, I thaw a lel­low bird!” “Yes, you saw a yel­low bird!”

Read books with your kid to help im­prove his speech and lan­guage.

Say what you see. “Look, a dog! A white dog. The dog is run­ning fast.”

BILIN­GUAL­ISM: DOU­BLE TROU­BLE OR DOU­BLE HAP­PI­NESS?

Ex­perts used to think that be­ing bilin­gual could cause lan­guage con­fu­sion and lead to more speech er­rors in chil­dren. How­ever, re­cent stud­ies have shown that this isn’t the case at all.

In fact, chil­dren who are raised bilin­gual are get­ting an even bet­ter brain work­out. Such kids have been shown to have bet­ter prob­lem­solv­ing and multi-task­ing skills than their mono­lin­gual pals.

They gen­er­ally progress through the stages of learn­ing lan­guage at the same rate as mono­lin­gual kids. Some­times, they may mix up gram­mar rules from one lan­guage and use them in an­other. They may also mix two lan­guages in the same phrase such as: “Xie xie (thank you in Chi­nese), I love my present!” These slip-ups are very nor­mal and not gen­er­ally some­thing to worry about.

TWO CENTS ON AC­CENTS

Some sound changes are sim­ply part of an ac­cent, not part of a prob­lem. Lis­ten to the speech your child hears around them. Are some words or speech sounds pro­nounced dif­fer­ently by fam­ily or friends?

For in­stance, “Mummy, I see a black cat” in some lo­cal ac­cents may be­come “Mum­meee, I see a bla- ca-” and “Can I go there?” might be­come “Can I go dere?” This is no cause for con­cern.

OTHER PROB­LEMS TO LOOK OUT FOR

HEAR­ING If your child suf­fers from fre­quent ear in­fec­tions or makes many sound er­rors, she may have prob­lems hear­ing, which can lead to speech prob­lems. Talk to your doc­tor if you’re con­cerned.

VOICE Does your child have an un­usual-sound­ing voice? Is it very high or low pitched? Is it scratchy, rough or a “nasal” sound? Voice prob­lems can make it hard to un­der­stand your child and should be checked by an ear, nose and throat specialist to­gether with a speech and lan­guage ther­a­pist.

MOUTH STRUC­TURE Ar­tic­u­la­tion prob­lems can be caused by ab­nor­mal­i­ties in the struc­ture of the child’s mouth, such as tonguetie or cleft palate.

WHAT TO EX­PECT IN THER­APY

Treat­ment for an ar­tic­u­la­tion prob­lem fo­cuses on help­ing your kid lis­ten and pro­duce dif­fer­ent sounds cor­rectly. Ther­a­pists use lots of games, sto­ries and songs to help make the ses­sions fun.

Your ther­a­pist will also give you ex­er­cises and ad­vice to help him at home. An aver­age pro­gramme will be once a week for a few months, but this de­pends on your child’s prob­lem and his re­sponse to ther­apy. Some­times, just a few ses­sions are enough to fix the prob­lem.

Check out the Speech-lan­guage and Hear­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of Sin­ga­pore’s web­site for use­ful links (www.shas.org.sg). Speak to your child’s teach­ers, too, if you’re con­cerned. They may be able to give you ad­vice on get­ting help and sup­port your kid’s ther­apy goals.

YOU SHOULD COM­PREH

BE ABLE TO END ABOUT HIS SPEECH HALF TWO, AND WHEN HE’S EV­ERY­THING ND UN­DER­STA

HE SAYS WHEN HE’S

FOUR.

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