“Ganyan talaga ‘pag batang lalaki, (minsan) matagal bago magsalita.”
In an almost reassuring tone, I believed that my then three-year-old son’s few words were perfectly fine and “normal” amongst little boys growing up. I was told to wait and be patient. But while I sit there watching my son mold Play-Doh with his classmates in junior playschool, I couldn’t help but compare how little his speech and interaction were to his classmates’ verbal expression.
It can break a mom’s heart, you see. But you don’t stop there. As perplexed as I was looking for clues, opinions, even parenting seminars, pediatric consultations, and what have yous. I found answers. As a parent, you might be surprised how powerful your role is in your child’s early language development.
There’s a difference between late-talking and a developmental language disorder. A disorder is a deviation from the typical line of development. It stems varying degrees of concern and information (which would definitely need an entire new writing).
According to the book, Language Disorders from Infancy to Adolescence (4th ed.) authored by Paul, R. and Norbury, C. (2012): “As far as language development is concerned, late bloomers generally catch up after a late start in learning to talk.” Whereas, the term developmental language disorder is used to describe children who are “not acquiring language as would expected for their chronological age, for whatever reason.” The former is a label normally used in the community or society while the latter needs a developmental pediatrician for assessment and diagnosis to name; also, a speech therapy normally transpires after such diagnosis. In either case, it is still a concern on speech and language development that worries primary caregivers.
We learn from literature on children’s typical development that by one year and six months, children use common words and start to put words together. As they reach the age of two, children understand more words than they can say. They are also able to put two words together (“want juice,” “get ball”, etc.). Then they ask simple questions and begin to learn turn-taking in conversation. What can be done if you couldn’t seem to observe these from your child?
In a clinical setting, the term “Communication Temptations” refers to the “talking” opportunities or situations you can create and model to give your child a REASON to communicate.
Think about this. Your three-year-old daughter throws tantrums, cries very hard, and planks in the middle of the mall without a single word uttered as to what she wants to do. She never said “want ice cream” but from your previous experience with her, you know that in that corner of the mall where you’re at right now, the stall stands from which you bought her two scoops of candy-sprinkled chocolate ice cream last week. She points to it, and cries. You wanted to hear her say “want ice cream NOW” (at the very least), but you are also unsure whether that is in fact what she’s “saying.” Out of frustration, stress and concern building up now (as she’s calling attention from the crowd), you just plainly guess and give in to what she wants (or what you guessed she wants). You didn’t ask. You didn’t wait. You didn’t comment. You just simply brought her to the stand and paid ice cream and found that relief after an abrupt stop from crying, almost wondering how, in a split-second, the ice cream worked “magically.”
I am guilty of this, too. You see, the problem in this situation is that most parents are not aware of how they can turn a situation into an opportunity to communicate. Here then is how you can apply Communication Temptations in every day situation with your child, whether at home, in the mall, at a park, while cooking, during bath time, and the like:
1. TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY TO RECHANNEL A SITUATION. Train yourself to see how simple scenarios can actually be good opportunities to engage in talking. Example: During breakfast, mother may initiate: “Oh! I love pancakes! They are round! (Wait). Look at your pancake. Is it round, too? (Wait). Ooh! It is round! Pancakes are round!” In this situation you are teaching your child naming: a noun (pancake) and a shape (round). You could be pointing to the pancakes, motioning a circling gesture, and eliciting answers or reactions from the child. This is shared enjoyment. Communication is a shared experience!
2. COMMENT: Sometimes, we think that the only way to elicit answers is only by asking. Wrong! A lot of natural communication happens when you simply comment. State a fact or feeling. That’s also how you can model communication to your child. It will not always give you direct answers, but neither does just staring at your child. Example:
a) “Those are large shoes!” or “Pretty red dress!” In these examples, you are modeling content words (adjectives: large and red + nouns).
b) “I ate spaghetti!” Instead of always asking “What did you eat?”, you may comment about what you had instead. Naturally, we do this when we want to elicit response from other people without directly asking them about their opinions!
3. ASK QUESTIONS. SHORT QUESTIONS. NOT TEST QUESTIONS: Don’t bombard your child with questions. Ask one at a time. Clear wordings and simple questions are ideal to help them process which information you need. Avoid open-ended questions such as “how was your day?” A lot can happen in a day. It may confuse a late-talker what part of his or her day you want to talk about? Be specific: “How was your day with Lola?” You need to be specific with questions, speak in a slow manner, and level with your child by either kneeling in front of her or making her stand on a chair to ensure eye contact. Don’t ask test questions. Often times, we take a book, point to a ball colored green and ask the child: “Is this green? Is this green? Is this a ball? A ball? Is this a ball?” Not helpful! Test questions challenge the child’s esteem. Instead of just communicating, a child then has to wonder whether his answer will be right or wrong, and this isn’t what we want them to feel especially when our goal is not to test them with basic concepts. Our goal is to let them open up and see communication or talking as a wonderful experience.
4. WAIT FOR THE RESPONSE. This may be a delay of 10-20 seconds but you really need to wait, Moms and Dads! Communication can’t be two-way if you will do all the talking. When you ask a question or state a comment, be sure to wait for your child’s response. This is often neglected and yet this is the door to that opportunity for your child to TAKE A TURN. Communication is turn-taking. As you wait for the response and when the response is given, your next comment or question becomes a model to your child regarding the basic principle of communication — that it is a listening-speaking, two-way, turn-taking interaction. If there is no response, do not count it as a failure. Every opportunity to model communication is helpful your child.
You are the primary caregiver of your child. No amount of playschool hours or therapy hours can replace the best opportunity you have as a parent. This is likewise how you can best work hand in hand with professionals looking after your child’s speech and language progress. Now that you are informed, be involved.