Although more than 5 million children in the United States have a speech, language, or hearing disorder, parents are often uninformed and unsure about what to do if they suspect their child may be affected.
Speech and language problems can occur at any time in a child’s life. They can be caused by injury, illness or heredity.
Childhood speech and language problems include:
• Articulation difficulties, such as saying “wabbit” instead of “rabbit.”
• Language disorders, such as the slow development of vocabulary and grammar.
• Voice disorders, including a nasal, breathy, or hoarse voice or speech that is pitched too high or too low.
Hearing loss, like speech and language problems, can have a negative impact on a child’s social and academic development. Hearing loss in children can occur at birth or as a child grows older due to chronic ear infections or exposure to noise. The earlier hearing loss occurs in a child’s life, the more serious the effects on the child’s development.
Typical signs of a hearing loss in children include:
• Inconsistent response to sound.
• Delayed language and speech development.
• Unclear speech.
• The use of high volume settings on radio, TV, CD players and other devices.
• Problems following directions.
• Failure to respond when called.
• Misunderstood conversations and frequent requests for repetition.
Parents who suspect their child has a speech, language or hearing disorder should seek the care of a specialist. Speech and language pathologists and audiologists work in schools, private practices, hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, health departments, research laboratories and other health and education settings.
Fortunately, most children with communication disorders can be helped. Even if the problem cannot be eliminated, children can learn targeted strategies to help them cope with their communication disorders or provide them with the appropriate adaptive devices.
Children at risk for hearing loss, such as those who suffer from chronic ear infections or in cases where there is a family history of hearing loss, should be screened by a certified audiologist as frequently as needed to ensure they are hearing well. Otherwise, for children ages 5-18, hearing screenings should occur on initial entry into school and annually in kindergarten through 3rd grade as well as in the 7th and 11th grades.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association provides parents with information about communication disorders to help ensure that these disorders do not seriously affect their children’s ability to learn, socialize with others, and succeed in school.