This article first appeared in the August 2005 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Unlike his two elder siblings, my youngest child couldn’t speak at two years old. Santiago would talk to me in grunts, with “mama” his only clear word. To show me something, he would just drag me to where that object was.
A little worried, I started bringing out his ate’s and kuya’s picture books. I also bought an alphabet poster and set aside 10 to 15 minutes every day before I left for the office to work with my youngest on his vocabulary.
In less than two months, Santiago knew the alphabet and the words and pictures associated with the letters on the poster. Then I bought a numbers poster and did the same thing. Now, among my three kids, my seven-year-old Santiago is the most talkative and bookish.
Standards of speech Was I right to worry? In a way, I was, according to Barbara Munar, a speech pathologist at the Core Skills Therapy Center on Quezon Avenue in Quezon City. She says this is because by age one, children usually have at least a couple of words, usually “mama” and “dada.” By age two, children are usually able to speak in two-word combinations like “go mommy” or “drink milk.” By age three, children usually have what she calls a “vocabulary explosion.”
Liza Bulos, speech therapist at the Hope Developmental Center for Children in Las Piñas, however, reminds us that “every child has his own timetable.”
“Some children may just not be at ease with words. They may be better at jumping and other gross motor skills, or at coloring and other fine motor skills. Every language environment is different. Some households just tend to be more quiet or non-verbal than others. Sometimes it’s just a normal delay that can easily be corrected. Many times labeling a normal delay as autism or hyperactivity or mental retardation is more damaging,” she warns.
Bulos says I was able to correctly and quickly identify the factor for my bunso’s delayed speech: language environment. Individual receptive development, heredity, birth order, spacing, and gender are the other factors.
“Some people are really advanced talkers. Some children can understand but just have difficulty expressing themselves. Usually, the first child gets all the attention from his parents, his lolas and lolos, so the panganay usually starts talking early...”
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“Girls also usually are advanced talkers because of the way we socialize girls. Parents usually talk more to their daughters than to their sons,” she adds.
The 10 commandments of speech Like most learning, speech is primarily learned by imitation. To encourage speech, both speech therapists suggest creating a rich language environment.
1. Make like a radio reporter and just keep talking. If you’re clearing the table, try to describe what you see and what you’re doing. “This is a blue placemat. This is a red drinking glass. This is a white plate. I’m clearing away eight white plates” are good examples.
2. Sing to your child. Words are easier to learn if sung.
3. Read, paint, cut paper, and do creative stuff together. “Spend at least 30 minutes to one hour with your child. It can be as simple as looking through photo albums and pointing to and identifying the people in the pictures,” Bulos says.
4. Consider your child’s interest. “Ma, ball,” your child might say. Instead of just an indifferent “yes,” the mother can say, “Yes, that’s a big, blue ball that bounces.”
5. Expose your child to more playmates than playthings. Interaction with children of the same age would stimulate his speech.
6. Walk around the neighborhood and interact with neighbors. Expand your child’s experience. Take him to the palengke, the supermarket, or the park.
7. Add to his vocabulary. Point out objects to him and say, “See that—that’s a building. Buildings are tall structures that can serve as houses or offices.” Or say, “That’s a boat, a small paddle boat that is also called a banca. That other boat is a ship. Ships are usually bigger.”
8. Act as interpreter for a stranger or a friend. “If the child cannot comprehend another person’s dialogue, make it clearer for the child. Help your child in such social situations.”
9. Do not ridicule or censure mispronunciation. “If he mispronounced or misused a word, don’t criticize him. When the child is finding it difficult to put words to his thoughts, don’t rush him. Doing so might just frustrate him. Paying attention is also a form of encouragement. If nobody listens to the child, he may choose to just keep quiet,” Bulos says.
10. Let him watch interactive TV programs. “Many television shows are one-way. They don’t validate learning. But even made-for-children programs, like Sesame Street which is good because there’s repetition, must only supplement actual interaction,” says Bulos.
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When to seek professional help Bulos says parents must first consider the factors and then try to intervene at their level to check the perceived delay. A good check would be comprehension. “Ask your child questions and if he cannot seem to understand and follow simple instructions, then there could be a problem,” she says.
She says this child may either have hearing impairment or other developmental problems. In this case, she recommends a visit to a developmental pediatrician, who can determine the type of work-up for the child. In any case, Bulos says, parents must not rely on speech therapists alone. “Empower yourselves. Be independent. Train your yayas.”