Communication is something most of us take for granted. We talk to our friends and families, ask for things we need and surf the Internet or read the paper to find out what is happening around us. It is only when these skills are not acquired at expected times or lost due to injury or disease that we realise what an important part of our life these skills are.
Young children typically begin developing communication skills from the moment they are born, often with a loud cry to signal their thoughts about being moved from a soft nurturing water-filled world into a much more complex world of light, sound and movement.
Initially a baby is programmed to make eye contact with carers and to use a variety of vocalisations ranging from gentle cooing sounds of contentment, to loud screams of hunger, discomfort or pain. Over the next few years these basic communication skills will continuously be refined and children learn to communicate not only through words and gestures but also more subtly through body language and facial expressions. Children also learn to communicate through the written word, learning to both read and write, which gives them another medium through which to communicate.
For many children, this process appears to be easy, but research shows us that approximately one in five children will have difficulty learning communication and literacy skills and will benefit from specialist intervention from a qualified speech and language therapist.
Children may have difficulty in one or more areas of communication development.
They may have difficulty:
Using words to ask for things they want and pulling you to things instead
Putting words together to make sentences
Learning new vocabulary
Making correct speech sounds
Keeping speech fluent
Making appropriate eye contact
Being able to greet people and make friends
Learning letter sounds
Learning how to blend letter sounds to read
Of course all these areas of communication take time to develop, but there are developmental sequences that children typically follow and which can be used as guidelines to check whether your child is following expected developmental patterns.
The following is a list of activities that will help your child to develop their speech, language and literacy skills at different ages:
In early elementary grades (K-2):
Talk with your child frequently
Read a variety of books; read often and talk with your child about the story
Help your child focus on sound patterns of words such as those found in rhyming games
Have your child retell stories and talk about events of the day
Talk with your child during daily activities; give directions for your child to follow (e.g., making cookies)
Talk about how things are alike and/or different
Give your child reasons and opportunities to write
In later elementary grades (3-5):
Continue to encourage reading; find reading material that is of interest to your child
Encourage your child to form opinions about what he or she hears or reads and relate what is read to experiences
Help your child make connections between what is read and heard at school, at home, and in other daily activities
Talk aloud as you help your child understand and solve problems encountered in reading material
Help your child recognise spelling patterns, such as beginnings and endings of words (e.g., pre- or -ment)
Encourage your child to write letters, keep a diary, or write stories
If a child appears to be struggling with learning any aspects of communication, it is wise to discuss this with your physician who will then refer you on to a speech and language therapist. Alternatively, you can contact a speech and language therapist directly and make an appointment to discuss your concerns and evaluate your child to find out where the breakdowns in speech, language or literacy are occurring. Your speech and language therapist will then be able to discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses with you and create a therapy plan to help you guide your child to commuwnicate more effectively.
Roz Griffiths is a registered and qualified speech and language therapist [email protected]