Early intervention is key to helping kids with speech delay issues

agh_logoEarly detection and intervention are crucial to ensuring the best outcome for children with speech delay problems, says Paediatrician Corina Francu of the Ottawa Valley Family Health Team in Almonte.

Dr. Francu says that speech delay is common in young children, affecting as many as one in 10.

Signs of speech delay can show up in an infant as early as 12 months, says Dr. Francu, who provides paediatric services in Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place, Arnprior and surrounding communities, as well as at Almonte General Hospital.

An infant who doesn’t babble, point or gesture at 12 months, says Dr. Francu, could have language delay problems. At 18 months, a child should respond to simple commands, and use a few single words by 21 months. By 24 months, a child should use two-word combinations. A parent should be able to understand a child’s speech by 24 to 36 months, and others should understand the child by three to four years old.

Other warning signs, Dr. Francu says, include not responding or avoiding talking situations, any regression of language or other skills at any age, stuttering, repeated ear infections and hypersensitivity to different stimuli. These signs can indicate other problems as well, such as hearing deficit, neurological and metabolic problems, or autistic spectrum disorder.

Although a family physician monitors a child’s development during regular, early year visits, parents should alert the physician if they think their child isn’t meeting normal developmental milestones. “Early intervention is the key to better outcomes,” Dr. Francu stresses.

Free programs also are available in the community for parents with concerns about their child’s development, says Dr. Francu, including Language Express (http://www.language-express.ca/); Ontario Early Years (http://www.oeyc.edu.gov.on.ca/); and Open Doors (http://opendoors.on.ca/)

To help their child develop speech, parents should start early with regular reading, singing and conversation, Dr. Francu adds. “You can begin reading to a baby as early as three to six months,” she suggests, using board books that the child can touch and play with. “Book exposure among infants and toddlers promotes the development of early literacy skills, including book orientation, narrative structure, listening ability, attention span, page turning and print recognition. A child’s brain architecture is shaped in these early years,” she says.

Dr. Francu also recommends early interaction with a child’s peers through daycare, drop-in playgroups, and public library programs.

More information is available for parents at the Canadian Paediatric Society’s website http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/