When will my child talk?

January 20, 2016.

By: Shefali Shah

Ninety percent of babies with hearing difficulty are born to parents with normal hearing. It istherefore understandable that most parents of babies with hearing loss want their baby to talk. It is also understandable that parents expect their babies to talk as soon as hearing aids are fitted or cochlear implants are activated. However, natural development does not follow this pattern.

First words come tumbling out in babies with normal hearing when they are approximately ten months old even though they have been listening to sounds and to the conversation of their mother from before birth. Nature has wired the brain to listen and then talk. Sufficient listening manifests as early speech. The same holds true for the baby or young child with hearing loss. Sufficient listening opportunities propel the baby or young child to experiment with his or her voice, to vocalise abundantly and then to talk.

Sufficient listening means meaningful listening opportunities. Play and conversation provide the most natural and on-going listening opportunities. For example: Where’s your ball? Oh! What a big ball you have! I’m rolling the ball to you! Go….catch the ball! Oh no! The ball rolled away! In this example, the adult has presented the word ‘ball’ in five different ways; each of them meaningful to the baby who wants to play. When the baby having had sufficient listening time and sufficient babble practice, utters the word ‘ball’, his or her parents are elated!

First words are not always clear. However your baby will produce a specific configuration of sounds, everytime he or she wants to refer to that object. The adults around baby, smile and give the object each time, modelling the correct form. They do not correct the error, they simply model the correct form. As your baby’s speech organs mature and s/he continues to listen to himself or herself produce sound, s/he refines the accuracy of the sounds produced so that the word becomes clear and sounds just like when grown ups say it. This refinement takes time and during this time, the baby or young child with normal hearing continues to make speech errors.These errors in speech production that are the result of speech organs not having matured sufficiently, are termed ‘Phonological Processes.’ Typically, these errors will work their way out of the speech of a young child by a specific age. For example, children with normal hearing tend to omit the last consonant sound in familiar words; /ba/ for /ball/ or /do/ for /dog/. This error of ‘Final consonant deletion’ resolves itself by age 3;6 years.

The development of speech sounds in children with normal hearing follows a predictable sequence. Some sounds develop before others. For example the consonants /p/,/b/,/m//,/h/ develop early while /s/, /r/ and /th/ develop later. Some sounds facilitate the development of other related sounds and serve as ‘preparation’ for them.

The speech development of your baby or young child with hearing loss will follow a similar pattern. If these speech errors do not follow the typical pattern and do not resolve themselves spontaneously, your child’s therapist will intervene to stimulate their timely emergence. In doing so, your child’s therapist will guide your understanding of the natural pattern of development of speech in children with normal hearing. This will help you understand that

1. Listening and understanding spoken language precedes speech and therefore must be the focus in the early days.

2. Sufficient listening opportunities will propel your baby or young child to vocalise abundantly.

3.Once your baby or young child is ready to talk, first words will come tumbling out, spontaneously.

4. First words may not be clear but as your baby’s or young child’s listening and speech organs mature, he or she will produce them with greater clarity.

5. If your baby does not demonstrate this process of spontaneous refinement, your therapist will begin working on developing the related speech sound/s in a focussed manner.

6. The production of speech sounds follows a developmental pattern that is related to the age of the child. Your child will therefore produce certain sounds before s/he produces other sounds.

The speech development of your child with hearing loss will follow the same sequence that it does in children with normal hearing. Allow yourself to be guided by your therapist, so that your baby or young child enjoys the excitement of exploring and then producing sound meaningfully.

Talking is joyful! Allow your child and yourself to enjoy it too!