Taking action on your child’s speech and language issues

After a restorative summer, kids are back in school, and both they and their parents are facing a long list of potential stressors. Through the chaos, we expect our little ones to adapt and communicate with adults if something is wrong. But what if the problem is communication itself?

Parents are often confused or sceptical if their child’s teacher flags a speech, language or social concern. Parents in these situations should know they are not alone. These sorts of concerns are common, as are treatments to remedy the issues. Don’t panic!

Seek out an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). It’s always a win-win. If the assessment results do not point to any concerns, you have wonderful news; if support is recommended, you can take action immediately knowing you did not waste any time at the expense of your child’s development.

The gap between the flagged concern and your initial assessment can feel like an eternity. Here are some tips to keep in mind, depending on the type of feedback you receive from teachers:

“They are having a hard time making friends and connecting with others”– Try signing your child up for an activity in the community. Give them two or three to choose from (i.e., gymnastics, art class or any team sport). Ask your child’s teacher which children would be the most appropriate play-date buddies and reach out to those parents.

“Their language is behind that of their peers”– For the little ones, try being their ‘narrator’ by describing their actions and what they see. The more times a child hears a word, the sooner they will use it. Read repetitive books, such as Eric Carle’sBrown Bear, and encourage your child to fill in the missing words as you pause. Following the storyline is not what is most important; use the pictures to encourage your child to explain what is happening.  For older kids, play games like Hedbanz andGuess Who? to work on sentence structure, syntax and vocabulary.

“They are difficult to understand”– Practice modelling slow speech and enunciation at the dinner table as everyone talks about their days. Take note of their speech errors, but also speech patterns, without asking them to correct themselves. Are they omitting the last sound in words? Dropping syllables in connected speech? Your SLP will tell you what is considered disordered vs. developmental!

“They stutter when they’re excited”- Be sure to always maintain eye contact with your child as they speak. If they stutter, do not finish their sentence for them, don’t ask them to repeat themselves and try not to draw any attention to the mistake. Have everyone in the household practice speaking slowly while not talking above each other or interrupting.

“They are having a hard time following directions in the classroom” Difficulty with instruction can be due to a receptive language or processing issue. At home, in the absence of noise and distractions, ask your child to complete single or multi-step actions (i.e., “go get the umbrella and put on your rain boots”). If they become distracted, draw their focus back to the task and make sure they follow through, even if you guide them by the hand.

There is so much newness at this time of the year as children get to know their teachers and peers. These suggestions are not intended to replace the involvement of a speech-language pathologist, if that is what is recommended to you, but they are meant to give you a sense of the very first steps to take if your child is having communication issues.

Often, similar obstacles can be chalked up to back-to-school anxiety. But with increased awareness about developmental milestones and possible challenges, parents are more empowered to foster real growth in their children, no matter what news comes their way.


Tamara Paull is a speech language pathologist and founder of SpeakAble Speech and Language Services, based in Montreal and Toronto.

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