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Helping children with language delay

How can you help your child overcome language delay – Tips and suggestions

Sumitra was worried about her child. He was 3 years old, yet he spoke very little and hardly said few common words. She was advised by her Paediatrician that there was no need to panic. He could improve if she spoke to him a lot. She did just that. Every day, Sumirta spent a lot of time talking to her son, Aarav; but to her disappointment, he hardly learnt anything.

It was then that one of her acquaintances referred her to Dr Nandini Mundkur. Being an expert in child development, Dr. Nandini took the first step of explaining to the mother that it was very important to know the development level of the child before doing anything else.  This is done by monitoring the child’s language development level.

Once the assessment is done,   the child can be introduced to a structured program. The first step would be to find his current level of language development and go step by step laying foundation for further development. 

On assessment it was found that Aarav could say about 20 words like cup, car, dog, goo for milk ,nana for water  amma aboo etc. 

What came to the notice of Dr. Nandini was that the child lacked social interaction. Hence she recommended the mother to encourage more social interaction for the child through play. 

According to Dr. Nandini, playing provides opportunities for caretaker and child to communicate. Social interaction is very important for language development. So the first thing to do is to promote social interaction. This is done by a variety of games a child enjoys. This could be like singing .action songs and rhymes, playing hide and seek, seeing picture books with actions, names of fruits, vegetables and many other such activities. 

Mimicking child’s sounds and play behaviours will encourage more vocalizing and interaction. It also encourages the child to copy the caretaker and take turns. Example, when a child rolls a car, the parent can roll a car. If he or she crashes the car, the caretaker crashes the car as well. But, we have to take care not to imitate or encourage negative behaviours like throwing the car!

Gestures and eye contact can build a foundation for language. Sumitra was asked to encourage her son by modelling and responding these behaviours and exaggerating her gestures. She was to use both her body and her voice when communicating – for example, by extending her hand to point when she says “look”  Nodding her head when she said “yes.” 

Dr. Nandini told Sumitra, “Use gestures that are easy for your child to imitate. Respond to your child’s gestures: When he looks at or points to a toy, hand it to him or take the cue for you to play with it. Similarly, point to a toy you want before picking it up. Give time for your child to respond. It is important to give your child lots of opportunities to communicate, even if he isn’t talking. When you ask a question or see that your child wants something, pause for several seconds while looking at him expectantly. Watch for any sound or body movement and respond promptly. The promptness of your response helps your child feel the power of communication.

Simplify your language. Doing so helps your child follow what you’re saying. It also makes it easier for him to imitate your speech. If your child is nonverbal, try speaking mostly in single words. (If he’s playing with a ball, you say “ball” or “roll.”) If your child is speaking single words, up the ante. Speak in short phrases, such as “roll ball” or “throw ball.” Keep following this “one-up” rule: Generally use phrases with one more word than your child is using”. 

Sumitra was also asked to follow Aarav’s interests rather than instructing him to do this and that. If he’s playing with a shape sorter, parent can say the word “in” when he puts a shape in its slot. She can say “shape” when he holds up the shape. By talking about what engages the child, the caretaker can help him improve his vocabulary to a great extent. 

Sumitra was further guided to help her Aarav to participate actively and take part in daily routines which were the activities he could easily relate to. 

Dr. Nandini also pointed out to the Mom the right way of showing appreciation or displeasure. She said, “When your child is trying to do things he should receive appropriate praises. Never say good boy, or bad boy, or say excellent, very good etc. This does not convey anything to the child, but saying things like you have put the toys back well, Thank you for bringing me a glass of water will let the child know that why he is being appreciated”. 

With proper guidance, Sumitra was able to help Aarav overcome his language delay considerably. She is still working on improving his skills further.