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The Ins and Outs of Early Intervention

'When Will My Child Talk'

Published May 6, 2016 1:58 PM by jasna cowan

"When will my child talk?"

I get asked this question often. Speech therapy is not a miracle pill nor magic, things don't just happen overnight.

We get involved as speech-language pathologists to consult with the families. We work together to determine what small changes and habits can be incorporated everyday into the family's lives to create new communication habits in the child's everyday life.

As any new habit, this takes time and commitment from both parties (the therapist and the family). I read somewhere that it takes 66 days to create any new habit. So we obviously need buy in from the parent. We can't do this on our own.

If a child has attention deficits, receptive language skill delays, and expressive language delays there is even more wait on the expressive language skills part. When a child has other areas of need, sometimes we need to work on getting the child to attend to us first or work on joint attention before the child begins to speak.

For example, a child who is non-verbal and has joint attention delays compounded by receptive and expressive language delay, well then first thing is first. We are working on rapport first and working on engaging the child by making it fun. Then, as the eye gaze and joint attention improves, my focus becomes receptive language skills.

Expressive language or "talking" is generally the very last thing that appears as a result of all of the other skills having been addressed. I think this is an important part of our job as early interventionists, to communicate all the little steps that we need to address that get us to the end point, hopefully to get the child to "talk."

I never give parents a timeline of when their child might begin to talk, as I cannot see the future. But, if I explain to the parents all of the things that we need to address first, those building blocks might get us closer to the end goal of the child saying their first words.

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Several years ago, I was a visiting assistant professor in the Language and Cognitive Development Program at the University of South Florida in Tampa. I was clinical coordinator for a ABA research project that focused on rapid acquisition of speech then language and cognitive skills in young nonverbal children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Essentially sounds or sound combinations the children had been heard to produce were paired with preferred objects and actions. In the context of fun and engaging activities, children were prompted for imitation of target sounds and sound combinations. Using differential reinforcement of successive approximations, sounds and sound combinations were shaped into phrases and then sentences.  Parents were trained to do carry over activities at home.  I have continued to successfully use the program since leaving the university and going into private practice as an SLP. I often see children who have been seen by other SLPs and are still nonverbal. So when I hear that question, "When will my child talk?", the evidenced based program that I use suggests that it will be soon...very soon.  

LorRainne May 24, 2016 7:04 AM

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