Alex Erickson and Toni Lazelle (with their month-old son

Moving beyond baby talk

Contest by local Childhood Development Centre highlights the importance of focusing on speech and hearing development early

New parents Toni Lazarre and Alex Erickson’s one-month-old boy, Phoenix, is off to a sound start, thanks to a basket of speech and hearing development-focused goods his parent’s won in the Child Development Centre (CDC) sponsored draw at  Mills Memorial Hospital on June 5.

In recognition of speech and hearing awareness month, held in May, all families with babies born at the hospital last month were given the chance to enter to win the basket filled with books, hand puppets, sound toys, and a handmade quilt.

The CDC also printed calendars and had extra reading material on hand at the centre in order to communicate the importance of early education in speech and hearing development and promote early intervention if slow development is noticed.

Whether or not a child knows how to communicate by the time they enter kindergarten can make all of the difference, said Terrace CDC speech therapist Sheila Pretto. Starting school with strong language skills is “their best chance to reach their potential,” she said. This is why the centre advocates paying attention to a child’s speech development early on — and seeking support from places like the CDC if anything seems off.

“Typically, you expect a child to know 50 words by the time they are 18-24 months,” she said.

By the time they are four and a half, that number should be around 2000. If a child doesn’t know at least 50 words by the time they are two, or if their speech isn’t easily understandable by others by the time they are three, parents should seek outside advice.

One in ten Canadians has a speech, language or hearing problem. In children, the most common problems are stuttering, language difficulties, voice issues like clarity, voice, volume and pitch, and articulation disorders — for example, saying “wabbit” instead of “rabbit”.

It is estimated that 4 per cent of preschoolers have a significant language or speech problem — and these are often misdiagnosed as learning disabilities or behavioural problems, and can be harder to treat the older the child gets.

Since it’s best to catch these problems early, Pretto encourages parents to being their children to the centre even if the problem seems minimal. “I’d rather say to a parent there are no concerns than say nothing to them at all,” she said.

Parents are able to walk into the Terrace CDC and get a referral for an appointment right away — a big difference from clinics down south where there can be long wait-lists for treatment, said Pretto.

“Treatment can be consultive or one to one,” said Pretto. “Parent training is the focus.” Before a child enters preschool there is only a small amount of time in the waking hours to ensure a child is on track, she said.

Some activities the CDC — which provides early childhood support in a number of areas, not only speech and language — recommends doing with your child to help their language development are looking at books together and telling stories, talking to your child about what you’re doing (even if it is a routine task), and explaining the sound your child is hearing.