Today, when you said ‘Good Morning’ to someone, or commented on the haze with another, you used communication. Communication is something we utilize extensively in our everyday lives via many channels – body language, facial expressions, tone, intonation, with words, of course, being the most obvious. Communication is an extremely complex process that involves an intricate amount of foundational skills that are laid well before a child actually utters his first words. I call this ‘the miracle of communication’.
As a Consultant Speech and Language Pathologist, I work exclusively with children who have difficulties with forming these foundational skills and my job is to try to remediate them to wards communicating better. With children who have speech and language delays, talking like we do is very difficult and is often out of their reach initially. Children with language difficulties are unable to relate what they think, what they dream about, what they want. When children begin to communicate, they introduce us to their minds and to the persons they are. Language draws us closer to our children and allows them to reveal to us how distinct and very special each child is.
The process of acquiring the ability to communicate is a complex process that hinges on several components. For instance, an infant must be aware and be able to organize sensory information i.e. the infant must be able to note the hotness and/or brightness of the sun, the taste of a cold lick of ice cream, and the sounds coming from a parent’s mouth. The child must become skilled at continuously segmenting and categorizing the stream of sounds that constitute speech and must slowly learn to distinguish where one word or phrase ends and the other begins. An infant needs to be able to distinguish which syllables belong with which others in order to translate what is heard - like “Duyuwannaicecream?”, to its’ meaning of, “Do you want an ice cream?”
Once words are disentangled, the infant then needs to recognize the sounds and link them to meaning that conveys the intended message. The way in which language surrounding the infant is used through instruction, caution, cultural context, as well as, the way language is manipulated within a specific target language with suffixes, articles, plurals etc. shapes and contributes to the meaning of the utterance as well. Every language has its own glitches and idiosyncrasies and even within a particular language itself, there are widespread variations. Just think about the diverse ways Bahasa Malaysia is spoken across the different states within Malaysia.
When a child first learns to communicate, single words are expressed as early as 6-10 months for some children. By the time a child is one and a half years, a child should have accumulated, and be able to understand, more than 50 words. That, of course, is only a starting point and from there onwards, there is a fiery pace of progress as words are quickly added to the child’s word vault. By the time a child enters school, an astounding 11,000 words or more have been acquired!
Infants seem to have an inherent sense of the rules of the language that surrounds them. In other words, from very young, they “get” the grammar of the language. Forming a sentence is not just about combining words but one must have the knowledge of appropriate syntax, which then allows the child to arrange their utterances into culturally acceptable phrases that will be understood by others. For example, “An ice cream you want do” might have the ingredients for an understandable phrase but until the words are put in the right order, the words are considered garbled. We don’t often hear children make this sort of mistake when they are developing normal language abilities. Somehow their brains are hardwired to understand these rules of word order and to adhere to them.
Between 2 and 4 years of age, children seem to explode on the acquiring words scene and commence forming more complete phrases. Often the “ing” ending is the first to be noted: “I am eating”. This is closely followed by the use of prepositions (in, on, under)and then plurals and so on.
Learning to communicate is contextual and thus, the environment surrounding a child is acritical contributing component to this end. A child who is raised on TV and I-pads will not advance linguistically the way children do who are nurtured with the give-and-take of ‘conversation’ and all its’ nuances. Enjoy the interaction with your child, the moment and the communication that comes with it.
Age - 6 to 9 months
Sounds words - Lip sounds like mm, bb, pp, babbling
What’s going on - Lips sounds are the easiest for baby to make
Age - 9 to 12 months
Sounds words - Ff, ss, zz sounds, inflection and the melody of conversation starts
What’s going on - Lips sounds are the easiest for baby to make
Age - 10 to 14 months
Sounds words - First word
What’s going on - First words are usually a word that’s repeated often and is of interest to the child e.g. go
Age - 1;00 year to 1;06 years
Sounds words - Roughly adds 2 words a week to about 50 by 1;06 years old
What’s going on - Child usually will look at something/someone and point saying one or two words. Mispronunciations are common
Age - 1;06 – 2;00 years
Sounds words - About 200 words
What’s going on - Lots of single words and starting to put two word phrases together
Age - 2;00 – 3;00 years
Sounds words - About 500 words
What’s going on - Questions, questions, questions!
Age - 3;00 to 4;00 years
Sounds words - About 800 words or more
What’s going on - The child starts to acquire rules and grammar – contractions, prepositions, time expressions and so on.
Age - 4;00 – 5;00 years old
Sounds words - About 2,000 words or more
What’s going on - Communication is clearly delivered comprising of 5-6 word phrases. Can make up stories though some sounds can still be troublesome – /s/, /r/, /v/, /j/, /th/, /sh/ and /ch/.
Age - 5;00 – 7;00 years old
Sounds words - About 11,000 words or more
What’s going on - By this point children are retelling and discussing stories have a very large repertoire of words to use.
Jennifer Peters-Lee is a Consultant Speech-Language Pathologist who has made meaningful communication her life’s work.
The benefits of using declarative communication in your daily routines with your communication delayed child
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