As with all learning for children, learning to talk happens at different rates for every child. Speech development and language starts at birth, our imitating of baby sounds and responding to their needs is just the beginning of their learning to communicate journey.

Communication is the sending of messages from one person to another. In today’s world, we communicate in a myriad of different ways, but we can break communication into smaller sets of key skills:

•• Speaking
•• Understanding
•• Reading
•• Writing
•• Using gestures, signs or symbols
•• Hearing
•• Using voice

Communication disorders include difficulties with one or more of these areas. Communication disorders in children are relatively common; Speech Pathology Australia reports that 20 per cent of four-year-old children have difficulty understanding or using language. Communication disorders can often present in children with average intelligence who are comfortably meeting other developmental milestones. At other times, communication difficulties can occur as a direct result of other developmental disorders or medical conditions, such as Autism, or hearing impairment.

How do communication disorders affect children?

Communication is intrinsic to being human, is a part of everyday life and is often taken for granted. When successful, communication allows us to experience all that life has to offer. Children who are living with specific communication difficulties, however, are at risk of not being able to experience life in the same ways or to the same extent as others. No matter the severity of a communication disorder, it can impact a child’s ability to:

•• Perform everyday routines and activities.
•• Achieve academic success – children with a language impairment are six times more likely to have difficulties learning to read (Speech Pathology Australia).
•• Make decisions about their life.
•• Sustain good emotional and mental health.
•• Form and maintain friendships.
•• Have access to future employment opportunities.

A 2011 study of young offenders in the justice system found that nearly 50 per cent had a diagnosable language impairment, which hadn’t previously been recognised (Snow & Powell, 2011).
Children with communication disorders require additional support from their families, friends, teachers and Speech Pathologists to maximise their social, educational and employment outcomes later in life.

Types of treatment available.

Speech therapy today is more accessible than ever before, with a range of services existing throughout North Queensland. Free community-based services exist such as Queensland Health and state schools, as well as low-cost options through university programs and research centres.

There are also many private speech pathology practices around Townsville and surrounds which provide services for a fee. Speech Pathology Australia’s website has a ‘Find A Speech Pathologist’ service that can point you in the right direction for your area.

Generally speaking, the most effective kinds of treatment are those which occur regularly and are based on current research and evidence, considerate of family circumstances and centred on the child’s individual communication profile (and let’s not forget fun and motivating for the child!).

Quick tips that you can use at home

•• Model, model, model! Provide lots of repetition and modelling for the child without expecting the child to provide the correct response. Avoid ‘testing’ the child or correcting them too much.
•• Modify your language to suit needs of the child by reducing sentence length, simplifying vocabulary, gaining attention before giving instructions, and giving the child time to respond.
•• Make communicating a fun and motivating experience for the child (e.g. by following their lead and interests).
•• Use visual supports such as gestures and diagrams.

If you would like further information regarding this visit the Speech Pathology Australia’s website, click here.

If you have any concerns regarding your child’s speech, it really is worth getting them checked out by a Speech Pathologist.