Early Warning Signs of Speech and Hearing Disorders

Does your child show the early signs of a speech disorder?Does your child show the early signs of a speech disorder?Two smiling parents gently encourage their little boy to speak. "Mama! Mama! Say, 'Mama!'" they repeat to him over and over.


He talks back, but thanks to some special effects, it's an answer only television viewers can hear: "I don't know how to tell you this, but I'm almost 2 now and still not responding. That's one sign of a communication disorder."

The commercial, sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, started airing last month and is part of "Identify the Signs," a new campaign targeting the parents of young children.

In a survey of nearly 6,000 audiologists and speech pathologists earlier this year, 64 percent said that the parents of young children are unaware of the early warning signs of speech disorders.

Experts say identifying the signs of speech and hearing disorders--known collectively as communication disorders--is important so that parents can seek early intervention which, in turn, can help a child reach his or her potential.

"Communication is the foundation for many, many other skills....You hear the phrase that children learn to read and then they read to learn. Well, I like to say the same analogy in talking, that children learn to talk, and then they talk to learn," Elizabeth Crais, a speech-language pathologist and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a recent ASHA podcast.

Related: When Do Babies Start Talking?

Crais said it's often less expensive to treat communication issues in younger children than older ones.

"There's fair data to support that the investment in early intervention is about a 7 to 1. So in other words, every dollar you spend now in early age is going to save a good seven dollars in terms of education and services that come along," she said.

There is a difference, of course, between "late bloomers" in language development and those who go on to have language disorders. Late bloomers, said Crais, tend to be better at understanding directions and using gestures to communicate. They use more consonant sounds and are generally more interactive, less shy.

Those children, some would say, "outgrow these early language issues," Crais explained.

But she added, "if you've got a 20- or 22- or 24-month old who still doesn't have first words, then you definitely want to be concerned about them."

Making mostly vowel sounds, she said, is another warning sign.

"You always want to worry about kids who are mostly using vowels, who might talk like 'aaooaaooaa' ...not using any consonants is a sign that somebody needs to be seen," she said.

Here are other signs of speech and language disorders in infants and children up to age 4, according to ASHA:

  • Child does not interact socially (infancy and older)
  • Child does not follow or understand what you say (starting at 1 year)
  • Child says only a few sounds, words, or gestures (18 months to 2 years)
  • Words are not easily understood by the child (18 months to 2 years)
  • Child does not combine words (starting at 2 years)
  • Child struggles to say sounds or words (3 to 4 years)
To learn the signs of hearing loss in children and for more information on how to get help for your child, visit the ASHA "Identify the Signs" website.

- By Alice Gomstyn


For information about language development milestones, visit BabyZone!

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