A Parent's Guide to Children's Speech

There are two areas of speech and language development that sometimes become areas of concern for parents. Speech sound development, sometimes referred to as articulation or phonological development, can have an impact on a child's ability to speak clearly. Speech sounds develop as your child grows. By age three, most children should be 75 percent intel­ligible to strangers. By age four, their speech should be 90 percent intelligible to strangers. Some sounds (t, v, I, th, j, z, and zh) do not develop until six or seven years of age.

To help your child speak more clearly, be a good speech model. Pronounce words clearly, slowly, and correctly. Use new words and sounds often in your conversation with your child so she has opportunities to hear them.

Speech dysfluency, or stuttering, is another area of con­cern for some parents. Between the ages of two and six, many children begin to repeat sounds, syllables, or whole words while they are speaking. This is considered a normal, nonfluent duplication of speech. An episode of dysfluency may last for several weeks or months and may disappear for a time only to reappear later.

Acceptance of your child's speech pattern by not calling attention to the repetitions is very important. Do not tell your child to slow down or take a breath. This is often difficult to do when you want to help your child get the words out, but it is very important to give her plenty of time to talk without being interrupted.

Be sure your child is getting enough rest and exercise and that she has an appropriate diet. Relieving any tensions at home can also help if your child is showing signs of dysfluency.

When do these dysfluencies change from typical develop­ment to an area of concern? True stuttering affects only one to four percent of all children. If you see your child develop "secondary characteristics," it may be time to consult a profes­sional. Secondary characteristics consist of such behaviors as twitching, facial grimaces, avoiding eye contact when talking, or leg and arm movements. These behaviors usually indicate that the child is aware of the dysfluency and is struggling to overcome the blocks in speech. If your child's speech dysflu­ency lasts for longer than eight weeks or you are concerned that it may progress to something more serious, contact a speech and language pathologist who has specific training in dysfluency therapy. A specialist in the field can tell you if it is something to concerned about or simply part of your child's normal developmental pattern.

Speech and language difficulties can often be remediated by a speech and language therapist. For most children, delays in these areas respond to a period of therapy and, in many cases, do not have an effect on overall development or perform­ance in school.

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