Professionals urge parents to address communication disorders early

Five-year-old Parker is in his weekly speech therapy session. Born premature, Parker is physically disabled and was diagnosed with a speech delay. He has worked with speech-language pathologists since he was a year old.

“I know the sooner you catch it, the better it is,” said Parker’s mom, Danielle Fernandes.

Experts agree with Parker’s mom, although a new survey indicates that not all parents feel the same way. An American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, or ASHA, national poll of audiologists and speech-language pathologists indicates parents are largely unaware of the early warning signs of communication disorders in children, and they don’t recognize the benefits of early treatment.

“About 11 percent of preschool children are going to have a speech, language, hearing or swallowing disorder,” said Elise Davis-McFarland, president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. “If those go unaddressed, we find that about 15 percent of school-aged children will have some type of communication disorder.”

Davis-McFarland says sometimes parents take a “wait-and-see approach” if they suspect their child has a developmental issue.

“What we know is that the sooner the issues are addressed by a professional, the better chance the child has of getting on that normal developmental progression,” she said.

ASHA encourages parents to become aware of signs of communication disorders, like babies who aren’t babbling at 4 to 7 months old, or 12 to 18-month-olds who only say a few words.

“I saw the results right away, so my fears were just washed away,” Fernandes said.

Fernandes says she listened as her little boy began speaking single words, then two or three word phrases, and eventually full sentences.

Jersey Shore University Medical Center speech-language pathologist Arianna Jarosinski seems to love working with Parker, too.

“I would say birth to 3 population, it’s all following the child’s lead and bringing in toys you think they’d be engaged in and you can map speech tasks onto. With the 3 to 6 population, it’s the transition to more structure, and like first we do this, then we do that. And really getting them engaged, whether it’s sounds you’re working on, or if its expanding utterances from one-to-two word utterances to like say three-to-five-word utterances,” Jarosinski said.

Jarosinski says the majority of parents who bring their children in for an evaluation, don’t think their kids have any speech difficulties and are often surprised to find out they do. They are usually referred by their pediatrician. Initially, speech pathologists ask the parents how many words their child uses to communicate his or her wants and needs. The medical team observes the young patients’ eye contact, and how well they follow routine directions.

As for Parker, he’s starting kindergarten this September, and clearly ready to talk to new friends.

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