Delay in speech causes concern


Is it normal for a 17-month-old not to talk yet? He points at objects when you ask where they are.

inger Thompson

Charlotte, N.C.

A 17-month-old typically has a vocabulary of 10 to 20 words, but many children won't start saying their first words until they're 18 months old or older.

If a child points to objects when asked where they are, that means he's comprehending, says Louise Zingeser, director of the speech language pathology branch of the American Speech-Language- Hearing Association in Rockville.

Babbling and noise-making are also good indications that a baby's first words are on the way. When playing with cars, for instance, children should be making little car sounds, says Kara Kelley, speech language pathologist at Children's Hospital, Boston.

Boys typically start talking later than girls, says Lewis P. Lipsitt, nTC founding director of Brown University's Child Study Center in Providence, R.I.

"Many boys just don't talk until age 2," Zingeser agrees.

Parents can play a key role in promoting good language development, experts say.

"One of the best things parents can do is establish very early on daily book sharing, where you go beyond book reading to interaction," Kelley says.

Talk directly to your child while making eye contact, Lipsitt says. Talk about what you are doing using simple words, Kelley says, and comment on what they are doing as they play.

Since children learn through experience, parents should also use imitation, echoing their child's sounds so they get the idea to mimic the parents, Lipsitt says.

When a child points to an object, such as a ball, name the object and ask him to repeat it, says Corliss C. McDaniels of Tacoma, Wash. And try to be consistent: If you say cat, don't substitute kitty or kitten.

If a child hasn't started talking by 18 months, parents can consult with their health-care provider. Talk about whether the child is meeting other developmental benchmarks and whether the child has a history of middle-ear infections, Zingeser says.

If a hearing problem is suspected, a child should be screened by an audiologist or ear-nose-throat specialist. Parents can do simple hearing tests, such as watching to see if their child responds to clapping or other noises. But professional testing can reveal more subtle hearing loss that can cause speech delays.

If a child hasn't started talking by his second birthday, most speech pathologists recommend the child be evaluated by a certified speech language pathologist. Public schools, health departments and community- based hospitals often provide free evaluations.

But some parents recommend having the assessment done as soon as you suspect a problem. It won't do any harm, they say, and it can put your child on the road to early intervention if a problem is detected.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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