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Language is fundamental to a baby's development

27 Nov, 2023

Speech Pathology Australia is the national peak body for the speech pathology profession in Australia. Speech pathologists are university trained allied health professionals with expertise in the assessment and treatment of communication and/or swallowing difficulties.

Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speech, language, fluency and voice. They work with people who have difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, stroke, brain injuries, learning disability, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, dementia and hearing loss, as well as other problems that can affect speech and language. People who experience difficulties swallowing food and drink safely can also be helped by a speech pathologist.

The Association has a stand at the Pregnancy Baby and Children Expos to alert parents and carers to the role speech pathologists play, especially in relation to the development of oral communications skills of their children.

Language is fundamental to a baby’s development. Every baby learns to speak by listening, playing with sounds and talking to others.

Babies begin to learn from the moment they are born – first receptive language skills (understanding what they hear), then expressive language skills (speaking). Parents and carers can help develop both kinds of language skills by talking, watching, listening, playing and sharing books with your baby.

Learning to speak is a crucial part of a child’s development and the most intensive period of speech and language development happens in the first three years of life.

Even though children vary in their development of speech and language, there are certain ‘milestones’ that can be identified as a rough guide to normal development. Typically, these skills must be reached at certain ages before more complex skills can be learned. These milestones help speech pathologists determine if a child may need extra help to learn to speak or use language.

Parents and carers with concerns about their child communication skills should seek help as soon as possible. If you are worried about your baby’s communication, contact a speech pathologist, and particularly if: your baby does not seem to listen to you, enjoy sounds or respond to them; your baby isn’t using a range of words by 18 months; your toddler is frustrated by not being able to speak to or be understood by others; your toddler has trouble understanding what you say; your toddler does not engage in simple games with you or understand your gestures/signs; your toddler stutters; your toddler has an unusual voice (e.g. it sounds husky); your toddler isn’t trying to join words together by two and a half years.

Friendly advice and assistance are available from the Speech Pathology Australia stand at the Pregnancy Baby and Children Expos.

Alternatively, locate appropriate speech pathology services online via the Speech Pathology Australia website using the ‘Find a Speech Pathologist’ search. The Association also has on its website a range of fact sheets and information about communication milestones for children.

Parents and carers should be aware that children from different backgrounds, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, may use words differently when learning English. This may not be a problem. Always encourage families to use the language(s) at home that they are comfortable speaking.

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