Learning to Talk

Why is my child having trouble with learning to talk?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of a speech pathologist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as learning to talk.

Learning to talk and to use words to communicate is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Copying physical motor actions (e.g. clapping), then speech sounds and words
  • Developing eye contact and shared attention (child and adult both looking at the same object)
  • Turn taking - allowing another person to ‘take a turn’ and waiting with anticipation for their turn again.
  • Developing a range of functions communication is used for (e.g. requesting, commenting, questioning, gaining attention, sharing)
  • Developing play skills (further development of thinking, social & language skills)

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Turn taking – You can support your child to develop turn-taking skills in everyday routines such as taking turns to clap hands, brushing your hair, washing your face and sharing toys. To begin working on turn taking with your child, choose a toy such as a rattle and demonstrate the activity to your child. Say when it’s your turn e.g. “Mum’s turn/my turn” then pass it to your child “Nathan’s turn/your turn”. Let him/her have a play with it for a while then say it’s your turn again. Resources to support developing turn-taking skills can be found here: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/early-language/

Copying ­– You can support your child to develop their ability to copy words by starting with copying physical motor actions such as clapping. When playing with your child copy what they do. If he/she bangs the blocks together you can copy them by bang the blocks together too. Try to extend your child’s play by copying their actions and then adding an extra action to the sequence. Activities can include singing songs and nursery rhymes with actions (e.g. ‘Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’ and ‘Ring a Ring O’ Roses’) and games such as ‘Simon Says’. Resources to support developing early communication skills can be found here: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/early-language/

Developing play skills – You can support your child to develop their play skills by letting them explore and play using their senses. Many household objects are interesting to children. For example, things to feel and look at (soft toys) and things to hold/shake/bang (balls, rattles). Allow time for your child to play everyday and watch and follow your child’s lead in play. Resources to support developing your child’s play skills can be found here: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/play/

How can a speech pathologist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as learning to talk. Speech pathologists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as learning to communicate with words. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards learning to talk may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
  • Developing skills through fun and creative play-based activities
  • Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home

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