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growing up: toddler

Word Wise

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

We called it "Alexese." It had all the sounds and rhythms of a lilting Caribbean language, except that it was English ? as spoken by my 2-year-old son. Even though I was often Alex?s interpreter, I never considered his speech a problem until a preschool screening revealed the need for speech therapy.

Children learn to speak at different rates. Some seem to add a new word each day while others chatter in bursts of new phrases. Still others stay pretty quiet until the end of their second year and then fire away, speaking in near perfect sentences.

So how is a parent to know what?s normal and what?s not? According to Lori Stanevicius, a registered speech/ language pathologist, there are some warning signs parents can look for to identify speech problems early on.

Take note if:

  1. Your child is frustrated because he can?t communicate his needs.
  2. Your child?s speech is markedly behind that of her peers.
  3. Non-family members have difficulty understanding your child.
  4. Your child is unable to form certain common consonant sounds.

Stanevicius says by age 2 1¼2, your child should be able to make the p, b, m, w, h and n sounds. However, other sounds are more difficult for his little mouth to form: l and th don?t fully develop until age 5 or 6. And the spoken sounds for r, s and z may not come until even later.

It?s important to remember that as your child is learning to talk, it?s likely she?ll experience some sort of speech disfluency like stuttering. This is not a cause for immediate alarm. "Between the ages of 2 and 5, kids generally experience rapid growth in their vocabulary," says Stanevicius. "Their speech just can?t keep up with their language explosion."

If, however, by 3 your child is still only speaking one or two words at a time, you may want to take some steps that can help him increase his language abilities and move toward better speech. Start with your local school district and request a speech/language screening for your child. A federal law passed in 1993 mandates that all children between 3 and 21 are entitled to receive special education services free of charge from their local public school district. Help for children with speech/language delays is included in this provision.

If a screening reveals a need for therapy, your school district can explain what services are available. You can also call your state Department of Education or the American Speech/Language/Hearing Association at (301) 897-5700 for more help.

?Rachel Gilmore
Writer, English teacher, mother of two

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