Problems Children May Have with Communication

”The way we communicate with others and ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives”.
Anthony Robbins

We communicate in order to develop relationships and this starts at birth.  From the day your baby is born you are developing a relationship, first of all listening for the signs of hunger, thirst, loneliness, frustration, discomfort or fear.  It is amazing how quickly a parent picks up the different cries or coos their baby will make. 

As your child gets older they will communicate through gestures and facial expressions as well as a more complex, and often, louder vocal sounds.  From around the age of 12-18 months they will begin to use words. That first word is such a celebration!
As we want nothing more as a parent than a loving, reciprocal relationship with our child we are very anxious for them to meet each and every communication  developmental  milestone.  However children do not hit these milestones in exactly the same way as each other and this can cause  a great deal of concern. 

It has been stated that around 1 in 10 five year olds has some type of difficulty with speech, language or general communication skills.  Learning to communicate successfully involves complex brain development. Often when people think about communication they think about talking and listening, however communication also involves tone of voice, facial expression, physical gestures and body language.  All of this communicates information and will be ‘read’ by the other person.

There is a great deal of information on what are typical developmental milestones and it is useful for you to be aware of these checklists.  Keep in mind that they are only guides and every child is different.  Another important factor affecting a child’s communication skills is the models they are exposed to.  Being around people who use expressive language and engage the child in conversation is the best way for your child to develop strong communication skills.

Generally speaking, most children have learnt the basic speaking and listening skills by around 3 years old. Once they are starting Primary school they should be able to speak in a more formal structure, including full sentences and descriptive language. Children may still muddle tenses when speaking at this age but generally this will become more consistent.

Common Communication Concerns

There are a number of different types of communication difficulties and these include:
· Speech delay/disorder/impairment
· Language delay/disorder/impairment
·Expressive language disorder (having difficulty expressing information to other people.  They may have trouble remembering vocabulary, grammar, asking questions or telling a story)
·Receptive language disorder (having difficulty in understanding the meaning of information being given to them.)
·Dyspraxia (having difficulty in using the muscles needed for clarity of speech)
·Central Auditory Processing (CAP) disorder.  this is a neurological disorder which affects ability to listen to and understand language.
·Semantic/pragmatic disorder (difficulty in understanding the nuances of language necessary for social purposes)

Communication problems can range from mild, moderate or severe.  Sometimes a problem may last for a short time and quickly be solved with a minor change in focus.  Other problems may be part of a syndrome or disability or may need much more targeted, professional support.
As with many developmental delays or disorders, early intervention is best in managing communication difficulties so if you do have a concern with your child’s communication development, speak to an expert and don’t wait.

What Can Cause a Communication Difficulty?

It is not always easy to know what is causing a communication difficulty but some of the more common reasons for children’s communication problems are:

Syndromes or disabilities.

·Autism – this affects communication skills and can include Central Auditory Processing Disorder as well as semantic and pragmantic disorder.
·Hearing impairment – if children are unable to hear well enough this will affect their ability to develop speech and language.
·Intellectual impairment – this will often lead to a delay speech and language development.
·Visual impairment – this affects understanding information that is communicated through facial expression, gestures and body language.

Physical factors

·Chronic ear infections in babies or young children can affect hearing over a long period of time leading to delays in speech or language development.
·Poor muscle tone means it can be difficult to coordinate the muscles involved in speech.
·Cleft palate can prevent clear speech
·Muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy can affect nerve and muscle control which affects speech.

Environmental factors

·Lack of stimulation – if a baby or young child is in an environment where there is little or no stimulation their communication skills will be delayed.  We have seen this in cases of babies in under privileged orphanages.
·        Limited opportunity to talk to others – language is caught not taught! Generally children who develop expressive speaking skills are exposed to strong communication models.

Brain injury

·A brain injury may affect parts of the brain related to speech and communication. Depending on the type of injury, this may be temporary or permanent.

How Can You Help Your Child?

Make sure your child has many opportunities to communicate, either through play-dates with same age peers or even at home.  One common reason the second or third child may speak later than your first is that they simply don’t need to!  With older siblings or other relative hovering around anticipating their every need they can get by with very little language. Make sure you ask your child to either point or attempt to say what it is he or she would like. 
Children need to have a reason to communicate.

If you are concerned about your child’s communication development after observing their development , speak to someone.  That could be a doctor, a teacher or a speech therapist. Generally the first thing they will suggest is a hearing test as this is a common reason for delayed speech development.  

They may assure you that it is a phase they are going through.  For example, many children develop a stutter when they are around 3 or 4 years old.  This is because they have so many ideas and thoughts they wish to express and physically their mouth just cant keep up. By asking them to take a breath and slow down it can be reduced and in time simply goes away.  Or they may suggest a series of exercises or activities to be down at home.

At Chiltern house singapore, no child is problematic, there is only the wrong teaching method used. Hence there is a emphasis on communication and students are taught to freely express themselves to both their peers and teachers. 

If you have a concern about your child’s social and emotional behavior, for example anti-social behavior at home or school you may want to consider whether there is a communication problem at the root of it.  Studies have shown ther is a strong link between what is know as Behavioural Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD) and communication problems.  However up to 40% of the time this goes undetected making it very difficult to help these children as the focus is on the behavior rather than the root cause.
Some of the common behavior problems which can mask a communication difficulty can be:
·Repeatedly interrupting, as they do not understand or cannot pay attention to the conversation.
·Seeming rude, as they are unable to use different language in different social situations.
·Giving monosyllabic answers or swearing, because they have a very poor or limited vocabulary.
·Seeming rude or isolated because they do not understand jokes, inferences, sarcasm or idiom.
·Uncaring about school work, by being unable to organize information they may be unable to follow instructions, remember deadlines or seem forgetful.

These behaviours tend to show themselves in primary or even secondary school but can certainly affect how a child is treated and their self-esteem.  By being aware of any communication problems early and getting the needed intervention or treatment as young as possible then these difficulties can be avoided.


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