The following is a Question and Answer from the ‘Ask and Expert’ section of the ‘Go Ask Mum‘ website, answered by Liberty Gates from Liberty Speech Pathology.
Q: Hi, I have a 27 month old son who is behind in speech development. He can say about 30 words but does not use them all consistently. He can put the occasional 2 word sentence together such as “oh dear” and “see you”. He constantly babbles to me in his own language, but this is more common then him using actual words. He appears to understand most things I say to him, and will generally follow most instructions. He just seems uninterested in talking more. We read to him and make him point out things in books. I repeat words and point out things constantly throughout the day. I always try to leave a gap for him to respond to questions but if I try and encourage him to ask for something he just melts down until I give it to him. All of my friends children who are younger are talking much more and I’m starting to get worried. I took him to a health visitor but they told me to wait till a development check between 27 and 30 months, so I’m waiting to be sent out an appointment for that. But in the meantime is there anything I can do to help encourage speech development?
A: Hi! You sound like an amazing mum – all that story reading and talking throughout the day is great. Pausing to let your boy answer questions is also fantastic. I also love that you are getting your child to point to things in books. Lovely!
Given that your son is getting frustrated by his difficulty communicating and has meltdowns, I would absolutely recommend going to see a speech pathologist sooner rather than later. Most private practices will take kids in from 18 months onwards, so it’s definitely not too early. They will work with your son to develop his vocabulary and will give you strategies to use at home.
In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to help:
- Learn some sign language signs and use them whenever you talk with your son. As you use the signs, your son will start to learn what they mean. Then, when you encourage him to ask for something, instead of him having a meltdown, you can just take his hands and help him to make the sign. Then give him that thing straight away. (Eg “Oh, bubbles! You want bubbles! Here you go. Bubbles”.) This takes the pressure off speech in meltdown situations and, more importantly, will help him understand the power of communication. Understanding that communicating results in good things (attention, getting the item he wants, sharing information with you, etc) is really important to motivate children to talk.Some good signs to start with include: food, drink, play, want, more, bubbles, car, truck, train, ball, puzzle, book, help, various animals, biscuit, milk, draw, sorry, etc. Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide runs regular workshop to teach signs. Check with your local community health centres or children’s hospital to see if there is a similar workshop available. If you have a smart phone, you may find this app useful: (Just be sure to get the Australian version) https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/baby-sign-and-learn/id414830310?mt=8
- Use short phrases when you talk. Using signs (as above) will help you to do this. Instead of “Oh, look, I can see a really big truck over there!”, try “Look, truck! Big truck! See the truck?”.
- Expand on what your child says. If he says “Dog”, say “I see a dog! Big dog. Brown dog. Dog says woof!”.
- Create opportunities to communicate. Try sabotaging a normal routine. For example, bring out your little boy’s breakfast and ‘accidentally’ put it on top of the fridge. This will get his attention and give you the opportunity to talk about it. “Uh oh. Bowl is on the fridge. Oops, silly mummy! Bowl on…. (wait to see if he says it)…Table!” Try putting something he will be interested in (I like to use wind-up toys) inside a screw top clear jar so that he can see it, but can’t get it. Your son needs to say “open” or “help” (words or signs), then help him to take the top off to play with the toy.
- Read stories together that have repetitive lines in them. For example, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Hungry Caterpillar, Hairy MacLary, But Not the Hippopotamus, That’s Not My…, Where is the Green Sheep? Etc. After you’ve read it a couple of times, start leaving off the last word. Eg “Where is the green…” and wait for your son to fill it in. Start leaving off more words, until he is saying the whole sentence. Start leaving off more words in familiar books for him to fill in. Rhyming and rhythmic books are great for this as well.
- Sing songs over and over until he knows them well. Like with the stories, leave off words one at a time and see if he will fill them in. I love songs like “Everybody Do This”, “This is the Way”, “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Old MacDonald”, “Twinkle Twinkle”, “Rock a Bye Your Bear”, “Five Little Ducks”, etc.
Have fun with these activities! Please book him in to see a speech pathologist soon. The speechie will do an assessment with your son to look at his communication, including how and why he communicates. They will be able to work with you and him to help increase your son’s words and help him put sentences together. This will help to reduce his frustration and you can start to hear all those gorgeous, wondrous things that two year olds love to talk about! Wishing you all the best.