With speech and language disorders ranking among the most common disabilities in children, Fort Hays State University’s Herndon Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic encourages parents to learn the signs of trouble for May’s Better Hearing and Speech Month.

FHSU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders encourages parents and caregivers to learn the signs and seek an evaluation if they have concerns about their child’s ability to communicate.

“Development of strong communication skills is extremely important, and parents anxiously await their child’s first words,” says an information bulletin from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

“Yet, common misconceptions remain. One is that children generally ‘grow out’ of speech or language difficulties, but unfortunately this mistaken impression too often delays treatment.”

Speech and language disorders are evaluated and treated by speech-language pathologists. Speech is the ability to produce speech sounds using the mouth, lips and tongue, while language is the ability to use and put words together, and to understand others’ words.

Difficulties in speech may include the child saying sounds the wrong way, repeating sounds and words, or is difficult to understand. Difficulties in language may include difficulty understanding questions, following directions or naming objects. Early speech and language treatment sets a child up for future school and social success.

“Good communication skills are critical, helping with behavior, learning, reading, social skills and friendships,” says the ASHA bulletin. “It is much easier, more effective, and less costly to treat speech and language disorders early, and May is a great time to educate parents on this important point.”

Warning signs to watch for in young children, as suggested by the Herndon Clinic:

• Does not babble (4 to 7 months).

• Makes only a few sounds or gestures, like pointing (7 to 12 months).

• Does not understand what others say (7 months to 2 years).

• Says only a few words (12 to 18 months).

• Says p, b, m, h and w incorrectly in words (1 to 2 years).

• Words are not easily understood (18 months to 2 years).

• Does not put words together to make sentences (1.5 to 3 years).

• Says k, g, f, t, d and n incorrectly in words (2 to 3 years).

• Produces speech that is unclear, even to familiar people (2 to 3 years).

• Repeating first sounds of words, like “b-b-b-ball” for “ball” (any age).

• Stretching out sounds such as “ffffffarm” for “farm” (any age).

Warning signs in school-aged children:

• Has trouble following directions.

• Has problems reading and writing.

• Does not always understand what others say.

• Is not understood by others.

• Has trouble talking about thoughts or feelings.

Tips for parents from the Herndon Clinic to encourage a child’s communication development:

For young children:

• Talk, read and play with your child.

• Listen and respond to what your child says.

• Talk with your child in the language that you are most comfortable using.

• Teach your child to speak another language, if you speak one.

• Talk about what you do and what your child does during the day.

• Use a lot of different words with your child.

• Use longer sentences as your child gets older.

• Have your child play with other children.

For elementary-aged children:

• Have your child retell stories and talk about their day.

• Talk with your child about what you do during the day. Give them directions to follow.

• Talk about how things are the same and how things are different.

• Give your child chances to write.

• Read every day. Find books or magazines that interest your child.

“Although treatment ideally begins early — in the toddler years — it is never too late to get treatment,” said Breanna Taylor, assistant clinical coordinator of the Herndon Clinic and an instructor in the CSD Department. “The large majority of parents report significant improvement after treatment.”

For more information, visit http://IdentifytheSigns.org and www.asha.org/public.

To schedule an assessment, contact FHSU’s Herndon Clinic at 785-628-5366 or email infoslp@fhsu.edu.