New Vision (Kampala)

26 February 2013

Uganda: Developing a Child's Speech

At 12 months, Pretty Namusoke cannot utter a single word. Namusoke only communicates using gestures. Her delayed speech has caused her parents a lot of worry.

George Ibanda, a speech therapist at Jinja Hospital, says learning to talk is one of the important intellectual lessons for a child. Without it, many of the other learning skills will be hindered from fully developing.

Ibanda says delayed speech can greatly impact children's life. On the social front, the child may not be able to play, since he cannot express himself. A child of school-going age will develop low self- esteem and psychological torture from peers.

In addition, the child will face learning problems at school as a result of not following the receptive language.

Language and speech milestones

Communication starts at five to six weeks as the baby begins to coo, responding to the mothers' voice, says James Okia a speech therapist working with Easy Speak Association. At the age of three months, the baby starts to vocalise and by six months, the baby can respond to the mother's voice.

"At nine months, the baby starts to babble words like "maama, "baba" to his amusement and that of others. Besides, the baby is able to understand simple words, for example "go" and "come". By 12 months, a baby should be able to understand, obey simple instructions and use words in their familiar environment," he says.

At 18 months to two years, a baby should be able to use more words through gestures, demand for desired objects and make noise. He or she should also be able to begin to recite rhymes, songs and form simple sentences, while constantly asking questions.

By two years, the child's speech is understood not only by family members, but also strangers. At the age of four, the child can narrate and his speech can be understood.

However, Ibanda says some children's speech and language milestones delay causing panic to their parents and care takers. He estimates that seven out of 10 toddlers experience delayed speech.

Why some children delay

Okia blames it on factors like congenital birth defects like cleft lip and palate, slower muscular developments. These make it difficult for some children to make the rapid movements needed to combine speech, hearing loss and mental retardation.

He links speech delay to other factors like environment. For example, psychosocial deprivation, where a child spends less time talking and interacting with people. The other may include elective mutism where the child just does not want to speak

When to worry

Ibanda says all toddlers stammer and stutter from time to time. But if the major talking milestones are not achieved at the appropriate time, the parent should consult a doctor or a speech specialist.

Helping a child speak

Below speech therapist give tips on helping the child to talk.

Children learn to communicate by interacting and playing with people. Ensure the baby is in company of fellow toddlers or people he can talk and play with.

Aside, a baby first learns words by identifying objects. In conversations with the baby stress the names of objects and repeat the frequently. For example, if you are feeding the baby, talk repeatedly about the spoon and food.

Help the child learn how to apply some words by describing and talking about things which are actually in front of him. The baby can now make the connection between an object and what you are talking about if you repeat the word and can see, hold, touch and play with it. So while playing with a ball repeat the word ball often.

Use a new word in more than one instance to help it stick in your child's memory. Do not panic if the child does not pick up and use the word right away. Some toddlers need to hear certain words or phrases more often than others before the language becomes a permanent part of their vocabulary.

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