Tips from SHEMESH: How to identify a speech and/or hearing disorder in your child

By Aviva Weisbord

Since 1927, May has been designated the Better Hearing and Speech Month by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).  ASHA uses the opportunity to provide the public with information about communication disorders and how to prevent these disorders from affecting children’s ability to learn, socialize and succeed in school and life.

Sometimes parents worry that something is not quite right with a child’s hearing or speech.  It’s a good idea to trust that inner voice and take the child to a certified speech-language pathologist or audiologist.  These professionals can identify, assess and treat the issues related to speech-language and hearing.  For a school-age child in particular, the parents and professionals can collaborate to help the child find success in the classroom.

What are some of the concerns that trigger the inner voice? Parents or teachers might notice difficulties that include stuttering, articulation problems (such as saying “wabbit” instead of “rabbit”), slow development of vocabulary, concepts or grammar, and voice issues (such as nasal, breathy or chronically hoarse voice or speech that is overly high or low pitched.  Signs of hearing loss in children include inconsistently responding to sound, delayed language and speech development, unclear speech, turning the sound to maximum on the radio or CD player, no response when called, wanting things repeated or misunderstanding what’s been said, and difficulty following instructions.

While school screenings are a good first step, sometimes further investigation is needed:

Sarah H. passed her school hearing screening, but her mother noticed inconsistencies in her hearing.  Mrs. H. took Sarah for further testing and was told that her daughter could not detect sounds above a certain pitch.  From that point on, Mrs. H. made sure to place Sarah in a classroom whose teacher had a fairly low-pitched voice.  The family saw immediate improvement in Sarah’s work and socializing.

Speech and language difficulties present themselves in a variety of ways:

Kelly is concerned about her four-year-old son, Avi.  Family members and friends have a hard time understanding his speech; the sounds are not clear and his tone is exceedingly soft.  Avi has a speech disorder, affecting his voice, articulation and fluency.  

Dina, on the other hand, has a receptive and expressive language disorder.  Although she is three-years-old and already in preschool, she still speaks in short one-or two- word sentences. 

She can’t express clearly the things she needs or wants and has trouble following simple directions.  Language includes understanding what words mean and putting words together in the correct order. Another major component of language is Pragmatics, the ability to use language in a socially appropriate way (i.e., “Would you mind moving your foot, please?” as opposed to, “Get off my foot – NOW!”). 

A child might be able to say words clearly and use complex sentences that are grammatically correct without having mastered the rules for social language.  Indications of difficulties with pragmatics would include the inability to change language according to the needs of the listener or the situation, taking turns in a conversation, using eye contact and facial expressions, retelling stories and events in an organized sequential manner. While we expect children to sometimes say inappropriate statements or avoid eye contact, a person with pragmatics problems would do so regularly and to a greater degree.  Obviously, such issues can have an impact on a child’s acceptance among his or her peers, so the sooner these difficulties are dealt with, the better chance a child has to be part of the social group.

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Filed under Families, Healthy Living, Jewish Learning, Social Services, Special Needs

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