Early in infancy, you will see signs that indicate that your child is hearing, listening, and understanding what is going on around him/her. Your child is learning language long before he/she produces that first word.
There is a typical progression to language development. Initially, your child will turn to find sounds, follow with his/her eyes when something moves in their view, look at what you are looking at (joint attention). All of these skills are part of language development. Later, your child will respond by pointing or may get your attention by touching you or vocalizing.Soon, your child will be following directions, repeating things you say, naming objects (labeling), asking questions, saying "no" (protesting), etc. Gradually, your child will learn (often by example) social language skills (please, thank you, asking nicely, not interrupting, etc.).
Initially, children may gesture, point, or look at things they want. Later, these gestures are paired with vocalizations and then with verbalizations (actual words or word approximations). As your child becomes more verbal, the need for gestures and vocalization will fade. When a child does not develop words or the ability to produce words, behaviors such as gestures, vocalizations, grabbing, or other actions may persist. After a certain age, this is no longer appropriate or expected.
Assessment of Language Abilities
The components of a language assessment will vary with the age of your child. Generally, the evaluation will include a parent interview, some degree of play to assess the child's cognitive and communicative development, standardized testing (when age-appropriate), a recording of the speech-language sample (for speech-sound production and linguistic features) and an oral-motor examination (assessing the shapes and movements of the mouth and face). Children are evaluated as young as 12-18 months of age. Since speech-language problems can impact social and academic abilities, early detection, and intervention are critical. Early intervention can help prevent difficulties with reading, writing, and interpersonal communication. When a child has a known disability, such as Down syndrome, an intervention can begin even earlier than 12 months.
If your child is very young, the evaluation may be based mainly on what you observe your child can do or not do. If your child is a toddler or preschooler, he/she can participate in some testing. Evaluations of preschool-aged and school-aged children may also include some assessment of literacy skills (reading and writing).
Treatment of Language Disorders
Treatment is designed to provide your child with success in the communication of wants and needs. The treatment of language disorders begins with the abilities your child has and then builds on those. Through the assessment process, the Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) will determine what skills your child has or has learned yet. Following the expected sequence of skill development, she will help you and your child master each of the next receptive or expressive skills.
Individual or group treatment may be recommended, depending on your child's needs. Individual therapy allows for a more intense focus on specific skills. Group treatment helps develop the social aspects of communication. Also, children learn a great deal from each other in these group treatment settings. Groups are also beneficial to parents/caregivers as they provide a view of the range of abilities children demonstrate at different ages, and other parents/caregivers are available for discussion and support.