An issue that greatly concerns parents is that their child may be non-verbal, when they notice that their child’s use of intelligible speech is minimal or significantly lesser than other children of that age. This does not mean that all hope is lost, because studies have shown that development of speech is possible as long as the child has been exposed to audible speech, whatever language it may be, during the critical period* of their development.
(*critical period in developmental psychology refers to the most important period during one’s development in which a particular skill is most readily acquired. )
As we are aware, communication is one of the most prominent developmental milestones for a child. Communication through words is also one of the most useful skills to possess, because it will greatly help them with almost everything, from expressing themselves, socialising with friends to occupational purposes down the road.
In today’s article, we will talk about spontaneous vocalisations in a child and how that could give a clue on whether he or she can be verbal. Take notice when your child makes unprompted, expressive sounds at random while playing. These do not have to be functional speech or even complete words that exist, but the sounds that they make may give us an insight on their potential to be verbal.
When the child is not able to speak or communicate what he/she wants, this will lead to a lot of frustration for themselves. There will also be frustration for the carers, when they want to help the child but have no clue what they need when they cannot express themselves. Most of the time, children who are not yet verbal will use gestures such as tugging your arm or bringing you to whatever they want. What happens then, if you give it to them but it’s not what they want?
Another example of spontaneous vocalisation is when a child listens to a TV program and repeats a word that stands out or seems interesting to them, but may not necessarily know it’s meaning or use it appropriately/ functionally.
He or she could overhear a conversation or something that you frequently say, and parrot you. Even if they may not be using it at the appropriate situation, this is actually a good sign! From that, we can tell that the child actually has the potential to speak, and has enough curiosity to imitate or echo word that sounds “catchy” to them.
An even better clue to tell you if your child has the potential to be verbal is whether they sing along to nursery rhymes. This might give you an idea because you can tell from the clarity of their speech, and notice whether their lack of speech is due to any oral muscular difficulty or hearing difficulties that may hinder them from picking up language. Hearing difficulties, on the other hand, can be noted by the child’s reaction or sensitivity to sounds.
If they are able to sing or hum nursery songs, we know that they have no issues with hearing and have the capacity to pronounce whichever words; hence, these children are only not using speech because they just haven’t had the chance to realise the utility or the power of words.
It’s always good to set achievable goals, for instance, if the child can only manage simple sounds, getting him to say “ah” or “oh” might already be a great accomplishment for them. Remember that every child learns at their own pace, and we can be there to support them and encourage and expose them to useful feedback, but definitely not to pressure them into doing something that is too big a leap or beyond manageable.
Lastly, when communicating with your child, remember to keep your sentences simple and concise. Be quick to give positive feedback to your child the moment he utters an appropriate word! That way, he would easily learn when he’s doing something right. With that, ABA-VB (verbal behaviour) therapy comes in very effectively since it is focused on helping a child becoming verbal. We set baby steps to pave the way for the child, with cues to help them speak. Then, when they are ready, we fade these cues away so they can eventually learn to speak. We do our best to help them to realise their fullest potential, and the earlier you do so, the better it will be for them.