Monthly Archives: May 2011

It’s Allergy Season: How Recurrent Ear Infections Can Affect Speech and Language Development

Allergy season is here in full force and with it comes sneezing, watery eyes and often itching throat.  Aside from these apparent symptoms, allergies can also lead to ear infections in children due to irritation in the Eustachian tube. There are very close ties associated with recurrent ear infections and delays in speech and language development.  Children who have suffered from several ear infections may have mild hearing loss making it difficult for them to hear low intensity grammatical markers such as past tense /–ed/ and third person plural /-s/, and high frequency consonant sounds such as /s/. Children learn these grammatical markers, and sound production, first by imitation which is made very difficult if they are having trouble hearing these specific sounds and markers.  It is very important to be aware of the status of your child’s hearing, even in the spring and summer, as it could be effecting their speech and language development.

Written by:  Stephanie Mathias, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada

Early vocabulary – what should I be teaching my toddler?

Often when parents think of what kind of words they would like their toddler to learn, these are some of the ones that come to mind: mama, dada, ball, bear, blanket, bottle, book, movie, car, home.

Now take a look at what types of words all of the above are.  Think way back to grade school when you learned about grammar and words classes.  How would you classify them?  They are all nouns – a person, place or thing. 

Children start saying words at around 1 year old.  Nouns are great for children at this stage of language use.  They can ask for the people and things that are most important to them. 

So what happens next?  Children begin combining words at around 2 years old.  In order to combine words, we need more than just nouns in our vocabulary.  Think about these common toddler phrases:

Mama up             (noun+preposition)

Go home             (verb+noun)

Want cookie      (verb+noun)

Bear sleeping    (noun+verb)

Baby hungry       (noun+adjective)

These all include nouns plus other kinds of words!  So when you think about teaching your toddler new words, consider some of these:

  • Verbs or action words: Actions your child may encounter often are eat, sleep, wave, read, want, and go. 
  • Prepositions or location words: in, on, up, down
  • Adjectives or descriptor words: hungry, thirsty, big, small, fast, slow

Now you may be wondering how do you teach your child.   Try something speech-language pathologists call focused stimulation.  This involves you setting up a situation where you can use a target word many times so your child gets the input on how the word is used.

Using a pretend kitchen set, pretend food or even pots and pans, try the following:

To focus on “eat”:  Prepare and eat different pretend foods.  This helps children learn lots of different names for foods and can help you focus on the word “eat” as you eat bananas, eat cake or eat sandwiches.

 To focus on “on”: Once you are done preparing your pretend feast, set the table or a picnic blanket.  Put the cups on the blanket, the plates on the table, seat yourself on a chair etc…

To focus on “hungry”: Bring more people, dolls or animals into your pretend play.  Mom is hungry, dad is hungry, bear is hungry, bear is still hungry.

Playing is a way for children to expand their vocabulary, so be imaginative and have fun!

What is a Phonological Disorder?

When a youngster is learning to speak, he or she will often have difficulty producing certain sounds and will replace those sounds with another sound.

A common example of this is the “Elmer Fudd” way of speaking, where all the /r/ sounds are replaced by /w/ sounds. There are several typical phonological processes that children use as they learn speech and language. Usually, children are completely unaware that they have mispronounced a word and may even argue that they said it correctly. Typically, as children get older, they learn to produce those difficult sounds and usually correct those errors without even realizing it. As this happens, children’s speech productions become clearer, and they becomes more intelligible (i.e., easy to understand).

When phonological processes do not disappear by a certain age; and/or the child can easily produce the omitted sound but doesn’t use it in his or her speech, the child is said to have a phonological disorder. Phonological disorders can and do affect pre-literacy skills. As a result, children with these difficulties usually have difficulty learning to read and write.

As speech therapists, we can help children with phonological difficulties in the following ways:

• We can teach the child how to make the sounds that he/she is having difficulty producing

• We can help the child become aware of his/her difficulties

 • We can work with the child and caregivers to improve pre-literacy skills.

Written by:  Claudia Correia, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada.