Communication is conducted primarily through receptive and expressive language skills. The expressive language skill can be summarized by how a person conveys meanings and intentions to another. Receptive language is the process of understanding that which is conveyed to us.
As stated in Receptive vs Expressive Communication, “Expressive language involves making requests, giving information, and labeling things. Expressive language is more difficult because the individual has to recall the word or words they want to communicate and then be able to express. A lack of expressive language skills is often the cause of frustration and behavior in individuals with language disorders.”
The ability to follow directions, socialize and identify items are examples of receptive language. Difficulties in receptive language skills are not always recognized. A receptive language disorder may be overlooked as disagreement to a stated command, when the problem may really be a misunderstanding of the statement that was made.
There is a difference between a language disorder and a speech disorder. A child with a language disorder may have difficulty understanding what another person is saying or is not understood by others because they have difficulty expressing their thoughts. Apraxia of Speech is an example of a speech disorder.
Developmental apraxia of speech (DAS), also known as childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), occurs in children and is present from birth. It is usually detected around 2 years of age when speech development appears to be delayed. A child’s speech may be unintelligible and sound like ‘babbling’ or jargon. The child may show symptoms by having difficulty saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently. However, DAS is not due to simply weakness or a paralysis of the speech muscles. The child will generally not have trouble chewing or biting down on objects.
A lisp in a child can be developmental or from incorrect placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, such as a lateral lisp. A lateral lisp is caused by the child directing air flow down the sides of the tongue rather than directly down the middle of the tongue. This causes the pronunciation of the letters ‘S’ and ‘Z’ to be muffled or slushy.
What may not be obvious to the parent is that the child with a lisp does not perceive themselves as speaking differently from the children or adults around them. Therefore, waiting for the child to “grow out of it” is not advisable, because children very rarely outgrow a ‘lateral’ lisp. The longer a child continues to pronounce words incorrectly, the more difficult it can be to correct the problem as the child grows older.
The result of waiting too long can be especially problematic as the child enters school. The child has the probability of being teased by peers and will not understand why. The child will perceive themselves as speaking flawlessly.
Beth Fine, of Fine Communication in Manhattan, New York, New York, had a young patient that, as an 8th grade student, had her dreams of having leading roles in school plays shattered because of her lateral lisp. She did not perceive her speech to be any different from her peers. With speech therapy, the student became aware of correct tongue placement and corrected her lisp in a relatively short period of time. Now a college student, she speaks in front of large groups of people and has chosen to be a mentor to other girls.
The ability to communicate is essential to a person’s life. The development of communication skills develop early in life when we are children. According to the National Institute of Health in an article called Speech and Language Developmental Milestones, “the first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills.”
Early detection of any communication impairment in a child is critical because the ability to communicate is essential to learning. In Frequently Asked Questions: Speech and Language Disorders in the School Setting, the question is asked “How may a speech-language disorder affect school performance?” The answer is “Children with communication disorders frequently do not perform at grade level. They may struggle with reading, have difficulty understanding and expressing language, misunderstand social cues, avoid attending school, show poor judgment, and have difficulty with tests.” Deficits and delays in speech and language skills can negatively impact the normal progression of learning skills.
If you suspect your child may have a delay in communication development, an evaluation will provide valuable information. It is never too early to have your child evaluated. For children as young as 12-15 months, an evaluation can ease concerns and provide a base-line for follow-up visits to ensure continued progress.