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Early Signs of Communication Disorders in Children

May 10th, 2018 | 4 min. read

By Tara Morrison, MD

communication disorders in children houston ent


May is "Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM)" in the U.S.  May 1st marked the beginning of  BHSM and those with hearing loss as well as organizations all over the nation hope to raise awareness of communication disorders, treatments, available hearing technology and the outcomes of communication in individuals with hearing loss.

In 1927, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) (previously known as American Society for the Disorders of Speech) launched the Better Hearing and Speech Month.  The overall goal of BHSM is to encourage screenings for hearing loss and promote hearing loss treatment and prevention.


Communication Disorders in Children

The ASHA released a new national poll for BHSM, which showed results indicating most communication professionals state parents aren't usually aware of the early communication disorder warning signs and they also don't realize how beneficial early treatment is.  

In fact, the poll revealed that almost 70 percent of parents of young children say they are not aware the early warning signs that could indicate a language or speech disorder. Further, 32 percent of the parents report that hearing loss symptoms in their child go undetected on average for one year or even longer.

Over 1,100 ASHA members — speech-language pathologists and audiologists — indicated lack of awareness among parents about the warning signs is the number one roadblock to identifying communication disorders early, according to the poll.

Communication disorders nationwide are children's most common disabilities. Around 11 percent of kids between the ages of three and six have language, speech, swallowing or voice disorders,  and nearly 15 percent of kids, school-aged experience some level of hearing-loss communication disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Untreated communication disorders can lead to issues with:

  • Writing

  • Reading

  • Social interactions

  • Academic success

  • Behavioral problems

Because of this, timely intervention is crucial.


Signs of Communication Disorders in Children

Some warning signs parents should look out for is if their child:

  • Birth and older: Doesn't interact with others or doesn't smile.

  • Ages four through seven months: Doesn't babble.

  • Seven months to two years: Doesn't understand what other people are saying.

  • Seven months to 12 months: Makes only a few gestures (i.e. pointing) or sounds.

  • Twelve to 18 months: Only says a few words.

  • One and a half to three years: Doesn't put words together to form a sentence.

  • Eighteen months to two years: Doesn't understand words easily.

  • Two to three years: Has trouble talking and playing with other kids.

  • Two and a half to three years: Has trouble with early writing and reading skills.

As a parent, you should learn the normal developmental milestones for children so you can spot early warning signs of a communication disorder. Just remember, not all children are the same. Where one child may only be able to speak one word by 12 months, another may already speak 15 or more.


Causes of Communication Disorders in Children

Since there are numerous causes of communication and other learning disorders, it's hard to narrow it down on just one. It's possible to tell the difference between causes based off cof certain chain of events that led up to the communication issue — some are organic, for instance. Organic is where there's damage to organs associated with language.

Some organic group causes include:

  • Congenital causes: When pregnancy complications or prescription drugs cause the language or communication disorder

  • Hereditary causes: When an individual inherits the communication disorder from one or both parents

  • Perinatal causes: Communication disorders originating during birth

  • Postnatal causes: Communication disorders appearing after pregnancy such as a disorder caused by premature birth

Along with organic causes, you also have:

  1. Endocrine causes. These mostly affect the psychomotor development of children.
  2. Functional causes. These are the result of a pathological function of organs used in communication/language.
  3. Psychosomatic causes. These play a significant role in some language disorder developments.
  4. Environmental causes. These also play a huge role in influencing language as the surroundings of a child can affect their linguistic abilities.

You have powerful thoughts and thoughts may even lead individuals into creating communication disorders. In the same token, communication disorders may also affect how you think. Each one of these may make it harder to develop proper communication skills.


Treatment Options for Communication Disorders

Communication disorders affect more than one part of speech. Because of this, you have several options to help your child improve their communication problems. Some steps to help your child include:

1. Identify a communication disorder in your child or if they simply have difficulty communicating.

2. Provide your child with various ways of communicating (i.e. sing, listen to music) and listen to them.

3. Read with them since it’s interactive and helpful. Then, discuss what you've read, what's going on in the story, what the pictures mean, what they think will happen and more.

4. Learn about and understand the problem. This is a great first step in helping your child. Speaking with a specialist can help you understand your child's communication difficulty and learn how to better help them.

5. Get help from a professional. The doctor may need additional information before they can diagnose and treat your child. They may:

  • Have you fill out a questionnaire or ask you questions
  • Order a hearing test and provide you with a referral to a language and speech therapist for testing. The therapist evaluates your child's expressive language (speech) and receptive language (ability to understand gestures and speech)
  • Interact with your child in different ways so they can determine their development
  • Provide you with a referral to an early intervention program to have your child evaluated

The staff at an early intervention program will perform an evaluation of your child to see where they're at, what their developmental problem is and determine how your child will benefit the most from the program. Your child doesn't need an official communication disorder diagnosis in order to receive services through an early intervention program either.


Getting Your Child Treated for a Communication Disorder

Communication disorders are extremely treatable and sometimes you can even reverse or prevent the disorder. Therefore, parents who have concerns about their child’s communication abilities shouldn’t wait to see if there will be a change down the road.

As a parent, you need to trust your instincts and have your child evaluated by a communication disorder specialist, audiologist, and/or ear nose and throat specialist who can diagnose your child and work with them closely to treat the disorder and improve their communication skills.

If your child is exhibiting any of the early signs of communication disorders above or other signs of hearing loss, please contact us here at Houston ENT & Allergy for a consultation.


Request An Appointment with Houston ENT & Allergy Today!

By Tara Morrison, MD


Tara Morrison, MD

She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. She moved to North Carolina to attend the Wake Forest University School of Medicine for her medical degree. She then went on to complete her residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center- Houston in 2001.