Is My Child Talking Ok? | A Q&A With Carly Tulloch
One of the things Dan and I want for Bodie and any of our future kids is a strong ability to communicate and put their ideas out into the world. Bodie has always been exceptionally physical - cruising through those milestones (literally). When it comes to speech, his level of understanding developed faster than his talking. As Instagram will do, it let me discover a great resource in Carly Tulloch, a speech therapist and founder of WeeTalkers. Carly started her private practice after five years working full time in clinical care in LA and then having her daughter, Julia, now a toddler, and moving up to Vancouver. Since everything is better in Canada when it comes to healthcare, Carly now works two days in a publicly funded space to nurture children's mental and physical health. Carly's growing Instagram feed offers me a constant knowledge base rooted in play and love, so I asked her to answer some of the questions on my mind.
Kids are so different from one another but it can be hard not to compare development! What factors contribute to one child speaking more than another?
Try not to compare too much! I know it’s hard, and we all do it. My daughter was slow to walk, and I had to remind myself not to constantly compare. Also, kids change and learn so quickly (pretty incredible to watch!), so their next new skill may be right on the horizon.
Yes, there is a range of what is typically expected, and it can vary somewhat from child to child. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a child’s speech and language development depends on their natural ability to learn language, other skills that they are learning at the same time, the amount of talking they hear during the day, and how people respond to what they say or do.
There is also research to support that boys say their first word and combine words at a slightly slower rate than girls (a matter of months), but still within the range of what is typically expected.
I generally think they all eventually will speak - what should parents look for at different stages to know our children are developing speech normally?
Children develop speech and language skills at different rates, but we would still want to support them in meeting milestones within the expected for their age so they have a strong foundation for which the next skills build upon.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association indicates that a child typically demonstrates the following milestones between one and two years of age:
- Says more words every month.
- Uses someone or two-word questions ("Where kitty?" "Go bye-bye?" "What's that?").
- Puts two words together ("more cookie," "no juice," "mommy book").
- Uses many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words.
- Points to a few body parts when asked.
- Follows simple commands and understands simple questions ("Roll the ball," "Kiss the baby," "Where's your shoe?").
- Listens to simple stories, songs, and rhymes.
- Points to pictures in a book when named.
What are your favorite activities at different stages to promote communication? Any specific books or toys that you love?
I generally recommend the classics like a set of blocks, balls, cars, little animals and toys that promote pretend play like a baby doll, pretend food, and a tea set. You don’t need to buy specific toys to help your child learn to communicate and talk more, it’s more about interacting with them in meaningful ways throughout the day that encourages communication.
For babies, be responsive to their communication attempts (the sounds they make, facial expressions, gestures, eye gaze). At first, their communication is unintentional, but before long the way their caregivers respond helps shape it into a meaningful message. Respond to those communication attempts as if you’re having a little conversation. That back and forth, face-to-face interaction is building their language skills. Talk about what they are seeing, experiencing, and showing interest in. Play peek-a-boo and sing songs and rhymes.
For toddlers, one tip I find myself sharing again and again with the families I work with is, “teach, don’t test”. As parents, we want to know what our child knows, and it can be so exciting when they start to say words. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of asking them too many questions, “What’s that?”, “What color is it?” Instead, talk about what is happening in the moment during play and daily activities, and then pause and give them a chance to respond. Try to keep the interaction going.
Also, when kids first start speaking, don’t worry too much if they are not saying all of the sounds correctly, this will come! Always keep communication positive and fun.
For my speech and language therapy clients, the specific activities that I recommend depend on which skills they need support in learning (e.g., increasing vocabulary, combining words to say a phrase, saying speech sounds correctly).
On my Instagram account @weetalkers, I share more general recommendations for activities and strategies that support and encourage language development, play (closely related to language development), and pre-literacy skills (the skills necessary to develop before a child starts to read) that all children can benefit from.
Screen time is a hot topic of late. How do you think TV impacts speech, positively or negatively? What shows would you recommend?
This is such a personal decision, and of course, each family should choose to do what works for them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time under the age of 18-months, and no more than one hour for ages 2 to 5 years. Children learn through seeing, touching, doing, and watching others interact. The more time they spend watching screens, the less time they spend engaging in these other meaningful activities or face-to-face interactions.
That being said, technology is such a part of society, so just be reasonable about it and don’t beat yourself up about it if your child is watching more than the recommendations. I’ve had those days for sure, and I do not feel one bit guilty about it!
As for shows, I like Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood because the pace is slow and the themes are about real situations your child is experiencing every day such as learning to use the potty or having a playdate with a friend.
FaceTime with relatives is my favorite use of technology with toddlers. It’s interactive, which is a huge bonus.
At what stage should or do parents seek speech therapy?
It’s important to seek help for your child as early as possible if you suspect a delay in speech and/or language development. I would recommend seeing a speech-language pathologist if by:
- doesn’t babble with changes in tone – e.g. dadadadadadadadada
- doesn’t use gestures like waving “bye bye” or shaking head for “no”
- doesn’t respond to her/his name
- doesn’t communicate in some way when s/he needs help with something
By 18 months
doesn’t understand simple commands like "Don't touch"
isn’t using at least 20 single words like "Mommy" or "up"
- can’t point to two or three major body parts such as head, nose, eyes, feet
By 24 months
- says fewer than 100 words
- isn’t consistently joining two words together like "Daddy go" or “shoes on”
- doesn’t imitate actions or words
- doesn’t pretend with toys, such as feeding a doll or making toy man drive toy car
If you notice that your child may not be meeting these milestones, there is help available. Some kids just need a little extra boost, and seeing a speech-language pathologist would be really helpful to get some personalized tips and support. Early intervention is really effective, and speech therapy for kids is super fun! It’s all play-based, and there are always bubbles, tons of stickers, and full-on silliness involved. What more could a kid ask for?
- “Late Blooming or Language Problem?” (2017). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved from www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/Late-Blooming-or-Language-Problem/
- Özçalskan, S., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2010). Sex differences in language first appear in gesture. Developmental Science, 13 (5), 752-760.
- “One to Two Years.” (2017). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, ASHA. Retrieved from www.asha.org/public/speech/development/12/
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2017). Handheld Screen Time Linked with Speech Delays in Young Children. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Handheld-Screen-Time-Linked-with-Speech-Delays-in-Young-Children.aspx
- “When Should You Seek Help?” (2017). Warning Signs of Language Delay, www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/When-You-Are-Concerned/Warning-Signs.aspx
Featured Image via Capsule Collection | ZARA