May 27, 2008

Although more than 5 million children in the United States reportedly have a speech, language, and hearing disorder, parents are often uninformed and unsure about what to do when they suspect their child. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) uses the May as Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) each year as a celebration to provide parents with information about communication disorders to help ensure that they do not seriously affect their children’s ability to learn, socialize with others, and be successful in school.

Speech and language problems can occur at any time in a child’s life. They can be caused by accidental injury, illness, or inherited by birth. Child speech and language problems include:

–    Stuttering
–    Articulation problems ("wabbit" instead of "rabbit")
–    Language disorders such as the slow development of vocabulary, concepts, and grammar.
–    Voice disorders (nasal, breathy, or horse voice and speech that is too high or low)

Parents who suspect their child has a communication disorder should see an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist. These professionals identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems including swallowing disorders. Speech-language pathologists work in schools, private practice, hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, health departments, research laboratories, and other health education settings.

"Fortunately, most children with speech, language, and hearing problems can be helped," according to Catherine Gottfred, PhD, speech-language pathologist and ASHA President. "Even if the problem cannot be eliminated, we can teach the child strategies to help them cope with their communication disorders, or provide them with the appropriate technology. By promoting Better Hearing and Speech Month, we hope parents will learn about communication disorders, what they can do to help their children, and how speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help with their child’s communication disorders."

Meanwhile, hearing loss, like speech and language problems, can have a negative impact on a child’s social and academic development. Communication disorders like hearing loss in children can occur at birth or as a child grows older due to chronic ear infections or exposure to noise. The earlier hearing loss occurs in a child’s life, the more serious the effects have on the child’s development.

Typical signs of a hearing loss in children include:

–    Inconsistently responding to sound
–    Delayed language and speech development
–    Unclear speech
–    Sound is turned up on electronic equipment (radio, TV, cd player, etc.)
–    Does not follow directions
–    Often says "Huh?"
–    Does not respond when called
–    Frequently misunderstands what is said and wants things repeated

As a first step, people who think their child is displaying many of these warning signs and think they may have hearing loss or other hearing disorders should see a certified audiologist. These professionals specialize in preventing, identifying, assessing, and treating hearing disorders. Also, they provide treatment for hearing loss including fitting hearing aids and other assistive listening devices, and they can teach children with hearing loss how to concentrate on hearing all sounds.

ASHA recommends that children at risk for hearing loss, such as those who suffer from chronic ear infections or in cases where there is a family history of hearing loss, be screened by a certified audiologist as frequently as needed to ensure they are hearing well. Otherwise, for children ages 5-18, hearing screenings should occur on initial entry into school and annually in kindergarten through 3rd grade as well as in the 7th and 11th grades.

Parents who think their children may have a speech, language, or hearing disorder or know of a loved one who has a communication disorder should access ProSearch, ASHA’s online directory of audiology and speech-language pathology programs, to find an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist or audiologist in their area.

Source: ASHA