Children should be able to express their ideas easily and clearly by 7 or 8 years of age. They should not be tripping over words or pausing. They should be able to organise their sentences and ideas easily and, importantly, their ideas should be in order and have context where one idea is linked to the next.
If a child has no underlying weakness but has formed a habit, then with maturity, they may be able to overcome the difficulty if they work on the habits. This can be difficult though if left, and the habits are allowed to continue without feedback and encouragement to manage communication.
If there is an underlying language weakness this is unlikely. It is essential to determine the cause then treatment activities can be specifically designed to work on areas of weakness.
Language difficulties can run through families and sometimes when parents reflect on the issues they realise they too may have struggled or cousins could have difficulties. Other causes stem from chronic ear infections or cognitive weaknesses related to memory for recent events or attention. Children who are born prematurely can also have learning difficulties and associated language weaknesses.
Before considering ways to assist it is important to understand how complex speaking is. Before your child even begins to utter a sound the following processes are followed:
Sound complicated? Yes it certainly is but there is much that can be done to assist children to speak more articulately.
Often children need to learn the foundation skills to speaking and organising their thoughts and then more complex ideas and sentences can flow. The analogy of a strong house foundation applies here, where words, sentences and ideas form the basis for more complex conversations which are the walls and roof of conversation.
Some children can be assisted by simply learning how to manage their words in sentences. Children are shown pictures of situations and presented with certain word types, starting with the easier types and moving up to more difficult examples. They then have to make decisions about the main ideas in the picture and use these different word types to form better sentences.
Other children may be able to form a sentence easily but their ideas jump around. These children can often be helped by showing them in picture form how to group their ideas. This may start with a basic object and animal and they have to describe these using order and sequence.
It is also important to consider other cognitive areas that could be influencing communication skills. Concentration difficulties can underly what appears to be a communication difficulty. Other children have difficulty holding information in their memory systems to be able to remember what they have said or where they are at with completing their sentences.
Step 1: You will be asked to complete a history form. This form will ask you as a parent to share your observations related to your child’s expression in speaking and there will be a checklist which will include numerous questions about your child’s abilities in the following areas:
Step 2: During the assessment John will review your child’s history form to discuss what assessment he is proposing. Your child can be a part of this process if appropriate or younger children can relax in the waiting room.
Step 3: After this John will carry out the assessment with your child where he will carefully listen to your child’s speaking and will likely show them pictures designed to test their ability to organise their sentences and ideas. As a part of this process your child’s written expression will likely be checked where appropriate. This is because issues with spoken expression can result in similar issues in writing or difficulty with writing. General areas of learning will also be checked to determine if there are any weaknesses which could account for the difficulties. These include difficulties in the following areas:
Step 4: All results will be discussed and explained with parents and your child where appropriate.
Step 5: A support and treatment plan will be discussed.
Although speaking can appear to be a straightforward process and it is easy to take the skills for granted, it is a highly complicated skill. Speaking requires support from cognitive skills, language, attention and motor skills.
It is essential to build a strong foundation in speaking to support language skills or children’s ideas may not make sense when they are talking. They may struggle to order their ideas and have difficulty organising their sentences.
If you are concerned there is an underlying weakness it is best to begin working on the issue as these issues can then show in other areas of learning and life such as writing and communicating with friends.