Another area of major development in a child’s life has to do with speech and language development.
What do we mean by “speech”? Speech and language are too different areas. Speech includes such areas as articulation, lisp, stuttering, mumbling, substitution, omission, distortion, and addition of speech sounds. Speech therapy includes many physical exercises to strengthen the tongue, lips, and vocal cords. Speech more formally concentrates on the pronunciation and articulation of words and the correct placement of those words in a sentence.
What do we mean by “language”? Language development, as many people commonly describe it, has to do with how well the child understands and uses both the spoken and written word. One way to look at language development is to break it down into four major categories.
Telling your child to clean up his or her room could be a big challenge unless the child knows specifically that dirty clothes go in a certain place. Clean clothes, books, and toys must be put in certain places, and the bed has to be made. Often a child with this difficulty goes to his or her room and does only one thing, saying, I’m done, or It’s clean, or I’m finished.
When a child reads, he or she probably can tell you what was said in the story. The child may not be able to draw inferences or apply the information to other situations. Another example is when a parent tells a child not to hit his younger sister or brother. The child then hits the dog. The parent then tells the child not to hit the dog, and the child breaks his or her toys. The child is following directions, but he or she is not getting the general idea about not hitting, hurting, or being destructive. This could be an associative language weakness. Sometimes these problems appear in what a child hears, and other times in what a child sees or reads.
Many children can express themselves well verbally, but have great difficulty when it comes to writing or putting their ideas on paper. Usually this problem is discovered early in a child’s education, as the child begins to write stories in second, third, and fourth grade. I can’t think of anything to write, is a common comment of these children. It seems that each sentence is a difficult struggle. A child who seems to have difficulty in both areas most likely has expressive problems.
The case of expressive language disturbances is varied. The problem may be developmental or genetic; it may appear from birth on. The problem may be neurological, as in an expressive aphasia that is a neurological disorder in the brain. It may be due to brain damage to the language area in the brain. It may be due to an emotional problem, as in the child who is very depressed and unable or unwilling to talk. Sometimes the difficulty may be caused by the environment in which the child is raised, wherein the child is not allowed to speak except under very restrictive circumstances. Dyslexia is often considered a language disorder.
Memory is a key ingredient in the process of communication. It is the storehouse of information taken in visually or auditorially. There are two factors that are vital in this storehouse. The first is the capacity to store incoming information. The second is the capacity to retrieve or access that information as needed. People with poor memory functions need repeated exposure to store the information and/or have difficulty retrieving the information at will. Some people can retain information that they hear. If they listen to a lecture or tape, they may have better retention of what was said. Other people remember better if they can read or see what is being done. A third group of people do best if they hear an explanation, read the explanation, and write down the explanation, using all three sensory modalities. This is called a “multisensory approach” to learning, and is often used with poor spellers.
Short-term memory, long-term memory. Short-term memory and long-term memory are stored in different parts of the brain. Some theorists believe that all information comes into one part of the brain first (short-term memory), and is evaluated for its importance to the individual. It then is stored in another section of the brain that holds information long-term. Tasks that are frequently repeated will move from short-term to long-term memory regardless of their value. Commonly it appears in elderly people that the long-term memory begins to out-function the short-term memory.
Developmental stages. Generally between the ages of birth to eight, the child’s perception and language develop. After about age eight, individuals use language and perception to learn and communicate at a more complex level. In early and middle adolescence, abstract concepts are integrated in the child’s language development. Most basic perceptual development should be concluded by about age eight. A fully intact auditory and visual perceptual development must be in place to support language development. Language development continues throughout life.
Learning a new language. Language problems sometimes appear when an individual tries to learn a new language. Any problem in the child’s language of origin will be highlighted as the child tries to learn a new language. Young children appear to learn new languages easily. These children learn because of exposure and necessity. They also have fewer preconditioned notions to undo.
What do you do about it? Usually speech problems are quickly and easily identified in preschool or kindergarten. If you suspect that your child has a problem with speech, or a delay in speech development, you might consult a professional speech therapist or speech pathologist. If you suspect a problem with your child’s language development, you probably can help your child.