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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Look Who's Talking

A little spill about child language and development -

As a mother and a speech-language pathologist, I know just how important it is to focus on and encourage your child's language development. Because Ava is 18 months, I'll discuss the significant milestones of this age category as well as ways to promote further development. And being that I am a very proud mother, I'll also brag a little bit about my daughter's language capabilities and ways we, as parents, have been able to encourage and praise her :)

First of all, language is categorized into 2 main subunits: receptive language and expressive language. Receptive language is defined as the comprehension of oral, written, or symbolic language (ability to understand). Expressive language is defined as the transmission of oral, written, or symbolic language (ability to express). This will make more sense as we go along.

A typical 18 month old is able to generally exhibit the following language milestones:
* has vocabulary of 5-20 words
* vocabulary is primary composed of nouns
* some echolalia (continuous repeating of a word or phrase)
* much jargon (words that are unintelligible) with emotional content
* is able to follow simple commands

Keep in mind that this is a "typical" 18 month old. Many children this age may only be displaying a couple of these characteristics, and many are displaying much more. It's important to understand all the aspects of language when looking at your child, rather than focusing on just one. For example, perhaps your child can only say a few words. This would be his/her verbal expression. But this same child has the capability of making known his/her wants/needs through gestures or even signs. Language shouldn't be thought of solely as verbal or spoken language. In fact, when Ava was much younger, before she was able to speak, I decided to implement some signs into her language. She was and is still able to sign "more," "milk," and "done." It's amazing how the human brain can quickly learn something new and begin to apply it.

If your child, however, isn't displaying any of the characteristics listed above and you notice that not only is verbal expression lacking but comprehension and even social behavior are concerning, it would be strongly recommended to discuss your child's development with a physician, who in turn, may refer you to a speech therapist for further evaluation.

Enough lecturing (for now) and on to some bragging!

Ava is currently able to:
* verbally express 50-60 words as well as sign several words
* verbally express 3-4 word phrases (ex. "mommy, i see you" and "don't want more")
* repeat words that are heard for the first time (we really have to be careful what we say!)
* follow simple 1-2 even 3 step commands (ex. go get your book and your baby, then put it in the box)
* recognize and verbally express several colors
* recognize and verbally express many body parts
* comprehend and verbally express many prepositions and actions (ex. up, on, in, over, down, pull, push, etc)

Sometimes I think our little one is a genius! or perhaps she has been able to develop so rapidly, in part, to how we have encouraged her along the way. I very strongly encourage parents to read to their children, and to not only read, but to ask questions or even discuss pictures along the way. Almost every time Ava and I read a book together, she'll point out something in the book that she learned from a time that we previously read it.... an animal, a color, the sound an animal makes, etc. She loves to learn, as do other children, and she loves to be challenged. She also loves to hear about it. Tell her how well she's doing. Say things like "good job" or "wow, you're so smart." Even if your little one doesn't understand what "smart" means, she'll see the expression in your face when you say it, and she'll be delighted in how you say it. Children know when they're being praised, so be sure to praise your little one as often as you can! Also, make your next story time fun, adventurous, and challenging for your youngster. Let reading be a new discovery every time you and your child open a book together!

Here are several of Ava's favorite books, as well as books I would recommend reading to your child. Starting from the top left: textured and touch-&-feel books, Sesame Street books (these generally include books about numbers, shapes, letters, following directions, etc), Biscuit books, and lastly, window and lift-the-flap books.

Ava loves to "read." She also loves to give "tissies" (as she calls them) as shown in the second top picture.

Another way we have encouraged Ava to excel with her language is through implementation of music. Singing. Dancing. It's not only fun, but it advocates learning! I just love when Ava comes over to sit on my lap, looks me in the face, and says "sing mommy." Melts my heart every time! Language, like music, has a rhythm (our speech has a beat and a tempo). Therefore, there's no surprise that language learning is enhanced when children experience the rhythm of music. So, sing with your child as often as you can. Trust me, your little one won't care if your not American Idol worthy!

I hope I haven't lectured too much, and I also hope that you are now motivated to challenge and encourage your young one through many new discoveries and possibilities that are available to you... even the ones inside your own home!

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