Language Development prerequisites

Did you know that talking is much more than speech sounds?  It is even much more than words! What more is needed to be an effective communicator?  Think of breathing and eating… do you know how many skills are required? Communicating, eating and breathing comes naturally to many. So, most people don’t realise that communication is made up of speaking, listening, behaviour, thinking, language and interaction.

Communication is universal and natural (we are born with the hard wiring to communicate). “Of course!”  You may be thinking.  So, why am I writing this blog?  Unfortunately, for approximately 1.2 million unique Australians, this is their daily challenge. This does not include their family, friends, peers and colleagues.

As a speech pathologist, my challenge is to assist in a person in participating in their everyday life through developing communication when typical speech and language has not yet developed. 

What are the top 3 skills you need to communicate?

Eye gaze

Eyegaze is used to give and receive information to and from a person’s communication partner. Newborns have the ability to look towards stimuli as early as the age of two weeks. Eye gaze can signal the beginning of a social interaction as well as end it. Speech Pathologists recognise that this can be difficult for some individuals.  I frequently advise, “You need to get down or move your body so you are at their eye level.” For many therapy sessions, this has involved sitting on low chairs or lying on the floor and waiting for the eye gaze that starts the interaction.  Remember, for some, eye gaze can be challenging, and looking at a person frequently is not their strength.  Toys that have an action such as pop up toys, or need adult help such as large gym balls can be great.

Joint attention

It is when two people share their focus on the same object. This is very easily seen when a person points out to someone something they see. This skill develops in the first two years of life.  We use joint attention daily, when we watch a sporting match, share a story book or a meal.  It is a critical skill in social communication, as we rely on our communication partners to attend to our topic and share our thoughts with each other. We work on “thinking the same thoughts”.  Students love the game of Headbanz as it really creates a light bulb moment for everyone involved. They have to focus on sharing information that their communication partner cannot see.

Purpose

We all need to have reasons to communicate and we communicate for a number of different purposes. Think about new born babies, when they cry, another person responds to them… either by holding them, nursing or feeding them. Infants learn quickly that crying, laughing, squealing, whinging, pouting are successful skills to ask, respond, gain attention, protest and reject. Many children with communication difficulties rely heavily on these early skills, and as a therapist, my role is to assist them in developing language to ask, respond, gain attention, share, reject and protest.

Therapy sessions involve the child’s parent, who is essential in helping sharing information about their child’s likes and dislikes. They are vital achieving successful changes in their child’s communication.

References:

McLeod, S. Communication rights: Fundamental human rights for all.International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20:1, 3-11 DOI: 10.1080/17549507.2018.1428687

Gobel  M.S., Kim H.S.,  Richardson D.C., (2015). The dual function of social gaze. Cognition, 136, 359-364. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2014.11.040

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.2016. Speech and language disorders in children: Implications for the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21872.

Paul, R., (2008). Interventions to Improve Communication.Child Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America2008 October ; 17(4): 835–x. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2008.06.011.

Pepper, J., & Weitzman, E. (2004).It Takes Two to Talk: A Practical Guide for Parents of Children with Language Delays. Toronto: The Hanen Centre.

Rogers S.L. ,Speelman C.P., Guidetti O.,& Longmuir M.,(2018). Using dual eye tracking to uncover

personal gaze patterns during social interaction. Scientific Reports8.

Evett Lattouf is the principal speech pathologist, who qualified from the University of Sydney with a B. App. Sc. (Speech Pathology), and La Trobe University Victoria with a Grad. Cert. (Dysphagia). She is an English and Lebanese speaking speech pathologist. Her experiences include intellectual and developmental disabilities, language delays, learning difficulties, speech sound disorders, pragmatics, autism spectrum disorders, literacy, bilingual language, voice, feeding and swallowing difficulties as well as augmentative and alternative communication. She has worked in education, disability services, aged care facilities, supported accommodation, community health, hospitals and in private practice.
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