Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Five signs your child may have a language, hearing deficiency

Posted December 6, 2016
Updated December 7, 2016

Go to just about any classroom and you'll likely meet a child with a speech or language disorder.

In fact, nearly 1 in 12 children ages 3 to 17 in the United States have had a disorder related to voice, speech, language or swallowing in the past year, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

In her 36 years working as a speech-language pathologist, Marianna Walker has seen it all. Walker is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at East Carolina University and has worked for decades with patients of all ages.

The field has changed tremendously in those decades, Walker said. When she started, the work didn't involve helping patients with literacy. Now, it's a big part. And work is busy.

More refined diagnostic tests; increased awareness; more referrals from doctors and teachers; and a higher incidence of autism have brought more kids to speech-language pathologists for testing and therapy.

I checked in with Walker to learn more about warning signs that a child could have speech, language or hearing issues.

Here are the five signs she shared:

Trouble reading

A child could have an underlying language issue or hearing problem if they are having a hard time sounding out new words or recognizing and remembering words, all skills that are now taught starting in kindergarten.

"If they are having tremendous problems in learning to read or sounding out new words compared to their peers, there could be an underlying language problem or hearing problem," Walker said. Newborns typically have their hearing screened, but Walker said chronic ear infections could play a role.

Distracted in class

Just about any child can get distracted in the classroom after sitting for much of the day, but Walker said distractibility - more than is typical for a child of the same age - is another sign to look out for. Because of a variety of issues, including ADHD, hearing problems or language processing or comprehension issues, the child may be having a hard time processing what the teacher is saying or may not be able to pay attention.

"That needs to be the flag to the teacher that the child needs to be evaluated," Walker said. "If you're not getting the message, it's going to affect how you learn."

Poor vocabulary

If a child's vocabulary doesn't match their peers, there may be a problem. Perhaps the length of their sentences is reduced. When they try to tell the teacher something, perhaps they have trouble finding or using the right words. Do they have trouble following two step or even one-step commands?

"If it's poor," Walker said, "it's going to effect the way you learn to read."

Problems communicating with peers

Children with language delays often are quiet, Walker said. She encourages parents and teachers to look at who the child plays with and how they interact with other kids on the playground.

"Is the child socially using language to make friends?" Walker said. "Are they part of a group?" If not, there could be a speech, language or hearing impairment.

Not meeting age appropriate verbal skills

Of course, not just school age kids have speech, language or hearing issues. By age one, babies should be able to say one word at a time; two words at age two; and so forth.

"If they are not combining words at two years and don't have a repertoire of vocabulary over 50 words, they really should seek someone," Walker said. " It could be motor-based, language or hearing, but something is going on there."

For children, early identification is key.

"If you can identify and implement intervention as soon as possible, then you are going to have lesser effects on the child's academic and social skills," she said. "It doesn't mean that if it's later on, there's nothing to do. You want to get in there as early as possible."

And, once they hit grade school, if a child is identified with a learning disability, they should get a language assessment, Walker said.

"Any child that’s been identified with a learning disability should also receive a language evaluation with a speech- language pathologist," she said. "Often, they go hand in hand."

Assessments will identify if there is a problem and whether therapy is warranted. Walker recommends talking with your child's pediatrician or school teachers and administration.

The North Carolina Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists also lists licensed speech-language pathologists and audiologists across the state. Walker said it's critical for parents to work with professionals who are licensed through the state board.

"The parents have to be an advocate here," she said. "They have to follow up. And sometimes you don’t know what to do. Make sure you find somebody" who is licensed.

ECU in Greenville offers services for children with language-based learning disabilities.

The Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders and Dyslexia Program provides diagnostic evaluations to children and adolescents who are suspected of having or who have been diagnosed as having a language-based learning disability.

It also offers a community based speech-language-hearing clinic.

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