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Dhaka Tribune

Speech delay: A growing concern for parents

  • Parents need to identify patterns
  • Children facing issues to be taken to doctors
  • Speech therapy could work like magic
Update : 30 Jul 2023, 11:16 PM

Plabon, a three-year-old child, who spends most of his time captivated by mobile phone screens and videos, has yet to utter a full sentence.

His working parents, initially busy with their schedules, could not pay much attention to this matter. However, when they eventually became concerned and sought medical advice, they were confronted with the reality that their son was dealing with speech delay issues. 

Swarna, a two-and-a-half-year-old child who has had various health issues since birth and tends to fall sick even for minor reasons, also became a cause for concern when she had not spoken a word despite having learned to walk when she turned two.

These cases underscore a growing concern among parents. Children generally start pronouncing 250-300 words by the age of two, but more and more young ones are showing little to no interest in speaking. Despite other aspects of development seeming to be on track, the long-awaited joy of hearing their child's first full sentence remains unfulfilled for many parents.

Medical professionals have indicated that about 4% of children are not learning to speak as anticipated, even after reaching the age of three. While some may utter a word or two, the expected progression to forming complete sentences is yet to be seen.

Why are children facing speech-delay issues?

BRB Hospital's consultant psychologist Tanwita Ghosh said the primary reason for delayed speech in children is attributed to biological factors. 

“This condition may occur due to a delay in the child's developmental milestones,” she said. 

“Speech delay may occur when babies cry or crawl late. Besides, any congenital defect in the brain or complications during delivery can also cause speech delay in the child,” she added. 

Dr Hasiba Hasan Joya, a speech therapy specialist at City Hospital, attributed the growing speech-delay issues in children to less social engagement and heightened stress experienced by pregnant mothers during the Covid pandemic.

“Pregnant women spent days in extreme anxiety during the Covid pandemic, which had a direct impact on the child's mind,” she said. 

“What do we generally see after the baby is born? Relatives usually come home, and normal conversation happens. Children learn to socialize and try to mimic what they hear in these conversations. However, during Covid, the children were confined to their homes as soon as they were born, and the parents were in great anxiety. In many cases, many parents could not give enough time to their children due to the work-from-home policies of corporate organizations; these issues directly affected the children,” she observed. 

“We have been fighting with Covid for two and a half to three years. As a result, this speech-delay issue is mostly seen among children whose current age is two and a half to three years. Another reason for this is that children usually engage in pretend play, learn to talk, and gain important socialization skills in pre-school before entering formal schooling. With pre-schools closed due to Covid lockdown, children's ability to learn and talk through play and their opportunities for socialization have been greatly reduced,” Dr Hasiba added. 

Dr Hasiba Hasan Joya also attributed difficulty hearing to the speech-delay issue, saying: “Children also learn to speak late if they have difficulty hearing. This problem is called ‘hearing impact'.”

The speech therapy specialist further said that Autism Spectrum Disorder may be another reason for children's speech delays.

“If a child does not respond to their name being called, does not make eye contact, or expresses themselves through gestures or body language within one year, then they might be a candidate for Autism Spectrum Disorder,” she added. 

Other doctors suggest that the trend of children speaking late is also influenced by corporate culture and excessive gadget usage. Parents should be more responsible by dedicating sufficient time to their children and maintaining regular interactions with them. 

Moreover, in households where multiple family members speak different languages, children may experience delays in speaking or learning to speak.

Parents need to be alert to speaking patterns

BRB Hospital's Consultant Psychologist Tanwita Ghosh highlighted the importance of monitoring a child's speech development alongside their overall mental growth.

“It is crucial to observe whether infants between 6 to 8 months attempt babbling by moving their mouths,” said the consultant psychologist. 

“Most children start making efforts to speak between 8-12 months, producing small sounds like ‘ba', ‘ta' or ‘ma' and it has to be monitored carefully whether they can say these words or trying to say them or not,” she said. 

“From the age of two, children generally begin to speak in complete sentences or combine words, and identifying such early milestones is essential for early intervention for speech delay and support,” she added.  

Although speech delay in children can be disheartening for parents, there are many modern solutions available in the country to address this issue, with speech therapy being one of the effective options.

What is speech therapy?

Speech therapy is a special form of medical treatment that aims to help patients who are unable to speak or speak naturally. 

It addresses various issues such as speech delay, stammering, and hearing impairments, providing an opportunity for those who cannot speak naturally to communicate effectively through speech therapy.

Explaining speech therapy, Dr Hasiba said that it primarily involves talking to children, giving them time, and engaging in their favourite activities. 

“Through play, children are taught sounds and recognize them. Various activities, such as repeatedly saying words that children enjoy and how to combine them with other words, are taught in this therapy,” she added. 

"We also talk with parents. We work together with the child and the mother. Some children learn to speak very quickly, while others find it very difficult even after a long time," she further said.

Plabon, who faced speech-delay issues, was pointed toward speech therapy and started speaking fluently just after two sessions. 

Swarna, who has also gone through speech therapy, now confidently expresses herself throughout the house. 

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