Dos and Don’ts When Talking to Kids with Speech Delays

He put on his Daddy's headphones.

He put on his Daddy’s headphones.

These are all from my perspective as a mother of a 2 year old with speech delays and also just general experience with kids of different abilities and sensitivities. (was early childhood major/teaching intern, daycare worker, and child therapist to give a little background)

1) DO try to engage the child (or adult, same premise) in direct conversation as you would a typical kid. You can always adjust the conversation if you do not know the child well and realize there may not be a detailed back-and-forth, but ignoring a kid or only talking to the parents about the child doesn’t give the kid a chance to interact and communicate, and it doesn’t show the same interest as people show in other kids (assuming they aren’t the type that believe children should be “seen and not heard”!)

I appreciate when people ask my kid questions or talk to my kid rather than assume they won’t answer or be nervous they won’t answer. Sometimes my son responds and sometimes he doesn’t, like many pre-K kids.

2) Do NOT assume that because you personally haven’t heard the child talk much that the child will not know what you are talking about.The same rules for “Rated G” conversations apply to kids with or without delays. Kids usually can understand more than you think what you are saying, even if they are completely nonverbal or have limited language. Even if they don’t understand the words, they are always learning and can pop out with an inappropriate or adult word at any time. People don’t mean to do this but it’s definitely hard for even families to remember.

cookie monster more alike than different

3) Do NOT fill in everything for the kid or rush a child along who is working through a word. This is not so much from personal experience since my son is still pretty young and either says a word or doesn’t (or part of a word or sign), but it has always been a pet peeve of mine; as though we are all in too much a hurry to let a young child get practice in constructing their sentences. Some people probably just feel awkward and want the sentence to end, but give some “wait time” first.

4) DO encourage your children or students to treat children with speech delays as just another child and gently correct them if they are treating the children with speech (or other) delays like they are “babies.” I can already see kids Ethan’s own age referring to him as a baby (No in a mean way; they just think he is younger due to the lack of words being spoken, shyness, and stature). I realize that many of the reasons someone might think my son is younger than his age have to do with his size and tongue thrust, etc, I do think speech delays can cause other kids to think they are younger than their age.

That is all I have for now, although I’m sure I will run into some other thoughts on the topic as my child starts at a center and is around other kids and families. Parents of kids with speech delays (or teachers and therapists), what kinds of dos and don’ts would you suggest when interacting with kids who have speech delays? Adults with speech delays? Please comment on the blog so others can learn from that as they read.

Thank you! Coming soon, hopefully some info on how Ethan does with the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). He started this in speech therapy and will have some at home. My thought is they will want to continue it at the center to help teachers understand him and encourage more verbalization. He is really on a roll with talking and we are so proud! I was told that the pictures are helpful in group care/school (trying to understand the signs and words of all the children is probably challenging). It sounds like a lot of kids have had quick progress in speaking when PECS was introduced to them. If you have any success stories with PECS, feel free to comment and share what you know as well!

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