Would you know how to identify a potential communication disorder in your child?

If you’re like many parents, the answer may be “no.”

Communication disorders, which are characterized by difficulty speaking or hearing, are common in children. In fact, roughly 8-9 percent of young children suffer from a speech disorder, and hearing loss affects 2 in every 100 children. Autism and other developmental or medical conditions also may be distinguished in large part by trouble communicating.

Despite this, a recent national poll of speech-language pathologists and audiologists (the professionals who treat these disorders) found that speech and hearing disorders frequently go undetected for months or even years in children. Lack of public awareness was identified by 45 percent of those professionals as the leading barrier to early detection. A staggering 64 percent of professionals reported that parents of young children are unaware of the early warning signs of speech disorders. As the current president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and a speech-language pathologist, this is troubling.

Why is it so critical for parents to be attuned to early indicators?

Unlike other conditions, early intervention can prevent or reverse a communication disorder. The consequences of communications disorders can be devastating, affecting academic success, social interactions, and almost all aspects of life in some way. Many children may endure bullying, and suffer life-long frustration and angst. With timely recognition and treatment, much of this may be avoided.

Exacerbating the lack of awareness about the signs is the hesitation or delay many parents have in taking action when they first notice symptoms. Some parents may feel their child might “outgrow” these difficulties. Others may have little difficulty understanding their child or what their child is trying to communicate and not recognize that the child is rarely understood by or communicating with others. We know that children who receive services prior to age three have better outcomes than those receiving services after age five, so parents shouldn’t delay seeking an assessment if they suspect a problem.

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