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Society

Speech less in totland

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WORDS WORTH: A child learning to talk needs stimulation. Parents need to give the baby a trigger to respond in form of sounds, words and, eventually, sentences. Grown-ups remove that 'trigger' when they over-dote and indulge kids and give them whatever they demand

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Time-pressed multilingual parents, breakdown of joint families, and nannies more interested in TV than in the toddler, are all contributing to delayed speech and language development in kids.


By the time they are a month old, they are already into the rat race. And young couples, anxious in the throes of firsttime parenting, keep the prod on, referring constantly to baby growth charts to see whether or not their child is meeting the development deadlines. From the first roll-over at the age of five months to the first spoken word at 11, and from the first temper tantrum at 16 to a coherent sentence at 24, everything is promptly recorded on camera by fawning parents and uploaded on Facebook.

But one deadline many kids these days seem to be missing is talking by the age of two. Paediatricians report a sudden increase in the number of parents who come rushing to them with two-plus children who have limited themselves just an endearing but troubling "mama, papa aufishh" and a mouthful of other halfbaked syllables and sentences as an excuse for speech.

Dr Raj Kumar Sharma, a Delhi-based speech therapist, sees five to seven such cases a week. "Most of these parents are working and live in nuclear family set-ups. As a result, they are not spending enough time with the child and this contributes to delayed speech and language development," he says.

Four-year-old Manit Gupta is a regular at Sharma's C R Park clinic. Till the age of three, he could just about utter a few words, whereas children his age usually have a vocabulary of 200-300 words and can speak in short sentences. In the absence of any identifiable physiological cause, Manit's problem was rooted in family turmoil and the fact that both his parents were working. "It's true that I was not able to spend enough time with him. This in addition to other environmental factors that affected speech development in his case," admits Deepa, Manit's mother, who eventually left her teaching job to focus on her son. After a year-long therapy with Sharma, Manit can now speak in short sentences, which, though not conversational, are need-based - for instance, "I need food" or "yes, I have a pencil".

However, coming back home early from work and then sitting glued to the laptop while junior plays with his toys is, sadly, not enough. Not only do you need to talk to your child constantly, explain your actions, read out books to him, you also need to make eye contact while you do so. "You can't speak to the child as you would to an adult - the expressions have to be livelier. Varied intonations and repetition of phrases also help the child grasp the meanings and usage faster," says Dr Pragati Jain, audiologist at L H Hiranandani hospital, Mumbai.

Leaving your kids in front of the television, hoping they will pick linguistic skills and not your brains, does not help either. "Since the visual clues on screen are easier to understand, children hardly pay attention to what they are hearing," explains Dr Kshitij Malik, a Delhi-based hearing and balance physician. In fact, watching too much television, especially cartoon shows, hamper healthy language development in toddlers as they pick up artificial sounds, which may later lead to speech distortion.

To get your tot to talk, therapists say, you need to stimulate the child, to give him a trigger to respond in form of sounds, words and, eventually, sentences. Parents unknowingly remove the 'trigger' when they over-dote and indulge kids and give them whatever they demand. "A child will not realise the concept and importance of language unless he or she struggles to communicate," says Ridhima Batra, a speech therapist.

So when Mansi Singhal took her three-year-old daughter to a specialist because she confused her Ls and Rs, the doctor asked her to correct her daughter and not to respond if she continued to mix the alphabets. "For example, I explained to Ragini that is it is 'roti' not 'loti'. Still, she would say, 'mujhe loti do'. When I stopped responding to her wrong sentences, she immediately corrected herself," says Singhal.

Mixed or inter-caste marriages are another likely reason for the growing numbers of tongue-tied toddlers, like threeyear-old Meera. Her mother talks to her in Oriya, father in Hindi and the nanny in Bengali. An extremely bubbly, happy child who loves to dance to hip-hop numbers, her parents were clueless why she wasn't talking enough. The fact that girls learn to speak earlier than boys added to the parents' anxiety. A visit to a nearby speech clinic revealed that multilingual adults in her family had completely confused little Meera and the girl decided to stay mum.

While it is true that children pick up languages very fast, a heavily multilingual environment at home does not help, especially if the child is facing problems with speech development.

When it comes to kids, it is best to talk to them and mind your language as you do so. And remember, soon your child will be a non-stop chatter box. You might as well enjoy the silence while it lasts.

SPEECH MILESTONES


0-3 months:
They smile when you appear;act startled upon hearing loud sounds; make 'cooing' sounds;keep quiet or smile when spoken to;seem to recognise your voice;cry differently for different needs

3-6 months:

Make gurgling sounds when playing with you or left alone;babble repetitive syllables, such as 'ba, ba, ba';use his or her voice to express pleasure and displeasure;move his or her eyes in the direction of sounds;respond to changes in the tone of your voice;notice that some toys make sounds;pay attention to music

6-12 months:

Try to imitate words;say a few words, such as 'dada', 'mama' and 'uh-oh';understand simple instructions, such as 'Please drink your milk';understand 'no';turn and look in the direction of sounds

12-18 months:

Point to an object or picture when it's named;recognise names of familiar people, objects and body parts;follow simple directions accompanied by gestures;say up to eight to 10 words

18- 24 months:

Ask for common foods by name;use simple phrases, such as 'more milk';begin to use pronouns, such as 'mine';ask one- to two-word questions, such as 'Go bye-bye ?';follow simple commands without the help of gestures;say more words every month;speak 50 words and understand more


(Source: mayoclinic. com
)

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