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Early Intervention: Does it make a difference?

By Maureen Penko

Communication is the foundation of all human interaction. If we can't communicate we can't have our basic needs met, develop friendships, play with others or express our thoughts to those around us. Children, as they enter school and throughout, need well-developed communication skills in order to succeed. Parents may have concerns regarding speech, and but don't share them with the doctor unless specifically asked.

I receive calls from parents when their child starts a nursery program or kindergarten. "I had no idea!" shared a parent. "My family said "I was a late talker; others said my child will outgrow their speech errors so not to worry. I was shocked when I heard how well another child talked who was my son's age" As a speech-language pathologist, I have seen many children who are less successful in school because of speech and language problems. The type and intensity of treatment during the early years may have greatly reduced or eliminated that Grade 2-9 student's speech patterns that are now so established that they are self -conscious.

Children who have speech and language problems are at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to their articulate peers. Kindergarten today is a more demanding environment than it once was. By the end of the year, most children will be conversationalists, have a basic reading vocabulary, follow the teacher's directions, and know their basic concepts. Where then does that leave the child who is still struggling to make themselves understood? How can they develop the sound-symbol association to read when what comes out of their mouth does not match the sound of the letter? Socially and emotionally, a child with speech problems is at risk. What then of the child who comes home upset because the other children tease him and say he "talks another language"?

It may be that everyone in the family can understand a child with a speech problem, but that will not be the case with other children in the class, or the teacher. Imagine what is must be like for a child who wants to share a special experience during show and tell but knows, that no matter how hard they try, that what they say will not be understood. These are the children who lose confidence in standing up in front of the class. Some parents will deny the problem and say the child is shy. But would you want to get up in front of a group of your peers if you constantly had to repeat what you said so people could understand you? Look carefully at why your child is shy in front of others.

By age five a child should be able to carry on a conversation with a minimal number of grammatical errors. Sentences should be fairly complex and they should be able to able to tell you about an event sequentially. Five to seven year olds are social beings that want to tell you everything. Kindergarten is socialization and a child who does not communicate well will not form friendships easily.

In registering your child for Kindergarten this spring, consider the level of their speech and language skills. Where does your child fall? Are you giving them every opportunity to be successful? A child with speech and/or language difficulties might improve developmentally, but do you want to take that chance? Improving speech and language problems is much more successful if started early. If you have any concerns regarding speech or language, don't wait. Early intervention can make a difference and make learning fun. Speech services are covered by insurance.

Maureen Penko is a Speech Language Pathologist. In addition to her experience in working in the school and medical systems, she is in private practice. Preschool and School-aged children are seen. For more information call Penko & Associates 204 510-7556 or contact her via e-mail.

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