Many parents worry if their child’s communications skills are developing at the expected rate. If they aren’t, some parents choose to enrol their child in classes, activities and therapy. These work to a certain extent, but the most critical aspect of early language intervention is parent involvement.
All children have important things to say, but not all children can express themselves as well or as easily as other children their age. Communication isn’t just about talking – babies communicate by crying or moving their bodies; and as children grow, they express what’s on their minds through speech and gestures. Help your child become an effective communicator by noticing how he/she communicates. If you notice a difficulty, sign language offers a way to communicate without becoming frustrated due to their lack of vocabulary. There are many speech-language professionals in Malaysia that can help you decide whether this approach would benefit your child.
Once you are more in tune with how and why your child communicates, you’ll notice that you and your child will engage in more meaningful interactions. It’s during these moments that parents can provide the most powerful and cost-free therapy.
The best way to build your child’s communication is through play. Let your child initiate interaction and be mindful to their body language to gauge what they’re thinking. Capture your child’s interest, interact and balance questions with comments – asking too many questions or those that put pressure on your child will likely result in decreased communication. Play is a time to connect, have fun and develop communication skills.
Purchase toys, books and games that encourage oral language and expand vocabulary; but remember that these are no substitute for face-to-face communication / interaction and will not directly result in improved language skills. It’s important for parents to play with their children and recognise that the interaction that happens WITH the toy (or activity) promotes communication, not the toy itself.
While we're thinking about language facilitation techniques and tools, be cautious of technology, which may lead you to believe that an app will help your child’s language abilities. The truth is that it can eclipse and diminish your child’s abilities and social interactions. The overuse of technology can translate to an underuse of speech and other forms of human-to-human communication.
As your child enters school, research the support available should your child require continued language and learning support during their early schooling. Ideally, this support should be provided in-house rather than through various activities outside school. The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) is one of the only international schools offering all elementary students access to a dedicated, in-house, full-time Speech Language Pathologist. Learning and development are at their highest rate in the early years so it’s important to ensure that the school you choose has a strong early intervention programme. Early intervention has been proven to have a significant impact on a child’s development.
If you are looking for opportunities to connect with other parents and learn more hands-on strategies, there are organisations in KL like SENIM (Special Education Network in Malaysia). This is the local chapter of SENIA (Special Education Network in Asia) – an association of parents, educators and professionals who advocate for and provide resources and support for differently abled individuals. Another organisation, We Rock the Spectrum kids gym, offers classes and opportunities for indoor play.
Research shows that early language proficiency correlates with later performance in school – reading, writing and critical thinking skills – and influences emotional, cognitive and social growth. The time you invest in your child now will support your child later!