Did you know that a baby's first word can bring great joy to their parents and close family members? It's an exciting milestone in their development. However, it's natural for parents to feel some anxiety about when their baby will start talking. Questions like "When will our baby say their first word?" or "What will their first word be?" often come up.
Sometimes, though, the first word doesn't come out by the time the baby turns one, which can worry parents. They start wondering when they should start worrying about their baby's speech acquisition and what signs they should look out for. They might also be curious about strategies they can use at home to help their baby learn to speak and when they should seek professional help.
As with any aspect of a child's development, speech acquisition is complex and involves multiple processes. It's important to remember that a child isn't expected to start speaking with perfect clarity right away, as speech sounds are acquired gradually. The key is to pay attention to whether their skills are evolving.
If a child reaches the age of one without saying anything at all, not producing any sounds or not communicating with adults, among other warning signs that we'll discuss later on, it's best to consult a professional. But which professional should parents turn to? While some pediatricians are becoming more attentive to these issues, very few parents initially seek out a Speech Therapist, who can provide an accurate diagnosis and possible referrals if necessary. Sometimes, a few strategies may be all that's needed, but a comprehensive assessment of the baby's development, including motor skills, cognitive abilities, communication, and feeding, may be necessary to determine the best course of action.
Warning signs parents should be aware of:
No eye contact:
If your child doesn't make eye contact with you, it might be cause for concern. Eye contact is crucial for forming emotional bonds and plays a significant role in communication from the early stages. Without eye contact, there can be a lack of joint attention, which hampers communication.
No reaction to sound stimulation and familiar sounds:
Your baby should react to sounds like your voice, the doorbell, the telephone, or even the family pet. If there is no reaction, it could indicate that the baby is not listening or doesn't know how to respond to these sounds.
Lack of smiling:
Smiling is one of the earliest forms of communication between parents and babies, even before language development. Babies smile in response to pleasurable sensations from the first month of age, and between 2-4 months, they develop specific smiles to interact with their parents.
No reaction to their name:
By four months, most babies should react when they hear their name because they've heard adults pronounce it frequently. If there is no reaction, it could indicate issues with hearing, language development, or even cognitive and neurological differences.
Lack of interaction/reactivity during play:
If the baby seems disinterested in educational games, toys, or noises, it might be a sign of difficulty hearing them. Additionally, if the child doesn't react, becomes apathetic, or even avoids playtime altogether, it could be an indication of communication challenges.
Not producing or repeating sounds:
Crying and babbling are essential for the emergence of a child's first words. If babbling, the phase before language development, is absent, it might be due to factors such as limited stimulation, difficulties with phonological and auditory processing, or neurological issues.
Regression in sound production:
If the baby previously produced sounds but has suddenly stopped, it could be a sign that something is a miss.
Frequent tantrums without an apparent reason:
Tantrums are a normal part of a child's development and a way for them to express themselves when they struggle to handle frustration or when something is being prevented. However, if tantrums become excessive and aggressive in response to specific situations, it may indicate that the child is struggling to communicate effectively in the face of demands placed on them.
Whether you're a parent, educator, nanny, pediatrician, therapist, or anyone else involved in a child's life, it's crucial to be aware of these signs. If necessary, don't hesitate to seek support from a speech therapist. They can provide valuable guidance and assistance when it comes to a child's speech acquisition.
Graduated in Speech Therapy, Escola Superior de Saúde - P.Porto.
She loves her profession, whatever the target audience: babies, children, young people and adults. One of her great passions is to invest in her training in order to become an ever better professional. Her aim, as a Speech Therapist and as a human being, is above all to adapt her intervention based on people's most pressing needs, contributing to the maximum quality of life in their day-to-day lives.