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Communication disorders in early childhood

Gabbing ain't easy
         For some children, learning how to speak is a difficult, uphill task. Speech is especially arduous for them because they suffer from a condition known as communication disorder. Hence, their social functioning and scholastic performance may be adversely affected. Communication disorder also includes cases whereby the child is able to speak but has trouble making himself understood, or understanding the speech of others. These disorders can be grouped into three general varieties; depending on whether the main problem is with understanding speech, formulating meaningful phrases or pronouncing words.

By nature, by nurture
         The three varieties of communication disorder share many similar characteristics. Symptoms of the impairment usually manifest in early childhood. Fortunately, most children who have trouble articulating words learn to do so by the time they are old enough to attend school. A small portion of them will continue displaying mild inadequacies or may even be dyslexic. Communication disorders tend to afflict males more often than females, and seem to be partly hereditary.

         Belated development in speech and language is the most common childhood learning disability, affecting roughly 10 percent of all children. Regrettably, the cause is unclear in most cases. It is most probably due to factors of nature as well as nurture. Environmental factors, such as an uncommonly small amount of talking in the home; and genetical factors, such as slight abnormalities of the brain; could give rise to communication disorders.

Can your child communicate?
         If you suspect that your child has a communication disorder, is medical attention required? Yes, you should consult a pediatrician as soon as possible. The pediatrician will examine your child and perform a series of tests designed to rule out such causes as autism, mental retardation, hearing loss and other maladies associated with structural brain lesions, such as cerebral palsy. When all these have been eliminated, the pediatrician will likely refer you to a psychologist trained to work with language disorders, or a speech and language pathologist.

         Next, these specialists will try to establish identification of the specific communication disorder using three methods available for assessing speech and language development. The first is investigating the child's language skills. The psychologist or pathologist will interact directly with the child, talking and asking questions. The next step involves interviewing the parents. The aim is to profile the child's use of language from about age one to the time of the consultation. Lastly, several standardized tests for assessing childhood language development are administered to the child. The type of tests is based on the form of impairment and the child's age. By the end of all this, a clear picture of the child's problem and it's severity will be known.

Patience points the way
         For a child afflicted with communication disorder, the only medical treatment available is speech and language therapy by a speech pathologist. Sometimes additional counseling may be needed if there are accompanying educational and psychological complications. Apart from medical help, parents can help alleviate the problem by expanding their children's verbal proficiency. Here's what parents can do:
  • Provide more learning opportunities. If the child says two words, reply with a phrase of three or more words.
  • Encourage the child, don't criticize him. Praise him for any attempts at communication, even if they are not particularly articulate.
  • Whenever possible, choose a simpler word so that it can be easily pronounced and assimilated by the child. For example, use "round" instead of "circular".
  • Try to verbalize the on-going happenings. For example, say "cat" each time a cat is seen. Then encourage the child to repeat the word after you.
  • Ask the child to say the correct word before meeting his request. For example, to say "biscuit" before getting the snack.
  • Echo and expand upon a wrong articulation. Do not correct the mistake. For example, if the child says "Faburary"; respond with, "Yes, this month is February". Don't say, "It's wrong. February, not Faburary!".

         The long term outlook is largely favourable to children with communication disorders. Most of them will outgrow the disability over time. Though they may have problems at school in the early stages, the children will eventually catch up with their peers later on. Fortunately, communication disorders rarely persist into adulthood.


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Glossary of Terms :
(1) Tuition - Tutelage, the act of tutoring or teaching a student (pupil); Fees paid for instruction (especially for higher education). In Malaysia, tuition is more popularly used to denote tutoring rather than fee. Common Malaysian misspellings: Tiution, Tution. *(BM): Tuisyen, Tiusyen, Tusyen, Tuisen, Tiusen, Tuisyan, Tiusyan, Tusyan. | (2) Home Tuition - Tutoring that takes place at students' or tutors' home as opposed to at tuition centers; Also: Home Tutoring, Private Tuition, Private Tutoring. *(BM): Tuisyen Di Rumah, Tuisyen Swasta. | (3) Personal Tuition - Tutoring on the basis of one tutor catering to one student. Also: Personal Tutoring, Individual Tuition, Individual Tutoring, One-to-one Tuition, 1-to-1 Tutoring, One-to-one Tutoring, 1-to-1 Tuition. *(BM): Tuisyen Peribadi, Tuisyen Persendirian, Tuisyen Perseorangan, Tuisyen Individu. | (4) Group Tuition - Tutoring on the basis of one tutor catering to several (small number, but more than one) students. Also: Small Group Tuition, Small Class Tuition, Group Tutoring, Small Group Tutoring, Small Class Tutoring. *(BM): Tuisyen Berkumpulan, Tuisyen Kumpulan Kecil, Tuisyen Kelas Kecil. | (5) Tutors - Tuition Teachers, persons who conduct tuition. In Malaysia, teacher is more popularly used to denote a school teacher whereas tutor usually means a non-school teacher. Also: Tiutors, Tuitors. *(BM): Guru Sekolah, Cikgu Sekolah, Pengajar Tuisyen, Guru Tuisyen, Cikgu Tuisyen. | (6) Home Tutors - Tutors who provide home tuition as opposed to those who teach at tuition centres. Also: Private Tutors, Personal Tutors, Individual Tutors, One-to-one Tutors, 1-to-1 Tutors, Group Tutors, Small Group Tutors, Private Teachers, Personal Teachers, Individual Teachers, One-to-one Teachers, 1-to-1 Teachers, Group Teachers, Small Group Teachers, Private Tuition Teachers, Personal Tuition Teachers, Individual Tuition Teachers, One-to-one Tuition Teachers, 1-to-1 Tuition Teachers, Group Tuition Teachers, Small Group Tuition Teachers. *(BM): Pengajar Di Rumah, Pengajar Swasta, Pengajar Peribadi, Pengajar Persendirian, Pengajar Perseorangan, Guru Di Rumah, Guru Swasta, Guru Peribadi, Guru Persendirian, Guru Perseorangan, Cikgu Di Rumah, Cikgu Swasta, Cikgu Peribadi, Cikgu Persendirian, Cikgu Perseorangan. | (7) Tuition Centers - Private institutions that conduct tuition on classroom-like settings. Also: Tuition Centres, Tutorial Centers, Tutorial Centres, Tuition Classes, Tutorial Classes, Tutoring Classes. *(BM): Pusat Tuisyen, Pusat Bimbingan, Pusat Tutorial, Kelas Tuisyen. | (8) Home Tuition Jobs - Home tuition vacancies; Posts to be filled by home tutors. Also: Private Tuition Jobs, Home Tutoring Jobs, Private Tutoring Jobs, Home Tuition Assignments, Private Tuition Assignments, Home Tutoring Assignments, Private Tutoring Assignments, Private Tuition Vacancies, Home Tutoring Vacancies, Private Tutoring Vacancies. *(BM): Jawatan Kosong Tuisyen, Pekerjaan Tuisyen, Kerja Tuisyen, Tugasan Tuisyen. | (9) Home Tutees - Home tuition students; Pupils receiving home tuition from home tutors. *(BM): Pelajar Tuisyen, Murid Tuisyen, Penuntut Tuisyen. | *(BM) denotes terms in Bahasa Melayu or Malay Language.