Ask the expert

My two-and-a-half-year-old son has only just said his first word

My two-and-a-half-year-old son has only just said his first word. All my friend’s kids of the same age are chattering away and I’m worried there might be something wrong. Ursula, Arabian Ranches

It’s usually first babies that get the ‘late talking’ anxiety tune playing for their parents because, let’s face it, by the time number two comes along, you’ve realised kids are all so different, that comparing them is a pretty useless pastime. It’s also handy to remember that Einstein didn’t speak until he was four – and studies often show that intelligent children can be tardy in the talking department.

Dr Rita Kovesdi, specialist pediatrician at the Health Bay Polyclinic in Umm Suqeim, takes a practical approach to anxious parents’ queries. ‘If I see a two year old who isn’t talking, I initially look for two things,’ she says. ‘Firstly I check their hearing, and then I check them over physically. If their hearing is normal, they seem perfectly healthy and they are meeting their other milestones, I’ll advise parents not to be anxious and to come back in a few months if the situation is the same. Very often, the child starts talking before they ever have to come back.’

All the same, late or delayed talking is a common concern, affecting between five to 10 per cent of all children, she points out. That said, brain development in the under-fives is so accelerated and complex, that
it’s difficult to ever find out why some kids talk earlier than others. Your wee protégé could be three before he utters his first words – and still go on to develop perfectly normal speech patterns.

‘It’s not true that girls speak earlier than boys either,’ says Dr Kovesdi. ‘Generally, the sexes are on a par in both talking early and late.’

But there are some underlying physical causes that can make vocal communication slow. ‘Hearing problems are the major cause of delayed speech,’ says Dr Kovesdi, ‘followed by physical problems that might include enlarged adenoids or polyps’. Excessive drooling, problems sucking, chewing or swallowing can be indications of physical issues that are preventing your child from talking. ‘These can usually be sorted out with minor surgery, though,’ she says.

Parents can help too. Interactive play and speech encouragement plus monitoring a child’s ability to listen and follow verbal instructions, will all be useful in assessing whether junior actually does have a problem. Occasionally, lack of communication can be the result of bigger issues like autism. In such cases, pediatricians are trained to assess a child’s milestones and initiate early intervention programmes. ‘It happens sometimes,’ Dr Kovesdi says. ‘In most cases, parents worry more than they need to.’
Dr Rita Kovesdi is a specialist Paediatrician at Health Bay Polyclinic, Umm Suqeim; 04 348 7140.

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