The first time they say the word “mama”, call out a sibling’s name or clearly say “yes, please!” are precious milestones some children struggle to reach, especially with the UAE recording higher levels of speech and language delay compared to the US and UK, according to local experts.
Young children develop the majority of their speech and language skills in the first three years of life, but for a pre-schooler, speech and language challenges can include difficulty in understanding gestures and concepts, identifying objects and pictures, answering questions, constructing sentences and following directions, leading to potential problems later in school. This is exactly why British Orchard Nursery has launched an awareness campaign, in conjunction with sensory gym and language centre, Sensation Station, across all 14 of their UAE facilities, to give parents a head start in identifying potential communication problems as early as possible.
“Providing support and intervention in the early childhood years is important for future learning, as a child’s development is based on the critical learning patterns laid down during this period,” says Kate Hedger, special educational needs coordinator at British Orchard Nursery. “Identifying the need for further support or intervention is based on tracking developmental milestones, which are skills that a child acquires within a specific timeframe. Each child is an individual and may meet these milestones a little earlier or later than his or her peers. However, there are definitely blocks of time when most children will meet a milestone and a delay in reaching it may well be the first indicator for a child requiring further investigation or support.”
Nisha Mistry, Sensation Station’s clinical director and head of therapy, agrees that early identification is important. “Infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers have developing brains that are designed to learn communication skills and if there is a problem with that development, therapy should be started as soon as possible to take advantage of this period of time.”
As well as talking to parents in groups about what to look out for at home, the campaign is highlighting different tools of speech therapy, including art, Developmental Individual-Difference Relationship (DIR), play and multisensory therapy, which can work as effective measures for improvement.
“We use a variety of techniques both through our outreach programme with selected schools and nurseries or at our centre based at the Ibn Battuta Gate,” Mistry explains. “Here, we will always try to incorporate our gym ‘Fun Junction’ within therapy activities, making sessions engaging and enjoyable.”
She continues: “For children who have no or limited verbal communication, we may introduce PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), which is a picture-based method that can help children announce their needs at a basic level, but it can also be used to facilitate their ability to compose sentences.”
Another approach the nursery uses is signing, in particular, using Makaton, which supports children’s expressive and receptive communication. “Contrary to popular belief, signing does not inhibit a child’s ability to develop verbal communication,” Mistry clarifies. “In fact, there is evidence to demonstrate that signing is beneficial for the language and literacy development of even typically developing children.”
All Sensation Station’s Speech Language Therapists are also trained in the Lidcome programme, specifically for young children who stammer, another common childhood speech impediment that can have a devastating effect on a child’s confidence.
Communication at home, though, is key, as British Orchard’s founder and CEO, Vandana Ghandi, explains. “Children’s experiences at home with singing, turn-taking and imitation games and joint-attention activities are critical to speech and language growth. Educational institutions are vital in helping a child evolve, but there’s no denying the parental influence on a child’s motor, speech and mental growth, which is why we are making efforts to create a two-way communication path with all our parents and providing appropriate therapeutic input, if necessary.” It’s time for us all to communicate with each other.
For more information, visit www.britishorchardnursery.com and www.sensationstation.ae.