Understanding and Supporting Speech and Language Development in Underrepresented Populations

Nearly 8 percent of children have a communication or swallowing disorder. Among other statistics, prevalence is higher among boys than girls and black children are more likely than white and hispanic children to have a communication disorder. Black and hispanic children are also less likely to receive intervention services. Studies have shown that children with speech-language impairments have a higher risk of literacy and behavioral challenges, along with difficulty with interpersonal relationships, engaging in play/recreation and managing responsibilities. Later on in life, these individuals may face a higher risk of underemployment or unemployment.

There are many factors that influence language and speech development. These factors include general health, cognitive, intellectual, motor and physical abilities, hearing loss, brain injury, exposure to literacy, parent’s level of education, parent-child interaction and culture. However, oftentimes the cause of disorders or delays is unknown.

It is important to be aware of the early signs of speech and language disorders in young children. Babies and infants may show early signs of language disorders including not smiling, not interacting with others and not babbling (i.e. saying “mama”; “baba”). A young child may have a language disorder if he or she has fewer than 50 vocabulary words and has trouble playing with other children around age 2-3. Preschool age children may present with signs of receptive and/or expressive language disorders. Signs of receptive language disorder include difficulty with following directions and answering questions. Signs of expressive language disorder include challenges with naming objects, putting words together in a sentence and only using gestures (i.e. pointing). A child with a language disorder may also struggle with early reading and writing skills such as holding a book correctly and learning the alphabet. A young child may also show signs of speech disorders. These disorders include difficulty or an inability to produce developmental sounds. For example, typically by age three, children should produce m, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g and f in words.