Early childhood teacher: Help speech & language delay

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Early childhood teacher training

What’s covered in this article:

I was asked an excellent question by an early childhood teacher who also has a grandson with speech or language delay. Here is a copy of her question:

 Early childhood teacher training

The vital role an early childhood teacher plays with identifying delays & disorders:

First things first, let me explain to you how vital the role of an early childhood teacher is. The early childhood teacher is often the first point of long term “professional” contact for many children. I have worked within many early childhood settings, schools, and community-based supports in Australia and the United Kingdom. Most referrals to speech pathology services come from early childhood teachers.
There are many reasons for this, but ones that I come across frequently in my clinical practice are:

  • Speech & language delays and difficulties can appear “invisible” or subtle to the layperson. Thus, someone else with experience with identifying delays and disorders is required to make a referral.
  • Many families, care minders, and medical professionals still follow the outdated notion that “waiting” is ok for children under 3-4 years of age.
  • It’s not always easy for parents to admit their child may be delayed or have an underlying disorder. They are reluctant to get help, hoping it will improve with time. Friends and family may notice something, but it’s not until a teacher mentions something, they then feel like it’s worthwhile seeking additional support.
  • Early childhood training for childminders and daycare workers may lack practical information about typical/atypical development and speech & language delays/difficulties.

As early childhood teachers in pre-kindy (2-4yo), kindergarten (3-4yo) and pre-primary (4-5yo), parents will often take the early childhood teachers’ advice over other professionals, friends and family members. This may be because:

  1. They are believed to know and understand their child, spending at least 2-3 days a week with them.
  2. The profession is known to be regulated and specialises in young children. 
  3. The early childhood teacher can draw upon the comparison made amongst other students, which helps demonstrate the difficulties a child faces with parents.
Signs of speech delay

What things to look out for as an early childhood teacher:

Let’s mention the positives first!


Several factors can reduce the risk of speech and language delay/disorder. These are called protective factors and are essentially providing a language and socially rich environment for your little one!

These protective factors are:

  • Sharing and reading books on a daily basis.
  • Providing many opportunities for informal play.
  • Exposed to structured and unstructured individual and groups play environments and conversations regularly.
  • Mothers having access to pre, peri and postnatal care.
  • Engagement in gross & fine motor activities.
  • Having clear speech that is understood by others most of the time.
  • Readily initiate interactions with adults and peers.
  • In a facilitative environment, parent/teacher/peer language models are provided in response to their interactions.
  • Their comprehension skills are adequate to process and store the additional linguistic elements provided by language models from adults and peers Camarata. S., 2103).

Risk factors for an early childhood teacher to identify

Research has extensively compared children with developmental delay and/or late language emergence with typically developing children and examined variables linked to communication development. Based on this research, specific family and child factors have been widely cited to indicate the risk of ongoing developmental delay or disorder in communication.The higher the number of risk factors present (particularly the first three), the greater the risk for ongoing language delay and the greater the need for clinical intervention. (Ellis. E.M. et al, 2008)

Risk factors for speech delay

Top 3 Significant Risk Factors:

  • Family history of speech or language difficulties
  • Delay in both comprehension and expressive language development
  • Little or no use of some other form of symbolic communication (such as communicative gestures and pointing)

Other risk factors that contribute to the increased likelihood of prominent language delay:

  • Motor development—Children with developmental delay in communication have delayed motor development (in the absence of disorders or syndromes associated with motor delays) compared with typically developing children.
  • Birth status—Children born at less than 85% of their optimum birth weight or earlier than 37 weeks gestation are at higher risk for developmental delay in communication/disorder (Zubrick et al., 2007).
  • Early language development—language abilities at 12 months appear to be one of the better predictors of communication skills at two years (Reilly et al., 2007).
  • Gender—Boys are at higher risk for developmental delay in communication than girls.
  • History of otitis media or reduced hearing acuity
  • Other significant medical conditions
  • Quiet as an infant with little or no babbling
  • Limited consonant inventory (i.e. tends to say vowels)
  • Lack of verbal imitation skills
  • Expressive vocabulary lacks verbs; instead mainly uses nouns.
  • Delays in symbolic play and/or social skills
  • Reduced social interactions and initiations with adults and peers
  • Delayed cognition/cognitive milestones.
  • Family history of developmental delay, speech and language, disability or learning difficulties
  • Reduced caregiver responsiveness and interactions
  • Maternal mental health (including PND)

Signs of speech and language difficulties

All pertain to 3-4-year-olds, while items with *Asterix relate to only 4-5-year-olds.

Speech clarity

Speech clarity:

  • Familiar and unfamiliar adults and/or peers usually find it difficult to understand them.
  • They can only be understood when sentences are 1-3 words long. Anything longer is quite difficult for others to understand.
  • Problems with articulating two or more speech sounds that are expected for their age (see speech sound acquisitions here)
  • There are very few consonants in their speech sound repertoire (i.e. pronounces vowels and omits many consonants).
Speech delay language delay

Expressive language:

  • Limited range of verbs and/or nouns. May use filler words such as ‘this’ and ‘there’ that indicate poor vocabulary.
  • Sentences are limited to 1-3 word phrases.
  • Doesn’t use simple connectors such as ‘and, because’.
  • Mixes up the order of sentences.
  • Uses incorrect grammar (telegraphic speech) e.g. “girl eat banana/hat go there”.
  • Mixes up personal pronouns e.g. says ‘me’ instead of ‘I’.
  • Difficulty sharing news or retelling a simple story (e.g. out of sequence, limited to a sentence or two).
  • *Doesn’t use connectors including ‘but, so’.
  • *Sentences they say seem immature compared to their peers.
  • *Has trouble with word endings (e.g. ing, ed, est, er).
  • *Difficulty retelling stories or sharing news whereby they omit events, tell in the wrong order, don’t stay on topic.
Comprehension

Receptive language (comprehension):

  • Needs help with following two-three step instructions (e.g. wash your hands, then get your hat).
  • Difficulty understanding early concepts such as big/little, tall/short, colours, empty/full, soft/hard.
  • Difficulty understanding location words in, on, under, next to, behind, in front.
  • Difficulty answering ‘what, where, who’ questions appropriately (e.g. what’s he doing, where is the doggie, who is eating?).
  • *Trouble with following 3 part instructions (e.g. pack away, wash your hands, then get your bag).
  • *Has a consistent difficulty understanding concepts such as; descriptive (e.g. heavy, dry), comparative (e.g. same/different), linguistic (e.g. first, before) and place (e.g. between, next to).
  • *Does not attempt to answer ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions OR answers inappropriately.

Where can I get more early childhood teacher training or professional development?

Speechie Parent Playbooks: 

Help your child talk home program

The imitation, vocab and phrase builders include over 200 pages of information about why children are late to talk and HOW to facilitate a child’s language – either during play or daily routine.

Included are some real golden nuggets that you can apply to your teaching and help facilitate your discussions with parents. Some of the most relevant takeaways from the playbooks for early childhood teachers are:

  • How children learn new words.
  • The fundamental skills that ALL adults should learn. As such, they can incorporate the skills during play with children (especially delayed children).
  • Why do children have trouble learning new words.
  • What is syntax, and what parts to teach.

Plus, there is also a “word pantry” (list) and matching activity ideas that will ensure you know what words and grammatical markers to focus on for students who are a bit behind.

Early childhood training and resources – a mix of early childhood and primary school recommendations:

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