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Why is my 3 year old not speaking like other children?

Friday, 30 May 2003
Answered by: S. Anandalakshmy
Consultant in Child Development & Education

Chennai
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Q. My son is 3.5 years old and he has not started speaking yet. Until recently he was bottle-fed. I used to give food mashed in a mixer, till he was two and a half years. Even now he takes only semi-solid food. Gradually I am improving the consistency. Liquids he takes one sip at time only from the glass. Could this be a reason for his not talking yet? If yes, could you please suggest some measures to improve his oral motor coordination? In addition, he is exposed to three languages at home. His receptive language is as per his age according to me. He understands whatever I tell him (in our mother tongue, Kannada) and acts accordingly. His cognitive skills are also as per his age. But he speaks very few words. So far he would have spoken a maximum of 50 words (some two words also) but not consistently and would not remember and repeat. If there is speech delay due to three languages at home, does it manifest like this? I am a working mother and my husband expired when my son was one and a half year old. My interaction was also less but now I spend a lot of time with him taking leave. The biggest problem is he is aware of his problems that he is not able to eat certain food items though he wants to and he does not speak like other children of his age. There is no father at home. I am worried what kind of effect it will have on his personality when he grows up. Can you suggest how I can help my child with all these problems?

A.  I can see that you have had some really difficult experiences. First and foremost, don't worry about the future of your child. Just care of his present needs. You seem to have given him semi solid food even after his teeth grew and he could bite. Probably, you did this to save time and to get enough nutrition into your child. The direction to face is forward. Do introduce a variety of interesting tasting foods gradually, he will learn to munch and crunch like other children. His slowness in speech is perhaps not related to what he eats. Many children who hear three languages in the home and street do get confused. While they understand all that they hear, their actual speech may be quite limited. This should not be a matter of deep concern, but you can encourage him to use words to express his needs. Make it into a game. Read books, sing songs and tell stories. Your son will also join in slowly, but surely. If you can find a play school nearby, to which you can send your son, he may pick up language more quickly. Try and get a couple of friendly children in the neighbourhood to come and play with him. And stop worrying! Anxiety is most easily communicated to children. Be optimistic and cheerful with the child. If you still feel concerned, ask his preschool teachers for more ideas.

A.  I can see that you have had some really difficult experiences. First and foremost, don't worry about the future of your child. Just care of his present needs. You seem to have given him semi solid food even after his teeth grew and he could bite. Probably, you did this to save time and to get enough nutrition into your child. The direction to face is forward. Do introduce a variety of interesting tasting foods gradually, he will learn to munch and crunch like other children. His slowness in speech is perhaps not related to what he eats. Many children who hear three languages in the home and street do get confused. While they understand all that they hear, their actual speech may be quite limited. This should not be a matter of deep concern, but you can encourage him to use words to express his needs. Make it into a game. Read books, sing songs and tell stories. Your son will also join in slowly, but surely. If you can find a play school nearby, to which you can send your son, he may pick up language more quickly. Try and get a couple of friendly children in the neighbourhood to come and play with him. And stop worrying! Anxiety is most easily communicated to children. Be optimistic and cheerful with the child. If you still feel concerned, ask his preschool teachers for more ideas.

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