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Why has my child not started speaking?

Q: I have a 3.5-year-old son. He seems to understand everything. However, he does not speak, not even words like 'mama' or 'papa'. As both my husband and I are working, we have little time to make him learn. In our absence, he is normally with one maid or else with one of my relatives. He watches TV with great interest, especially music channels. I am worried about his not speaking, as soon he will start going to school. Earlier, we tried to send him to a creche. He was very happy to go there, as he got more opportunities to play, but hardly used to mingle with other children. He used to play alone. We have shown him to a few doctors. They say there is nothing wrong with him. How can I make my child speak?

A:Attending a creche or day care centre seems to be a better alternative for your three year old compared to staying with one maid at home. TV may attract the child, but it keeps him passive. With the music channels you mention, he will be hearing disconnected noises rather than meaningful speech. Even if he does not mingle with other children, let him go to a play centre where there are others like him. He will gradually pick up speech. Get him picture books with stories and songs and read out to him while he follows. Buy children's music that he can listen to on cassette or CD, rather than expose him to adult fare on the TV. He needs age-appropriate play materials and meaningful speech models that he can imitate, like teachers and parents, playmates and friends.

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