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What’s the word? Pediatric speech and hearing FAQ

Riddle Hospital August 9, 2016 General Wellness

Watching your child grow and learn new things is one of the most exciting things about parenthood. And hearing them say names—like ‘mama’ or ‘dada’—for the first time can be especially rewarding. But what if your son or daughter is quieter than their peers, or hasn’t quite figured out how to vocalize ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ just yet? Should you be worried?

Not necessarily, says Laurie Maddesi, MS, speech language pathologist at Riddle Hospital, part of Main Line Health.

“Every child is different, and they need to be evaluated as such. Generally, we do expect to some developmental benchmarks in speech and hearing, but every child has their own timeline and is going to progress differently,” she explains.

Maddesi says she’s come across many questions from parents, but she offers answers to some of the most frequently asked questions below.

How many words should my child know?

While your child may utter their first word before their first year—somewhere between 9 and 12 months—they typically will only have a few true words at age 12 months. Most toddlers won’t begin using multiple words until just before age 2. Typically, by then, children will begin to use more clearly defined words instead of babbling language or sounds. Although you might not be able to understand very clearly what they are saying, these words are generally easier to understand than they have been in the past.

My child is speaking, but mispronouncing words. Is that OK?


“Mispronunciation is common, but as long as you can generally understand what your child is trying to say, then isn’t a cause for concern,” says Maddesi.

It’s also common for children to reduce phrases or multi-syllabic words into a shorter phrase or shorter word because it is easier for them to pronounce. Don’t let speech patterns like this concern you, as they are normal for children who are still learning their words.

However, by age 3 years, children should be approximately 90 percent intelligible. Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns.

What can I do to help my child’s speech and language develop?

There are many things that you can do to help your child’s speech and language develop, including:

  • Talk, read, and play with your child often
  • Communicate what you are doing to your child, and explain what they are doing to them
  • Arrange play groups so your child can play with others
  • Use a variety of different words with your child, and use longer sentence as they get older
  • Listen and respond to your child when they talk to you
  • Pronounce words clearly when you speak
  • Give your child time to talk—don’t speak over them or interrupt them

My child has been getting several ear infections. Could this affect their hearing?

“Ear infections are very common in childhood, and most children—including infants—will have multiple ear infections. It’s not uncommon for these infections to cause temporary hearing loss, but it is very rare that they would cause permanent hearing loss in children,” explains Maddesi.

Children are typically only at risk for permanent hearing loss when damage has been done to the eardrum, hearing nerve, or bones inside the ear. Otherwise, your little one might just be uncomfortable for a few days.

If my child passed the hearing screening as a newborn, is there a chance they could have difficult hearing later?

Although the hearing screenings given to newborns are intended to detect hearing issues early, there is still a possibility that children can develop a hearing problem later in childhood.

Your child may be suffering from hearing loss if you notice that they are not reacting to loud noises, imitating sounds, responding to their name, speaking with a loud volume. Although these symptoms aren’t necessarily indicative of a hearing problem, make an appointment with your pediatrician, who can refer you to an audiologist for further testing.

“Remember: every child is different. Many parents worry about their child’s communication skills because they don’t hear a large vocabulary of words, but your baby can communicate with you via a number of different methods. Crying, reaching, pointing, laughing, and smiling are all signs that your baby is trying to interact with you and express an emotion.”

Enjoy your child’s communications methods of communication—whatever they may be—and talk to your doctor about your concerns regarding your child’s speech, language, and hearing concerns.

Concerned about your child’s development? Riddle Hospital’s Outpatient Pediatric Services team offers a variety of pediatric services, including occupational and physical therapy, speech language therapy, and a social skills group. To learn more, visit our website or call 484.227.3370.