Childhood Communication Disabilities on the Rise

More children live with a disability today than 10 years ago.

We live in a world of ever-changing technologies and advancing medical treatments. Almost every day new discoveries are being made that propel us further toward realities that seemed like science fiction just a few years earlier. So in this era of advancement, how is it possible that 16 percent more children suffer from a disability today than just a decade ago?

That’s right, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, more children live with a disability today than 10 years ago, and the greatest increase is among kids in higher-income families. The study, Changing Trends of Childhood Disability, 2001-2011, showed that while childhood disability due to physical conditions has declined, a significant increase in disabilities due to neurodevelopmental or mental health problems were reported. Children in poverty experienced the highest rates of disability, but children from wealthier families experienced the largest increase, a jump of about 28 percent.

While all these numbers are alarming for parents, the biggest question is still why? And, while the study fails to pinpoint an exact cause, it does highlight a major contributor, a dramatic 63 percent increase in disabilities associated with speech and communication problems. That’s a number the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) says demands attention.

“While the reasons behind the marked increase in speech and hearing problems may not be fully clear, the data argues for continued improved awareness among parents and the larger public about these disorders as well as speedy intervention at their earliest warning signs,” said Elizabeth McCrea, PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA 2014 president. “Unlike many other conditions, early intervention often has the potential to prevent or reverse a communication disorder—or at least dramatically reduce the negative consequences it has on children’s academic and social success as well as their overall development.”

That’s exactly the kind of work the teachers at Tulsa’s Happy Hands Education Center do every day. The local non-profit school caters to children ages infant to 6-years-old who are deaf or have communication disorders. And its leaders say this spike in speech conditions isn’t just a national dilemma, it’s here in Tulsa too.

“There is definitely an increase in the number of children needing speech and language services in our area,” said Jan Pride, Happy Hands executive director.

“While our primary population is deaf or hard of hearing, 30 percent of our children have a communication disorder unrelated to hearing loss.  Our classrooms are full, and more and more children are placed on our waiting list every week. Referrals are coming from Sooner Start, therapy centers, pediatricians, and by word of mouth.”

The ASHA says the most important thing parents can do is to act. Avoid the “wait and see” approach, and don’t think your child will simply outgrow the problem. You could be missing a key window of opportunity for treatment. The earlier a language problem is detected, the more successful, the less expensive and the shorter the course of care.

Early Signs of a Language Disorder:

  • Does not smile or interact with others (birth and older)
  • Does not babble (4-7 months)
  • Says only a few words (12-18 months)
  • Words are not easily understood (18 months-2 years)
  • Does not put words together to make sentences (1.5-3 years)

Ways to Help:

  • Talk, read, and play with your child
  • Talk about what you are doing and what your child is doing
  • Use a lot of different words with your child
  • Use longer sentences as your child gets older
  • Have your child play with other children
Categories: All Kinds of Kids