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Concerned about your toddler not talking? Here are some expert tips and resources for parents

April 1, 2021

If your toddler isn’t talking, there could be a number of reasons. Expert resources and support are available to help children reach their full potential.

On World Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd), Language Sciences member Dr. Paola Colozzo, an Associate Professor in the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences, shares things to pay attention to in early communication development, and resources for parents.

Why is it important to pay attention to early ‘social communication’ development?

Around their first birthday, parents are often excitedly waiting to hear those wonderful first words. But a lot has happened for language development before words are ever uttered. Through social interaction with their caregivers in everyday activities, infants and toddlers begin to understand the language(s) spoken to them. They also learn to communicate with sounds, facial expressions, body movements, gestures, and finally words.

Some children may need a bit more time before they start talking or putting many words together. But sometimes the building blocks of language and communication are not in place. Some signs for a parent to pay attention to include: a very quiet child who rarely uses sounds, facial expressions, or gestures to communicate; a child who often seems more interested in objects than people and who plays in unexpected ways; or a child who often does not respond to bids of attention from others. These social communication delays may be signs the child is at-risk of autism.

It is not always easy for a parent to know whether or how much to be worried, so concerned parents are better off seeking some answers and receiving support from health providers. This may or may not result in a diagnosis, but it could lead to evidence-based early intervention services, which are likely to lead to better outcomes for the child and their family.

How has COVID affected life for parents and their children who might be at-risk of autism?

Parents want the best for their children and to know how to support them. The pandemic has made this even more complicated, with multiple stressors on families including parents working from home or facing financial uncertainty. Many agencies have moved to a combination of in-person and virtual services. The end result may be a mix of challenges and new opportunities. Clinicians may need supports to develop new knowledge and skills to provide quality early intervention services at a distance. But it may now be possible to reach some families that could not previously access in-person services due to remote location, lack of transportation, or other reasons. Wait times for autism assessments have also sadly increased since the pandemic began.

What can concerned parents do?

A toddler with social communication delays is missing out on many learning opportunities every day and this can have a cumulative effect on their development. Early intervention is meant to alter this course, reduce any negative impacts on the child and the family, and help the child reach their full potential.

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