The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is launching a campaign to raise awareness of the early signs that a child may have a speech or hearing problem. The group hopes it will lead to more parents seeking early intervention for their children, said Patricia Prelock, president of the ASHA.
“For some problems, if we detect them early enough, we can reverse the course or prevent the disorder from occurring,” Prelock said. “We know that those disorders that are not detected lead to social isolation and academic challenges, so it’s really important to do something as soon as possible.”
The campaign includes an informational Web site, www.identifythesigns.org, as well as public service announcements and a podcast.
In a recent survey, 45 percent of ASHA members polled said that a lack of awareness is a leading barrier to early detection. Members said that more than 60 percent of the parents they work with were not familiar with common warning signs of a speech or hearing problem, Prelock said.
And 57 percent said parents did not know that if problems are not detected early — ideally before age 4 — treatment will be more complex, take longer and cost more. Prelock said every dollar spent on early intervention can save seven dollars in long-term care costs.
“It’s better to have it checked out than to sit and worry about it and lose a year because your child has a mild hearing loss or a slight speech problem,” Prelock said. “I would rather screen a child and find out on he’s on the right trajectory, than let it go and wish I would have had him checked out.”
Parents who notice signs of a problem should contact their pediatricians or family doctors, Prelock said. The ASHA site also has a list of speech-language therapists and audiologists on its site. The list is searchable by location.
“Our goal is to get families to be aggressive about what they need,” Prelock said, noting that about 40 million people in the United States have communication disorders, and that treating those problems costs between $154 and $186 billion each year.
A speech-language therapist can work directly with the child, Prelock said, and also help parents learn how to engage their child and stimulate language development. For example, she said, parents are often too good at anticipating a child’s needs. Sometimes it’s better to push them to verbalize what they want.
For information on the signs that your child might have a speech delay or hearing problem, visit the ASHA site.