Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses in young children. Otitis media (OME) is the term for inflammation and fluid build-up within the middle ear. The accumulation of fluid causes the bones in the middle ear to not function properly and conduct sound effectively. Research indicates that OME poses disadvantages on hearing sensitivity and speech perception in children (Cai and McPherson, 2017). Speech sounds that are most affected by mild hearing loss are those high frequency sounds S, F, or SH. For more moderate hearing loss, a child may not be able to hear additional speech sounds or word-endings. It is important to identify and treat ear infections in young children to reduce these lapses in hearing sensitivity.
Your child may not be able to tell you his or her ear hurts, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms (American Speech and Hearing Association):
- tugging or pulling at his or her ear
- fluid draining from his or her ear
- crying more than usual
- not responding to sounds
- trouble sleeping
If the cause of the ear infection is unknown, the doctor may decide to monitor the infection for 2-3 days to see if the fluid will drain on its own. Antibiotics can be prescribed for bacterial infections. For repeated ear infections or middle ear fluid that will not go away, it may be necessary for an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) to place a tube in the child’s eardrum that will allow for fluid drainage.
If your child’s hearing is compromised by an infection, it is important to facilitate communication by getting your child’s attention beforehand, speaking at eye level, reducing background noise (e.g., TV, music, talking) and using gestures and signs to enhance communication.
Technology is a part of our everyday lives. It is important to set boundaries and limits to children’s screen time so that their communication skills do not fall behind. In a poll of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologist, the biggest concerns with children’s frequent screen time use include fewer opportunities for social interactions, delays in social development, delays in speech and/or language skills, and academic challenges. These concerns are present because children have fewer opportunities to hear language modeled by parents/peers and to practice their language, articulation, and social skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has established screen time guidelines to help parents balance technology and real-world experiences. They recommend no screen time (video chatting excluded) for the first 18 months, joint screen time of learning programs for children 18-24 months of age, 1 hour per day of learning program screen time for children 2-5 years of age, and to set up family guidelines for children 6 years and older that detail the amount and type of screen time allowed per day. In addition, the AAP recommends designating screen free zones and times. Here are a few screen-free activities to do with your child to encourage speech and language skills: go to the library and pick out books to read together, find a recipe your child can help you make, complete an art or science project together, or go to the park. By doing these types of screen-free activities, child will be learning and practicing important language and social skills.
As early as 2 and 3 years old, typically developing children begin producing narratives about what they see and do in their everyday life. As development continues, these narratives begin to include stories about the past, present, and future. Narrative language abilities are a foundational skill to higher level language such as analyzing, retelling, summarizing, and explaining written text. A deficit in narrative language production can affect a child’s academic performance and social skill abilities.
It is important that children utilize story grammar elements when developing narrative language skills, which act as a “cognitive map” to support the comprehension and production of narratives. Many kids who struggle to produce or comprehend narratives greatly benefit from visual supports (pictures, illustrations of a sequence of events) in order to teach story elements. Books, shared experiences, and videos can also be used to facilitate narrative language productions by emphasizing characters, setting, problem, solution, and other various story events. Many Speech-Language Pathologists use a variety of tools to supplement narrative development including topic boards, augmentative and alternative communication devices, sequencing pictures, and modeling.
Using picture sequences of a child performing a preferred activity is a great way to include sequential narratives into a daily routine. Once a child is accurately producing personal narratives, the focus can shift to summarizing and retelling stories from books.