Screens Do Not Teach Speech

“My son is 3 and still isn’t talking.”

One of the most common reports at evaluation is that toddlers aren’t using speech to communicate with caregivers. There can be many reasons for this, and more often than not, there is an underlying communication impairment – language or speech or both. But once in a while I get a cutie in the office who is simply delayed due to circumstances.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve had a handful of cuties with a speech delay that did not appear to have an underlying disorder, and upon stimulating speech production for 1-2 sessions, they suddenly exploded in using speech to communicate – rapidly improving and discharging quickly from the office!

One thing that each of these cases had in common was that the children were in front of devices/shows for several hours per day across different environments. Well-intentioned parents who wanted their child to learn to speak by watching television programs were dismayed to learn that, while some vocabulary can be learned this way, TV shows do NOT teach “communication skills.” Luckily for these particular children, once verbal “communication” was demonstrated and encouraged, they were set. And for that, a speech-language pathologist can help with demonstrating techniques to parents to stimulate speech production at home.

But what about the majority of our cuties who arrive with a true impairment of some kind? Hours in front of screens do NOT help in any circumstance 🙁

Just like the first group of little ones, children who have a true communication delay or impairment need real human models, lots of interaction with actual communication partners who can model this skillset. A speech-language pathologist can provide the appropriate stimulation but the most important aspect of our job is to guide caregivers to stimulate speech production at home – which makes sense since we see a only child a few short visits per week. But it is ever so important for parents of children with communication challenges to replace at least some screen time with parent time dedicated to communication – over toys/games, during a walk to the park, or even while entering a room in the house.

A few minutes of direct communication (while using the provided strategies) a few times a day can make all the difference!