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Expert: Parents should model good communication

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Christa Dean Hild 
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It’s time to turn off the TV and pick up books, pens, puzzles and learn.

Peggy Kundo, speech pathologist at Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Health System’s HealthPlex, said speech and language development occurs in predictable sequences and when those sequences don’t happen at the right time, it can affect development and learning for years to come.

“That is one thing we see a lot more of, kids with decreased attention spans, because children are used to the flashy stimuli from the screen,” Kundo said. “It’s hard to compete with that. It’s addicting. Number one, turn off the TV, and number two, a quiet environment. Interact with the child and find out what they’re doing.”

She said parents need to not only provide a good learning environment at home; they need to model good communication behaviors for their children, reading and writing, and take advantage of every opportunity to encourage their child’s development.

“Texting is great, but let your child see you with a pen or a pencil in your hand,” Kundo said. “They need to develop those motor skills and cognitive mapping that goes on while writing. Everywhere you go and everything you do can be an opportunity for language and learning.”

She said instead of racing through activities or situations, use the opportunity to talk about what’s going on and ask questions.

Kundo said children being a little behind friends or family members of the same age is not a major concern, but if parents have questions, consult a pediatrician. The doctor can evaluate development and provide referrals for formal evaluations. The signals to look for differ for preschool-age and school-age children, but they stem from the same areas of development.

Some of the most important areas are comprehension, speech, predicting and motor skills.

Comprehension for preschool-age children can be seen through simple actions such as asking the child to feed a doll or stuffed animal and they pick up a spoon but not a cup. For school-age children, it can exhibit through skills such as correct word order. If the child forms a sentence but is asking a question, they may have difficulty with comprehension.

Kundo said with preschool-age children, the comprehension skill set includes what she calls joint attention, making eye contact with the parent and then the object they want the parent to look at. If a child does not have joint attention or make eye contact with play partners it could mean underlying issues.

“If a child is not showing a desire for communication, or joint attention, that is a red flag for autism,” Kundo said. “We can see that at 2 years old … they won’t necessarily grow out of it.”

She said autism is not a diagnosis of hopelessness and with early therapy, many children learn social skills and how to communicate with people.

Kundo said language is the basis for who we are.

“Language is how we show our humanness and most important, our feelings and how we perceive the world,” Kundo said. “Without language, or with limited language, we’re limited in communicating how we feel, what we want and need. We’re limited in comprehending what other people need and want. That’s at the basic social level.”