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Why Do Children Have Difficulty Learning to Talk?

By James D. MacDonald

Why do children have difficulty learning to talk? The following are only a few of the common problems we have seen:

LIMITATIONS IN HEARING - Frequently, temporary medical conditions effect young children's hearing as well as actual biological hearing problems.

SLOWER MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT - It is harder for some children to make the rapid movements needed to combine speech and sound for language.

SLOWER UNDERSTANDING OF ADULT LANGUAGE - It is more for our children to process long strings of information that they are often exposed to.

LESS PRACTICE INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE - Some children often spend much less time interacting with people and practicing their communication.

TOO PASSIVE A ROLE IN SOCIAL LIFE - Some children are too often on the taking than the giving end of relationships, thus affording less of the active participation they need for speech development.

OLD NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION WORKS TOO WELL - Especially within families, some children develop elaborate ways to communicate with movements, gestures and sounds that are effective at home but not in society. The children often have little need to use words that are more difficult.

LOW EXPECTATIONS OF OTHERS - Many people do not engage some children in communication much because they do not expect them to talk or be understood.

PEOPLE TALK FOR THEM - Often, children appear not to talk when others talk for them.

NOT ENOUGH TIME TO TALK - Frequently, people do not wait long enough to allow a child to respond. Some children often act very passively as if they know they won't have much chance to talk.

OVERSTIMULATION - Our children are often exposed to much more language than they can try to do. It's like throwing several balls at a child learning to catch.

TOO MUCH "SCHOOL" LANGUAGE; NOT ENOUGH "COMMUNICATIVE" LANGUAGE - Much language we teach our children, like numbers and colors, are not very useful in daily communication. Children need to have a practical life vocabulary if they are to practice their language regularly.

TOO MUCH PERFORMANCE LANGUAGE; NOT ENOUGH SOCIAL TALK - Many children use language to recite things and perform show and tell feats. But, they often do not have the easy conversations that build friendships.

TOO MUCH PLAYING ALONE - Children can learn a lot by playing alone with toys. But, in order to learn communicate they must play with people who are doing things the child can do.


James D. MacDonald has been a Clinician and researcher with children with language disorders since 1968. He was Professor of Speech/Language Pathology and Director of the Parent-Child Communication Clinic at the Nisonger Center, Ohio State University for five years. He has directed the Communicating Partners Center in Columbus, Ohio since 1995. Dr. MacDonald's website is http://www.jamesdmacdonald.org

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