How Much Of What I Say Does My Child Understand? Part 1 of 2 – Ask Sarah Series

How Much Of What I Say Does My Child Understand? Part 1 of 2 – Ask Sarah Series

My son was just diagnosed. He only has a couple of words. I try to talk to him like I would his older brother hoping this helps, but he just looks off like I’m talking Martian! Should I not talk to him like a typical kid? Help!


Hi Mary,

By now, your son should have been formally evaluated by a speech–language pathologist. This evaluation measures your child’s current level of receptive language and auditory comprehension. If your son hasn’t been evaluated yet, it’s important that you get him evaluated soon. Having an evaluation lets you and your son’s speech therapist and other members of your child’s treatment team understand where your child is starting from – what their existing strengths and weaknesses are – so that they can get the most effective therapies, in the proper order. It also serves as a “yardstick,” giving you some objective measures against which your child’s progress can be measured over time.

And once your son has received his initial evaluation, he should be re-evaluated on an annual basis (or possibly even more frequently depending on your child – check with your therapist). Your son’s speech and language evaluation includes measures of his receptive language and auditory comprehension skills – basically, it tells you how much of the language your son is hearing can be effectively understood by him.

So the answer to your question really depends on how much of your speech that your son is currently capable of understanding, and your son’s speech and language evaluation can tell you that. I have found that parents often think that their child understands everything said to them, but that this is almost never the case! Sometimes your child may be able to follow one of the directions you’ve given, because they understood one of the words you said, and then were able to puzzle out the rest of what you meant based on the clues provided by that one word that you understood and other contextual clues (if you’re pointing at the bathtub, they can probably figure out it’s time for a bath). While it’s true that children sometimes understand more language than they are capable using themselves (speech-language pathologists would say that a child’s “receptive language,” or their understanding of  others, is more advanced than their “expressive language,” or their own language production), to get a real understanding of your child’s receptive language skills, you need to look at the “age equivalency score” from their speech and language evaluation. Because this is a little technical, you should ask your child’s speech-language pathologist to explain this to you.sarahpurple (2)

We’ll talk about these scores and what they mean next week!


For more information on this series, please see our introductory post, The Ask Sarah Series.

If you have a question for Sarah, you can submit your questions to Ask Sarah.

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