Hesperian Health Guides
Common problems when learning to talk
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Children who can see get ideas for communicating from watching people talk. A child who cannot see well misses this and may learn to talk later than a child who can see. So, when learning to talk, a child who cannot see well often:
- repeats what others say rather than speaking his own thoughts
- uses words like ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘it,’ and ‘you’ (pronouns) incorrectly
- does not turn toward the person speaking
- asks a lot of questions
If your child is having some of these problems, here are some activities that may help.
To help your child speak his own thoughts
It is natural for young children to repeat what others say. In fact, a young child should be encouraged to repeat words because this helps him learn to speak. But a child who cannot see well often continues repeating words for a long time, rather than learning to say what he is thinking. This happens because:
- your child may want to keep talking with you but not know enough words to tell you this.
- he may not understand your words, since he cannot see what you are talking about.
- he may repeat the words to try to understand what they mean.
If your child repeats what you say, let him know you heard him, and then expand on what he said. This shows your child that you are listening to him. It also shows him some other ways to respond.
Try to understand what your child is trying to say when he repeats your words. Often it helps to look for feelings and ideas he may want to talk about but does not know how to say.
Give your child many opportunities in the community to learn about the world and to touch the things you talk about. This will help him learn more words so he will need to repeat things less often. It will also show other people how they can help your child.
As your child gets older, let him know that repeating what others say is not sending the right message.
To help your child learn to use pronouns
Pronouns are words like ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘you,’ or ‘it’. These words can refer to many different people or things. All children have some difficulty learning to use these words correctly. But children who cannot see well have more difficulty because they cannot see who or what is being talked about, or if the person talking is a man or a woman. It often takes an extra year or two for children who cannot see well to use pronouns correctly.
Use pronouns when talking to your child, even if he is not using them correctly. But make sure he knows you are talking to him. You can say his name first or touch him gently to get his attention.
Play games that teach parts of the body. When your child knows the parts of his body, help him identify the same parts on other people.
Where’s your mouth?
I have a mouth too. Can you find my mouth?
If your child seems confused, show him who you are talking about by guiding him to point to the person the pronoun refers to.
Play games that encourage taking turns. Emphasize pronouns as you play.
If your child is using pronouns incorrectly because he is repeating other people’s words, try the suggestions in the previous section.
To help your child face the person who is speaking
Because they do not see other people talking, children who are blind do not know that they should face the person they are talking with.
Encourage your child to turn toward other people when he is talking to them.
Turn toward me when I talk, Noi.
At first, you can gently turn his head toward you as you speak.
Mama, what’s that noise?
Joey, please turn to face me when you talk. Then I can answer your question.
When he is older, teach him to face you as you speak.
To help your child ask fewer questions
Most children go through a time in which they ask a lot of questions. But blind children often ask questions for a much longer time. This may be because:
- they cannot see what is happening around them.
- they do not know enough words to carry on a conversation.
- they want contact with another person.
- they are so often asked questions by adults.
If your child is asking so many questions that it is hard for you to answer them all, or if these questions seem to keep him from learning other ways of talking, he needs your help.
Look for the feelings that may be behind the child’s questions.
Describe new experiences before your child has them. This way he does not need to ask questions to find out what is going on.
Listen to how you talk to your child. Are you asking him a lot of questions? If so, try turning some of your questions into statements. For example, instead of asking “Do you want to go to bed?” say: