Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

San Diego Professor Discusses Warning Signs For Communication Difficulties In Children

December 4, 2013 1:22 p.m.


Sonja Pruitt-Lord, certified speech language pathologist, Assoc. Professor, School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at SDSU.

Related Story: San Diego Professor Discusses Warning Signs For Communication Difficulties In Children


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON ST. JOHN: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. You may have heard stories about children who do poorly in school for months or years until it is understood that they are lagging because they cannot hear or have a communication disorder. New campaign from the American Speech Language and Hearing Association is proud to educate parents about early warning signs of each language and hearing issues. Our guest. Today is Sonia. Thank you so much for joining us. First, tell us of about why this campaign is so important.

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: The American Speech Language and Hearing Association to this survey account about 50% of parents are unaware of the early signs of two vacation impairments. They are not aware of the signs that it makes it different. It is not difficult to get the services. These services will improve the outcomes for their students.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So what does that mean?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Generic medication disorder is an impairment and one of the three processes of speech link language or hearing. The disorders of themselves look a little different but speech disorder were usually talking about difficulties in there with articulation of sad or in a voice disorder so could be course or unable to sustain speech for a long period of time or fluency disorders. Those parents can usually recognize those but language disorders are a little different in the sense that link which disorders have to do with the child's ability to function socially with language, and their ability to put words together.

ALSION ST. JOHN: In a hearing disorder, the inability to build or process the information may not have to do with hearing, and may be just the ability inability to process the language. Are we talking about both adults and children?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Children and adults of suffer from these disorders and can both that if it from recognizing these disorders and getting treatment. The children we're looking at development of stages and in adults if you're recognizing that you are no longer able to speak as clearly as you could are mixing up words, if you are beginning to see that your speech is sending mumbled, there are early warning signs of disorders that are related to stroke or two medic great injury or a trip degenerative and diseased, but we know with treatment we can improve outcomes for patients.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That is encouraging. Let's take a quick look at the warning signs for parents here. But what are the warning signs they should be on the lookout for?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Looking early on for children to be social people we're talking about babies and not necessarily saying that they ask you to go outside, but babies early on are giving us some signs of social communication like smiling or turning their head with their names called about seven months, those are expectations that we are looking for. At a-year-old, we looking for them to be producing words by two years of age we're hoping that they are combining words and by three or four years they were looking for speech to be clear and will they may be a few sounds that are in error but we're really looking for kids to start talking and progressing through that social communication and their ability to form words.

ALISON ST. JOHN: We have a PSA part of this campaign that shows a couple trying to communicate with their two-year-old. Let's listen to that.


ALISON ST. JOHN: Is it possible that a two-year-old is listening to their parents saying mama and thinking thoughts as complex as that?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: The campaign is that they are speaking those thoughts but they are not responding. If your seat mama and daddy and the child is not looking at you and smiling repeating, by two years of age we are looking to them to begin combining words and not just that the level of repeating words like my mind that at. They campaign of the video is looking at the child looking confused, if they are not able to process the information, they are not engaged with you and that's a concern.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Tell us a bit about those on the front lines of children. What would you tell them as far as that is it when a child is having difficulties?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: If you have concerns, the number one thing I hear it. Say is I was a little concerned, but he was walking at the right age and he was able to tie shoes, he was potty trained on time, those are very commented that children can have speech or language impairment and have all the other developmental milestones mastered. If there's something that you don't think is right, or not the same way other children do, if you're not hearing him talk a lot or do vocal play, kids should be Tate thing with sounds that's where the Google gaga comes from and playing games like peekaboo and reading books important to pictures, if you're not feeling that they seek advice of us speech speech language pathologist. Talk to pediatrician about your concerns. The other thing that we can tell parents and teachers and everybody to do is to talk to your children your we want to talk to them and I'm not saying read the news. But play with their toys and get on the phone with them and play and read to them in short your phrases, but given the opportunity to engage in communication.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So 63% of parents are not aware of the early signs. How do other parents expected to know? How can a parent learn more about what they should be experiencing?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: That is what has caused this campaign to come out. We realize that people are not aware. One of these is going to the website and identify the signs are Lord. And also following to the things that we've been talking about.

ALISON ST. JOHN: How would a child be diagnosed if you take a child int o be diagnosed? How does that work?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Be speech is seen by speech late which pathologist of young ages it actually looks a lot like play. They will play with the child and fear what the child is able to do spontaneously. Also a lot of parity interviews, looking to the experts and parents teachers and the child telling us what the child dedication looks like gun older ages there is standardized assessments but there's also accommodations.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Once you have diagnosed a child what is available as treatment?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Early intervention is the basket get a child into the treatment before the age of four. Long-term effects are much better. Because less, for every dollar of early intervention we're saving seven dollars long-term care.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That is important because most parents do not realize it's cheap your registered earlier.

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: That is something that is very important for people to realize, the yearly or we can do that the cheaper it will be and also the social and academic consequences of delaying care

ALISON ST. JOHN: Tell us a bit about that, what are the risks of leave exhibit like that untreated?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: We do now that it is not treated early and we intend to we tend to perform poorly in school in reading and math in it academic areas, but also socially sit is difficult to make friends and maybe get picked on and if we can get them help early, we usually do not see the social consequences that we can prove those academic outcomes.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So academically do you find that teachers might be faster to identify something like this that apparent in some cases?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Seems that a lot of people when they start to talk to each other, they were of all had a little inkling of something not being right, but now it was the first one to say. Teachers can also be the first person to refer. One thing that we should knows that children here in California over the age of three, they receive free speech and speech and hearing services through the school dishes. If your child is not yet in school, is important for any of the professionals or working with children, and so pediatricians. Parents and teachers and anybody to recognize these warning signs.

ALISON ST. JOHN: You are a speech pathologist, are you treating not just the child, but working with the parent as well?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Early interventions it is very important that we are involved the parents in the treatment approaches. They spend the most time with their children, and so we need them into be engaged and we need them to be be aware of when their child is out as attempting to communicate In a reach for something and what can apparent say. We can coach the parent on what to say. Any attempt that the child uses to a communicate, use that to encourage the pair to make use of that.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Now what about the condition that seems to be coming more common, autism and that spectrum of disorders, how does that relate?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: What we talk about it should medication impairments in terms of speech, there is a better primary. There could be primary communication disorders so we do not know the cause and is not secondary to another disorder, children with autism and a speech language pathologist will work at them a lot because they do have difficulty in the language, both in form and in social use of English. We consider that communication to be second secondary to the end of diagnosis of autism.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So autism would be the first thing that you would treat and the this would be a part of the treatment? But what percentage of kids do you think actually do have some kind of communication disorder? You think it's likely that is only 5% would you think it's a very small percentage of children?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Speech sound disorders and children that are having trouble with the sounds of words are about 5% of each early children. Language disorders about 70%. Those are trying primary disorders. Secondary to something else that percentage is definitely go up as well as the numbers of adults.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That is quite high appeared on many kids do you think there are already in the school system operating with a communication disorder that has yet to be diagnosed? Do think this is a prevalent prevalent problem?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: We definitely see an increase in kindergarten of children getting a diagnosis and that is because they're in the school system now and teachers are aware of it, but does her kids that actually showed warning signs earlier and had we been able to get them into treatment than, they would perform better. We've seen school-aged ages that their children of God undiagnosed, we'll see increases in kindergarten and also when it reading first developed that will notice that children have to medication impairments.

ALISON ST. JOHN: On issue that is very common at the moment is concussion and brain injuries gained in sports and accidents, is that something where you might find it share child is different after that and it would be worth getting checked out?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Definitely. If you're noticing trouble in language after an accident, it is common to have both difficulty in production in language and organizing thoughts after an accident. It that is people those are people who should seek help.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Isn't that something that could get better on its own?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Some methods say that it will get better but we can improve those earlier. We can get the improvement and have less cocks consequences in the long-term effects we know that sometimes we can prevent long-term consequences.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Turning to older paper will have hearing problems, I noticed in this report that interestingly enough 28% of adult children, and the number of people who are help the older teacher patient with hearing loss to get help, 20% on adult children and only 1% with this process. With older people, to find that it is sometimes difficult to get them to come in for treatment and difficult to get them to accept there is a problem?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: I had to deal with this with a number of others, friends try to get parents to come in, I would say as adults not wanting to recognize the severity of symptoms. Something that we look for in terms of adults is social isolation and avoiding conversation, you can see symptoms of depression, those are things that the spouse or adult child can pay attention to. As an individual we can pay attention to if it feels if they curious muffled, if you're unable to ten to tasks or have buzzing in your ears after a loved noise, if that's first persistent troubling hearings, that is early on to warning signs.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I can see that is more difficult for a child, it's impossible for them to know that there's anything going on that is treatment. Very quickly, how can people more find out more about this campaign?

SONJA PRUITT-LORD: Go to the web at and look at the Hearing and Language Association and find a speech pathologist.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Thank you so much for coming in. Sonja is a certified speech language pathologist at SDSU.