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May I Have Your Attention, Please?

In November, I wrote about Parentese, which is how adults change the characteristics of their speech to capture babies’ attention. I discussed how babies’ brains are wired to attend to the way we talk to them. Last month, I promised that I’d take you on a journey along the Communication Pathway, the first step of which is what and how information gets into our brains.

To learn to speak and understand spoken language, we need to pay attention to it. To do this, we need to hear and see. Other sensations may be involved when learning other ways of communication which are not spoken (such as ASL or Braille) but hearing and seeing are the two we definitely need for speaking and understanding what others say. So, the very foundation of oral language learning involves paying attention to the sights and sounds associated with language. Why sight? Our facial expressions and gestures tell a lot, and the way we move our mouths when we speak teaches kids how to make certain speech sounds. 

Typically developing babies pay attention really well, especially when we talk to them in Parentese. And kids continue to do this well, so long as they’re kept engaged with age-appropriate activities (barring anything like ADHD or other diagnoses). Books and non-electronic toys are great for keeping conversations going. TVs, tablets, and phones are definitely not good for keeping conversations going. Their use – by kids OR adults – reduces the input a child receives and their participation in conversations during a crucial developmental period. 

There are other variables that impact attention to sight and sound. Some are external, such as the distractions in a classroom. These we can – and should – control in order to optimize our kiddos’ development. Organic variables, such as hearing difficulty, ADHD or brain injury, can have impacts on attention. For those, various strategies need to be applied. Some of these need to be medical, and others can be environmental changes based on that person’s needs. In any case, your Friendly Neighbourhood Speech Pathologist is here to help during this crucial developmental period. 


Mohamed (Mo) Oshalla, MHSc.,
Speech-Language Pathologist & Executive Director,
Ontario Speech & Language Services


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