Poverty and Its Impact on Language Development Among Children – Part II: The Possibilities

poverty and language

In part one of this series, we discussed how nearly one in five children currently live in poverty in the United States and how that number goes up when you consider children who live near poverty.

We also discussed the various ways that a child’s language development tends to be inhibited by poverty.

In this article, we’ll look at a variety of steps that low-income parents can take to help their children develop their language skills and be better prepared for academic success.

It Takes a Village

One of the biggest challenges that children from low-income families face is that they tend to get less focused interactions with adults. While this is a difficult problem to grapple with, the first step is being aware of how much and in what way you speak with your children.

From infancy onward, the more you can sing and speak in a positive way to your children – not just around them, but to them – the more their vocabulary will grow. In fact, the Stanford study mentioned in the previous article found that among disadvantaged families, children who got access to more parental engagement processed information more quickly and learned language faster than their peers.

Of course, if you’re working two jobs to make ends meet, finding the time and energy for regular conversation with your children can be incredibly difficult. That’s why it’s also important to seek and accept help from other capable adults whenever possible.

Take advantage of free after-school programs. Accept your mom’s offer to watch your child every Tuesday. Apply for federal or state child care assistance. Rely on your community. The more people who love and support your child, the better. Don’t feel like you need to go it alone.

Promoting a Healthy Start

Health insurance can be prohibitively expensive for low income families, and lack of access to health care can lead to long-term issues that can inhibit language development.

But rest assured -- the Affordable Care Act is still in place. If you haven’t already done so, visit HealthCare.gov to learn if you are eligible for free or low-cost health insurance. Even if you aren’t eligible, your child may be eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). And even if you don’t qualify for any of that, make a point of visiting your local clinic for regular checkups starting during pregnancy and continuing throughout early childhood.

You should also check the Department of Health & Human Services website for federal and state programs that you may qualify to help support your family, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Books, Classes, and Speech Language Pathology

New books for your child can be expensive, but getting books into your child’s hands as early as possible is crucial to their language development.

So sign up for a free library card as soon as you can and start checking out books on a regular basis. From infancy onward, sit with your child and read to them in fun voices. Point to pictures and ask them to identify what they see. Let them turn the pages.

You can also sign up for programs like Imagination Library, which sends books to children across the country.

And remember that your local community centers and libraries often offer free classes for young children to sing, read, and dance together. Remember that play is learning.You may also be able to get free access to a qualified speech language pathologist through your child’s school if they are old enough. A speech language pathologist can help you and your child gain the language skills needed for social and academic success.

Poverty and speech language development are linked, but it is possible to break the chain. To learn more about poverty and kid’s speech or to get your questions answered by a Chicago speech language pathologist, give our office a call today. 

Poverty and Its Impact on Language Development Among Children – Part I: The Problem

poverty and child language development

According to the US Census Bureau, the current poverty threshold is an annual income of $24,858 for a family of four. That is what the department determined is the bare minimum income needed in order to provide the basic needs of life. When you consider that the average cost of rent nationwide is at an all-time high of $1,412 – or just over $15,000 per year – it’s hard to imagine how any US family could get by on so little.

But according to 2016 data from the Census Bureau, that is the state of affairs for 12.7% of Americans, and children are disproportionately affected. A staggering 18% of children under the age of 18 live at or below the poverty line. All told, over 40 million people live in poverty in this country, and it’s estimated that another 60 million people live in near-poverty.

What does all of this have to do with language? Unfortunately, quite a lot.

A recent study out of Stanford confirmed what other studies have shown for years – that there is a strong link between socioeconomic status and language development. The study found that by the age of five, children from lower income families score more than two years behind wealthier children on standardized language development tests, and what’s worse, the discrepancies begin appearing as early as 18 months old.

A flippant observer might argue that wealthier families are simply smarter, and that’s how they got to be wealthy, but this misguided argument does not hold up to close scrutiny. A wide array of factors from lack of opportunity to health problems to cultural or language barriers to societal prejudices to plain bad luck can all have an impact upon socioeconomic status. And children who are brought up in lower income families have all the same potential as their wealthier counterparts, but they face much harsher obstacles.

The Impact of Poverty on Language Development

Poverty and speech language development tend to be linked in a number of ways.

  • Limited adult interaction: Parents who must work extra hours in order to bring home enough money to live on tend to have less time and energy for their children as well as a limited ability to provide their children with high-quality day care. The result is that, by age three, children from wealthier homes hear an average of 30 million more words than children from low-income homes.
  • Health problems: Low income families have a much harder time accessing health care, including mental health care. This can inhibit the overall health of the family, stress levels, and ability to get to day care or work. Malnutrition is also a problem in low income households that can affect the energy as well as the mental and physical development of children.
  • Limited access to books and learning resources: When you’re barely making enough money to live on, it’s hard to justify buying books for your toddler who can’t even read yet. By one estimate, middle income neighborhoods have an average of twelve books per child whereas low income neighborhoods have an average of one book for every three hundred children. Without access to books, adequate stimulation, and language-building toys, it’s no wonder that low income children fall so far behind.

This paints a rather bleak picture, but the good news is that parents living below and near the poverty line can take free or extremely low-cost steps to help their children, which we will cover in part two.

In the meantime, to learn more about poverty and kid’s speech or to set up a free consultation with a Chicago speech language pathologist, give our office a call. 

Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce with Effective Communication

workplace communication

The Harvard Business Review has reported that, according to an Interact/Harris Poll survey, 91% of employees say that poor communication can drag an executive down. The survey looked at several different forms of communication that leaders struggle with. More than 50% of workers said their bosses did not recognize their achievements, didn’t give clear directions, didn’t have time to meet with them, and even refused to talk to subordinates.

Now, you may feel that you’re actually pretty good at all of those forms of communication, but are you sure that the people who report to you would agree? As a leader, it’s vital to recognize that not everyone learns or communicates in the same ways. Particularly if you have a multi-generational group of employees, you may discover that you’re connecting with some more readily than others.

The poor manager would put the blame for this on other generations, saying that what works for their generation should work for everyone. But work habits and attitudes evolve. Being stuck in a certain mindset about how people “should” communicate doesn’t help anyone. Instead, it’s important to meet your employees where their communication needs lie.

Here are a few tips for doing just that:

Offer flexibility whenever possible. Acknowledge that different people work differently. For example, try to let parents come in early and leave early, and allow younger workers to keep later work hours if you can. Don’t enforce stringent policies without first asking yourself whether the policy has a useful purpose.

When giving presentations, use multiple formats to help different types of learners get the most out of what you’re sharing. That might include offering a handout, incorporating video or slides, and/or or planning hands-on activities in addition to your spoken presentation.

Don’t ignore the communication needs of any one group. Remember that in-person meetings, phone calls, emails, texts, and work messaging apps can all be effective business tools. Don’t rule any option out, and offer training where needed on communication tools that might be unfamiliar to younger or older generations without judgement. Keeping everyone in the loop helps promote a more cohesive and productive work environment.

Celebrate the diversity of your workplace by inviting others to the podium. The best way to bring people together is to give everyone opportunities to share their knowledge, experiences, passions, and concerns with one another. Promote better communication by giving employees opportunities to lead their own presentations, even on topics unrelated to work.

If you’re eager to move your career forward, working with a Chicago executive speech coach could be the step you’ve been looking for. An experienced executive speech coach in Chicago can help you improve both your public speaking and your interpersonal communication, preparing you for bigger and better leadership roles. Give our office a call to learn more.


Tips on Oral Healthcare for those Suffering from Dysphagia

Dysphagia and Oral Healthcare

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing. Dysphagia can have a number of different causes, it can range from mild to severe, and it can be a problem for both children and adults.Dysphagia can be caused by a variety of neurological disorders, most commonly strokes. But dysphagia can also be the result of an injury or other physical disability in the throat or mouth.

Swallowing may be something that you don’t give any thought to, but take a moment -- if you’re able -- and swallow right now. Pay attention to how many muscles are engaged in your throat and tongue when you swallow. Feel the contraction of your throat and the movement of your saliva. Now imagine how one impaired or paralyzed muscle could affect your ability to swallow. People who deal with dysphagia sometimes have difficulty eating food without drooling, coughing, or even choking.

If you’re currently dealing with swallowing issues, it’s important to get in touch with a speech language pathologist. A Chicago SLP can help you determine the root cause of your dysphagia and work with you to make eating and communicating easier over time.

An SLP can also provide you with helpful information about how to care for your oral health while coping with dysphagia. Good oral hygiene promotes good overall health. Bacteria in the mouth can lead to tooth decay and periodontal disease, which allows pathogens to enter the blood stream and pass into other parts of the body. A healthy mouth may be harder to achieve when dealing with dysphagia, but with the right tools, it’s possible.

Remember that even if you or the person you care for have such severe dysphagia that you are unable to consume food orally, you still need to clean your teeth and rinse your mouth at least twice a day. Your Chicago speech language pathologist and/or dentist can help you find strategies for cleaning your mouth that work for you.

After any meal, check your mouth for any food that might have lodged itself in your teeth or inside your cheeks. When bits of food become dislodged, they can present a choking hazard.

And remember that everyone needs help sometimes. Don’t let embarrassment or fear of being a burden keep you from getting the assistance that you need. We are built to be social creatures who rely on one another for care and support. That’s how we all stay healthy and safe. 

5 of Our Top Tips for Connecting with Your Audience

Know Your Audience Tips

The audience is everything when it comes to work presentations. You’re not giving the presentation for yourself, but for your audience. Thus, it’s incredibly important to make sure that any presentation you give is designed to meet the needs of the people you’re presenting to, whether you want them to buy into a new idea, invest in a project, or come around to your way of thinking.

Here are five of the top lessons we teach our Chicago executive speech coaching clients about how to connect with your audience during a presentation:

Know your audience.

This is paramount. You need to tailor the presentation to the audience, and in order to do that you need to know who you’re presenting to. Will this presentation be heard by novices or will it be heard by leading experts? Are you talking to students or board members? Colleagues or your boss? Whatever the case, the presentation should reflect the audience.

Be personal.

Audiences are drawn in by story. Your presentation should tell a story, which means it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. One of the most effective ways to begin any presentation is with a personal anecdote that ties into the material and can be referred back to throughout the presentation, creating a unifying structure. Just remember, your anecdote should be tailored to the audience. A story about your college days might be appropriate for some audiences, but not others.

Be on-point with data.

Avoid superlatives and instead back up your statements with real data. You don’t want to inundate or bore your audience with too many numbers, but a few carefully chosen stats can help solidify your points and convince your audience. Remember to site your sources, either in materials that you hand out, verbally, or on your presentation slides.

Engage multiple senses.

Remember that not everyone absorbs information the same way. Your presentation should be visual and auditory at the very least. Try to make it tactile, too, by bringing in a prototype of your product, for example. Or make it tasty with a treat that you can work into the theme of your presentation. (Who wouldn’t love a presentation that comes with a free cupcake?)

Add humor, as appropriate.

Again, know your audience. But in many cases, humor can be a wonderful way to hold onto your audience’s attention. When injecting humor, it’s also important to know yourself. Don’t try to tell jokes if that’s not your thing. Use humor that shows your personality, whether that’s dry and sarcastic or a bit off the wall. Just make sure that the humor adds to the presentation rather than detracting from it.

For more tips or to speak with a Chicago executive speech coach, contact us today

What is Selective Mutism and How is it Treated by SLPs?

Selective Mutism and SLPs

Formerly known as elective mutism, selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that can occur in children, usually around the age of three or four. When a child suffers from selective mutism, they are so afraid to speak in public settings that they clam up and are unable to speak, even though they are able to communicate clearly at home with family and friends.

Selective mutism is not considered a communication disorder but an anxiety disorder. It’s not that children who deal with this condition are unable to talk, but rather that they are unable to speak in certain settings, like at school or in front of unfamiliar adults. Selective mutism is not the same thing as being shy. It is normal for a child who has just started school to be nervous and quiet for the first few weeks. But if the child seems paralyzed by fear and unable to speak for more than a month, they may be dealing with selective mutism.

No clear cause of selective mutism has been identified. Children who struggle with selective mutism usually don’t have other speaking disorders and are communicative – perhaps even outgoing – in settings where they feel comfortable. While not a requirement, many children with selective mutism have a parent who also dealt with severe anxiety in childhood.

If the condition is allowed to continue without any intervention, a child with selective mutism is likely to suffer academically and socially. He or she will have a hard time making friends, getting help when needed from adults, and feeling comfortable in school and other group settings.

Fortunately, speech language pathologists can help.

Treatment of selective mutism should start with cognitive behavioral therapy. An SLP will try to work with your child on his or her terms, moving slowly and not forcing any big changes. The goal is to provide positive reinforcement and help diminish the anxiety felt in social settings. The SLP does this by working with your child consistently in real-life settings, offering tools that boost confidence and help your child find his or her voice. An SLP can also work with you – the parent -- to help you better understand your child’s needs and build their confidence.

The most important thing to remember with selective mutism is that your child isn’t being quiet out of defiance, and putting pressure on them to speak will only make the matter worse. Children who deal with selective mutism sometimes seems like they shut down in public. Our goal is to help them turn the light back on.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a speech language pathologist in Chicago, give our office a call. The right Chicago speech language pathologist could help you and your child work through a wide range of child communication disorders. Contact our team to learn more! 

Summer Time Activities that Can Improve Your Child’s Speech

improve your child's speech

Summer is a wonderful time to connect with your whole family and enjoy vacations, picnics, and trips to the beach. But summer can also be a difficult time for parents who are used to having the support of a Chicago speech language pathologist and various teachers at their children’s school. If your child is dealing with a speech or language disorder, it can be tough planning fun for the family while also keeping their communication difficulties in mind and giving them the attention that they need.

Fortunately, there are a lot of simple ways that you can incorporate speech/communication activities into your summer fun. Here are a few examples:

On a road trip…

Try playing simple car games with your kids like “I spy.” Identify objects in the world around them by color, shape, or size, and have them guess what you’re looking at. If you’re able to plan ahead, you can also print out a page of things that are commonly seen on road trips and have your children look for each item.

At the movies…

Heading to the movies isn’t something you want to do every day, but every now and then it can be a fun treat. Look for theaters that have parent-and-me showtimes where the lights remain dimmed rather than off and the sound is turned down. Since you don’t have to worry about talking during the film, ask your child what they see on screen, and have a conversation with them after the show about what they liked and how they felt. Ask them to describe their favorite scenes or characters.

At home…

Break out the books and read. If you don’t have many books at home that your children like, head to your local library and pick out the books they seem drawn to. Remember that your child might like hearing the stories of some books but prefer looking at the pictures in others. Books like Animalia, for example, are great for reading through, learning the alphabet, or pointing at and identifying different animals and objects. Keep a few books in the car, as well, so your child can flip through them during long rides.

And remember that you don’t have to go it alone. If you’re looking for a speech language pathologist in Chicago who can work with your child during the summer, we’re always here to help. Call our office today to learn more about our services, to schedule a consultation, or to learn what to look for in a qualified SLP in Chicago. 

Summer is a Great Time to Set Communication Goals

set communication goals

From Memorial Day until Labor Day, most offices tend to go into summer mode. People take their vacations. Crunch time has passed, and the next crunch time won’t arrive for a few months. During this work lull, you may find that you have time to focus on special projects for the first time in a long time. Maybe you have a side project at the office that you’ve been eager to work on, or perhaps you’ve been meaning to go back and review past projects to learn from your mistakes. Whatever is on your agenda this summer, remember to schedule some time to focus on yourself.

Personal development goals are difficult to make a priority when deadlines loom and deliverables must be sent. That’s why it’s so important to take every opportunity you get to work on your professional development. If this summer is a slow period at work for you, enjoy the break, but also make the most of it by doing something that will make you better and happier at your job. That could include taking a course to learn a new skill, seeking out management training, or possibly investing in executive speech coaching.

Granted, summer is a time for fun, and the prospect of working on public speaking and presentation skills may sound like torture to some people, but that’s exactly why it’s so important.

If giving a presentation or speech at work is something that fills you with dread, executive speech coaching can help you overcome that fear, making your work-life that much better and improving your chances for long-term career success.

In our Chicago executive speech coaching sessions, you can work one-on-one with a non-judgmental, professional coach who will help you:

  • speak more clearly and confidently
  • communicate more effectively with the people you manage and/or your superiors
  • give you tools and resources for staying calm and poised
  • help you better organize and present your presentations 

By learning how to keep an audience engaged, how to tailor presentations to different audiences, and how to speak with enthusiasm and sincerity, an executive speech coach can help you take your career to the next level.

If you work in the Chicago area, give our office a call. Whether you want an unbiased assessment of your current speaking skills or need help crafting a specific presentation, a Chicago executive speech coach can help you achieve your personal development goals this summer.


Some Warning Signs of Swallowing Disorders Among Children

Child Swallowing Disorder

As adults, we think of eating as a perfectly routine process. It’s all too easy to forget that taking a bite of food, chewing it, and swallowing it actually takes about fifty pairs of muscles and multiple nerves to accomplish. The difficulties that arise when the ability to swallow becomes impaired can be seen most readily in people who have suffered strokes or otherwise lost muscular function in their mouths.

But what about children?

Swallowing is a process that we all have to learn as babies, and for most children, the process moves along without too much difficulty. But when children have difficulty with swallowing, it may not be clear to parents what the root issue is. For example, a parent might simply think that they have a picky eater on their hands. This can be a dangerous assumption to make, because leaving a swallowing disorder undiagnosed in a child can eventually lead to serious health and behavioral problems.

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, which makes it the perfect time to go over the warning signs of child swallowing disorders that parents should keep an eye out for. If you notice one or more of these warning signs in your baby or toddler, it’s time to schedule an assessment with a Chicago speech language pathologist.

Warning Signs of Child Swallowing Disorders

Your child:

  • arches his/her back or stiffens while eating
  • cries or fusses while eating
  • falls asleep during meals
  • has difficulty breast feeding
  • has difficulty breathing while eating or drinking
  • refuses to eat or drink
  • eats only soft foods
  • eats only crunchy foods
  • takes an extended amount of time to eat
  • drools excessively
  • appears to have difficulty chewing
  • coughs, gags, or gets stuffy during meals
  • has a gurgly, breathy, or hoarse voice during or after eating
  • spits up or throws up frequently
  • isn’t gaining weight or growing

How an SLP Can Help

Scheduling an assessment with a speech language pathologist in Chicago if you notice one or more of these warning signs is an important first step. Your SLP can examine your child’s throat, watch them eat, and conduct special tests to determine what swallowing disorders and speech disorders, if any, might be present.

Swallowing disorders in children can be caused by developmental delays like autism, head and neck problems, and other physical conditions. Once you know what you’re dealing with, your SLP can help you create an intervention plan customized to your child. In some cases, swallowing disorders can be completely reversed. In others, medical interventions can address the problem. And in other cases, an SLP can help your child employ strategies to make eating and drinking more comfortable. 

Child Communication Disorders Often Go Undetected

Child Communication Disorders

No parent wants to face the possibility that their child might be struggling with a disorder of some kind. We all want to believe that our children are perfectly happy and healthy and always will be. That fear shared by all parents often contributes to the late diagnosis of communication disorders in children, which are among the most common disabilities children face. Nationwide, 11% of children age 3-6 have a speech, language, or swallowing disorder and almost 15% of school-age children have some level of hearing loss.

The great news is, with proper intervention, many child communication disorders can be substantially diminished, completely reversed, or even prevented. But early intervention is key. The sooner a speech language pathologist can assess a child and begin therapy, the better.

So this month – which is Better Hearing & Speech Month – take the all-important first step of setting up an appointment with a speech language pathologist.

The Dangers of Waiting

If a communication disorder goes undiagnosed, it can have a number of negative effects on your child’s academic success and quality of life. Some possible consequences of speech and language disorders include:

  • Diminished comprehension skills
  • Difficulty reading and writing at grade level
  • Strained social interactions or difficulty making friends
  • Behavioral problems stemming from frustration

Warning Signs to Looks For

In most cases, you can schedule an assessment with a speech language pathologist in Chicago for free, so there’s literally no down-side. If you notice a few of these warning signs in your child at the noted ages, it may be time to schedule an appointment.

Common Signs of Language Disorders 

  • Child does not smile or interact with others (six weeks and older)
  • Child does not babble (4–7 months)
  • Child makes only a few sounds or gestures (7–12 months)
  • Child shows no sign of understanding what others say (7 months–2 years)
  • Child says fewer than five words (12–18 months)
  • Words are not easily understood (18 months–2 years)
  • Child doesn’t put words together to make sentences (1.5–3 years)
  • Child has trouble playing and talking with other children (2–3 years)
  • Child has trouble with early reading and writing skills (2½–3 years) 


Common Signs of Speech Sound Disorders

  • Child says p, b, m, h, and w incorrectly in words (1–2 years)
  • Child says k, g, f, t, d, and n incorrectly in words (2–3 years)
  • Child produces speech that is unclear, even to familiar people (2–3 years)
  • Signs of Stuttering
  • Repeats first sounds of words
  • Speech breaks while trying to say a word
  • Stretched out sounds
  • Frustration when trying to get words out 

Signs of Voice Disorders 

  • A hoarse or breathy voice
  • A nasal-sounding voice
  • Signs of Hearing Loss
  • Shows a lack of attention to sounds (birth–1 year)
  • Does not respond when you call their name (7 months–1 year)
  • Does not follow simple directions (1–2 years)
  • Shows delays in speech and language development (birth–3 years)
  • Pulls or scratches at their ears
  • Has difficulty achieving academically, especially in reading and math
  • Is socially isolated and unhappy at school
  • Has persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise


Of course, children develop at different rates, and boys tend to be slower to communicate than girls. That said, if you’re concerned, don’t set those concerns aside. Take the step to schedule an assessment with a Chicago speech language pathologist. You just might make your little one’s childhood happier and healthier.