Time spent on hand held devices like tablets and smart phones has been identified to cause delay in expressive speech among children under two years o f age.
A Speech and Language Therapist at the University of Ghana, Mr Clement Amponsah, explained in an interview with the Ghanaian Times yesterday that expressive speech is the child’s ability to use his sounds and words together to communicate.
He has therefore advised parents not to allow their children under two years of age to spend more time than necessary on such gadgets.
According to him, a 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting at Sans Francisco, US, suggested that, the more time children under two years old spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other screens, the more likely their speech could delay.
It found that, the more time a child spent on a handheld device the more likely they were to have speech delays, adding that every 30 minutes in additional hand held screen time showed a 49 per cent increased risk of “expressive speech delay.”
He said based on a screening tool for language delay, researchers found that the more handheld screen time a child’s parent reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech.
Mr Amponsah said various studies support that finding, with one of them stating that deficiency in expressive speech make children tend to “use their bodies to try to communicate or use attention-seeking behaviours.”
He however, assured parents that in the era of technology, their children could not be left out but they should be careful with the time spent on and purpose of the use of the hand-held screens at all times.
“The use of tablet is a gateway to the Internet, therefore the benefits were enormous but parents should know how and when to allow their children have access to it,” he said.
Referring to the studies once again, the Therapist said, “Guide your child to use the screen as a tool rather than purely for entertainment because the best way to promote language learning is through personal interaction with children.”
He said the family system of living together in the same house, where children could interact and socialise with their peers and family members was no more, “these days what we see is parents living in their self-contained apartments, so their children do not have other kids around to play with.”
Mr Ampomah who also works at the SSNIT Specialist Hospital in Accra said children acquire language and speech through interaction either from their parents or the environment where they find themselves.
He said three out of six children who were brought to his facility once a week came with speech and language delay, which he described as unusual compared to sometime back.
“Parents walk in with their children, from two to three years and 40 to 50 per cent of them cannot even say ‘mummy or daddy’ which we all know is the common word children at their age should be able to mention, thorough assessment, you would establish that parents, expose these children early to the screen and these children spend not less than three to five hours behind the screens,” he said.
“Tablet does not play a role in language and speech development. Speech is how we pronounce words and language is how we use words to share ideas to inform people therefore children develop these skills at various stages,” he said.
He expressed concern about how some parents engaged their children with these gadgets to buy time to work either at the kitchen or working from home.
“They leave their children to play with their tablets or watch cartoons on the screen for several hours so that they can have time to concentrate on whatever they are doing, but this attitude is not good” he said.
Mr Amponsah advised parents whose children had speech delays to take the tablets or keep them away from the screens “seize the tablets from them for at least one month and you will see improvement because when the toddlers start interacting more, they easily attempt speaking or pronouncing words.”
BY AGNES OPOKU SARPONG