- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) When Page Allende's son, Ashe, turned 1, he still hadn't said his first word.
When he finally did begin speaking, Miss Allende said, his words were difficult to understand.
"At 16 months he was pointing to objects and saying things that didn't sound anything like the name of the object," she said.
When Miss Allende couldn't understand her son, the child became frustrated and began to cry.
"Then he would get very quiet," she said. "The scariest part was that he would just walk away when he thought he couldn't answer."
That's when Miss Allende, who lives in suburban Henrico County, asked county school officials if someone could evaluate Ashe's speech. She found out about Virginia's early intervention system, the Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia, which provides services to toddlers and infants with developmental disabilities or delays.
Every state has a program like this in accordance with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part C.
"The Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia is a system within Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse services," said David Mills, technical assistant consultant for the program. "We work with 40 interagency coordinating councils that provide services to families. They tap into resources in their localities."
The program serves about 6,800 children with developmental delays and disabilities, Mr. Mills said. Anyone, including parents, can refer children up to age 3 for free evaluations, as Miss Allende did.
Parent training is the focus of early intervention, said Mary Wood-Maloney, manager of the Chesapeake Center, a pediatric speech and language therapy provider in Richmond. "We talk to parents about what to do at home, and we model activities with them."
Miss Allende said some days her son wouldn't cooperate in therapy.
"The next day when I would work with him, he would do the work," Miss Allende said. "The therapist would always suggest things that we could make and games to play at home."
Because language and speech therapy is play-based, therapists must come up with unique ways to help children create sounds.
For instance, Miss Allende and her 2-year-old daughter, Kaki, who is currently in speech therapy, blow bubbles to help Kaki form the "wh" sound.
Kaki will continue work in early intervention until she turns 3, at which time she'll move into the public school program, just as Ashe did.
Five percent to 10 percent of children have language disorders that require intervention, said Lynn Blachman, chairman for speech language therapy in Henrico schools.
Many conditions, including syndromes such as Down, congenital defects such as cleft lip, oxygen deprivation, hearing impairment and high-risk pregnancy, can cause a child to have speech problems.
But difficulties aren't always linked to a condition.
In fact, most often language disability exists without any known physical cause, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Signals that could indicate a child has such problems are a lack of consonant sounds coming from a 1-year-old. For example, if he or she is mostly using vowel sounds, a parent may want to seek evaluation. And, if a 6-to-8-month-old isn't babbling or cooing, this could also be a red flag.
"Cooing sounds are the beginning of expressive language and speech," Miss Blachman said. "Laughing is the beginning of learning communication."
Jan Moss, a speech language pathologist for Henrico schools, agreed.
"Communicative opportunities and interaction begin early," she said. "Between the ages of 1 and 4, [children] will have sound production, and you'll see the emergence of the child's first words as well as pragmatic social-language development like asking questions and communicating messages."
Many children's language development skills understanding conversation and vocabulary, understanding directions and formulating sentences through grammar are on track, but their sound production skills are delayed.

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