A Child’s First Words

This post is made possible through the support of Cochlear. All opinions are my own.

It seemed like a technicality: after having my son’s first birthday picture taken at our local newspaper’s office, I was asked if I wanted to complete a communication screening from the First Words Project. While I knew some of my answers to questions like “does baby look to where you point?” had not been “yes,” I wasn’t especially worried…

I wasn’t especially worried until l got a letter from the project that said Wayne was not communicating at the level that would be typical for a 12-month old. I was invited to come in for a detailed screening.

I would be dishonest to say the questionnaire and subsequent invitation to a detailed screening were totally unexpected. I have a degree in child development. I have an older child who had hit typical milestones by twelve months that Wayne had not achieved. I had stood behind him, at 4 months old, clapping loudly hoping he would startle (he did not). After that, I had gotten his hearing tested (he passed the hearing test).

But something was not right.

He had very few words.

He was not looking at objects I tried to direct his attention to.

He was, in the official language of the First Words evaluator on a Communication Evaluation Report, “communicating below what is expected for a child his age.”

Cochlear Implants

Over the next year, Wayne participated in a therapeutic play group at First Words and continued to undergo evaluations. I was fanatical about doing every single activity designed to provide additional support, such as “increasing sound and word productions during predictable routines” and “increasing use of gestures.” I had already been a very interactive parent; I probably looked a BIT frenetic in my effort to connect with him.

By his second birthday, the project evaluators told me he was no longer “below what is expected for a child his age.” He had subsequent annual evaluations until kindergarten, when he was declared ready for kindergarten.

Although Wayne’s communication issues ended up being resolved (in layperson terms, he had apparently been a “slow talker), I developed (and maintained) a hyperawareness about young children and communication issues.

My own personal experience of constant anxiety about my child’s future, and the possibility that some doors would be closed to him because of a communication disorder, is what compelled me to join the Cochlear team to discuss how they help people have access to sound.

One to six out of every 1,000 children in the United States may be born with a severe to profound hearing loss.¹ Just as early intervention helped our family determine if my son had a communication disorder (and rule out hearing loss at 4 months of age), Cochlear knows how critical early intervention is for children who may have hearing loss. Identifying and treating hearing loss early has been confirmed by research to lead to better speech, language, cognitive and social skills outcomes compared to later-identified children.²

Cochlear provides parents with online support, information, and the opportunity to connect with others specifically about hearing loss. If a child does have hearing loss and his or her audiologist, doctor, or other qualified professional determines a cochlear implant should be considered, the resources at IWantYouToHear.com will help the family start the process of figuring everything out (medical professionals are of course absolutely critical to evaluating the decision).

For Natalie, Cochlear’s role in her life as a toddler will extend into the rest of her lifetime.

I was devastated when I got that first letter from the First Words Project telling me Wayne was not communicating on a level of other children his age. I still struggled to understand, even as I went through the motions: the evaluations, the play groups, the home activities. I called one of the evaluators to lay bare my fears: that the outcome of these activities was not going to be good. Fortunately, she listened, with empathy and expertise.

Cochlear aims to do the same: meet new parents where they are, with empathy and expertise.

As their motto says, they want their patients to:

Hear Now. And Always

Cochlear ImplantsOn June 1 from 7 am – 7 pm MDT, Cochlear is hosting a Facebook Q&A — Building Your Child’s Brain, One Word at a Time — with the Thirty Million Words team. Ask a question at the chat! Click here for more info.

Note: The Thirty Million Words Q&A is over, but you are welcome to follow their Facebook Page for continued access to information about young children and communication skills!  ~ pk 6/2/16


  1. The Prevalence and Incidence of Hearing Loss in Children. Available from: http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Prevalence-and-incidence-of-Hearing-Loss-in-Children/
  2. Tharpe AM, Gustafson S. Management of Children with Mild, Moderate, and Moderately Severe Sensorineural Hearing Loss. Otolaryngol Clin North Am 2015 Sep 30.

2 thoughts on “A Child’s First Words

  1. Paula, I believe you have done more good than you know with this post. A personal story is always so impactful – thank you for sharing! And may parents who are concerned about this issue reach out for help and support, as you did.

    • Nancy, thanks for your comment. He is almost 17 and I think about that period of our lives so frequently. The advances that have been made in assessment and treatment of communication disorders are very heartening. However, for every parent facing that first developmental question mark, it’s a terrifying time. Hopefully this post in some small way helps them know they are not alone!

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