Home Advocacy Poll Shows Need for Raising Awareness of Communication Disorders

Poll Shows Need for Raising Awareness of Communication Disorders

by Elise Davis-McFarland
Female couple sitting in their home, playing with their baby son.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM)—a time to celebrate our colleagues and collaborators, our clients and the everyday breakthroughs they make under our care, the latest practice and research advancements in the field, and the professions as a whole. This is also a time to look more broadly—and consider what the public at large knows about communication disorders.

In this area, there’s work to do, indicate results of a new poll surveying more than 1,100 ASHA members about early identification—and there likely always will be. For example, 69 percent of poll respondents say parents of young children are not aware of the early warning signs of speech/language disorders.

What better time to educate than BHSM?

ASHA released the poll results to mark the start of our annual awareness month. Questions covered parents’ awareness about early signs of communication disorders and the benefits of early intervention.

infographic for early identification

Aside from the finding about parental awareness of early warning signs, other interesting results in the “room for improvement” category include:

  • 32 percent state, on average, symptoms of hearing loss go undetected in children for a year or longer.
  • Just 12 percent feel parents generally act within 6 months of first observing signs of a speech-language delay or disorder—and only 20 percent say parents generally act within six months of first indicating concern about their child’s hearing.
  • 70 percent don’t think parents of young children fully appreciate how vital everyday communication—talking, reading, singing—is to their child’s development.

Yet, a number of bright spots exist. Among them:

  • 51 percent of polled members think parents’ knowledge about the benefits of early identification and treatment for communication disorders improved over the last five years
  • 68 percent foresee public awareness about early warning signs improving in the next five years.

Without a doubt, these results demonstrate a need for continued public education. Some prevailing notions and justifications historically discouraging early intervention—“Einstein didn’t talk until he was 4,” as an example—are still alive and well.

And there’s another poll highlight I feel particularly good about. Members feel one key factor to increased awareness has to do with allied professionals holding more discussions with parents about communication disorders. Continued outreach to these professionals—pediatricians, preschool teachers, daycare providers—is key.

On the awareness front, I participated in a national broadcast media tour on May 1 about the poll results along with one of my ASHA Board of Directors colleagues, Charles Bishop, chair of the Audiology Advisory Council. We stressed the need for parents to familiarize themselves with the early signs of communication disorders and encouraged them to seek an evaluation at their earliest inkling of concern.

An SLP improves outcomes for early-intervention clients by changing the way she relates with parents.

We acknowledged many parents are still being encouraged to “wait and see,” despite prevailing evidence of the benefits of early intervention. We stressed the fact that nothing is lost by checking out a concern, and that parents should trust their instincts.

We also unveiled a new broadcast public service announcement (PSA), released under the umbrella of ASHA’s “Identify the Signs” campaign.  The PSA is a play on the popular “Alexa” voice assistant, and we hope this captures parents’ attention and spurs action.

Efforts continue at the national level, through Identify the Signs and other ASHA campaigns. They’ll grow even stronger with your support. At 198,000, we are truly a grassroots force. Please consider sharing the PSA with your colleagues, social media network, family and friends. You can also take advantage of numerous other supporting materials.

Through the BHSM  Speaking Up For Communication social media contest, for example, ASHA provides shareable, eye-catching and educational graphics on weekly BHSM themes: early identification in children, hearing loss in school-age children, swallowing disorders in adults, and older Americans and falls.

However you spread the word, I wish you a happy Better Hearing & Speech Month!

Elise Davis-McFarland, PhD, CCC-SLP, is 2018 ASHA president. pr@asha.org

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