Home Audiology Poll Shows Caregivers Need Help Flagging Early Warning Signs

Poll Shows Caregivers Need Help Flagging Early Warning Signs

by Shari Robertson
written by
Affectionate multi-ethnic couple are shopping with their baby daughter who is riding in a baby carrier

May is upon us! Today marks the beginning of Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM), when public education about communication disorders shines a well-deserved spotlight on audiology and speech-language pathology. The 2019 BHSM theme is Communication Across the Lifespan, making the opening outreach focus on communication disorders in young children a great place to start. Today ASHA unveils new survey results that shed light on the state of parental awareness about the signs of speech, language, and hearing disorders. Early intervention and parental involvement has been a consistent focus—and passion—throughout my career.

So, I’m thrilled to lead the conversation on this topic this year in my role as 2019 ASHA president.

Since 2013, ASHA’s Identify the Signs campaign aims to improve awareness about early signs of these disorders. Twice in the campaign’s history, ASHA surveyed its members to find out what clinicians were seeing in relation to early identification of children with speech, language, and hearing challenges: Do the parents with whom they interact recognize early signs of communication disorders? Do they appreciate the benefits of early intervention? How long do they wait to get help for their children? What barriers keep parents from seeking treatment early?

The poll released today, however, asked these questions of parents—the first time the Identify the Signs campaign went straight to the source. ASHA, partnering with the polling firm YouGov, conducted a nationally representative poll of more than 1,100 parents of children ages 0 to 8 years old. The results provide a snapshot of how U.S. households perceive communication disorders.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of ASHA’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, so another key goal was to get a read on households across the most populous racial and ethnic minority groups to better understand and serve these populations and advance our own cultural competency.

The results are both enlightening and reinforcing. Among findings, the poll indicates parents still aren’t aware of many warning signs of early communication disorders. In fact, only 23% could identify 75% or more of the signs from a provided list. Only 5% correctly identified all the signs.

Results also reveal one in four parents have concerns about their child’s ability to communicate. This indicates a significant worry about communication delays among today’s parents, underscoring the importance and relevance of our work as audiologists and SLPs. Others may not fully appreciate this widespread and pressing need—making findings like these a powerful self-advocacy tool.

Other findings are truly gratifying, showing how much parents appreciate communication milestones and the value they see in our work. These include:

  • 95% of parents think communication milestones are among the most important developmental milestones.
  • 95% also believe untreated communication disorders can harm a child’s academic performance, including the ability to read and write, and 94% understand communication disorders can harm a child’s social skills.
  • More than eight in 10 (81%) of parents who sought treatment for their child said they saw a “great deal” or a “good amount” of improvement.

This last statistic is one we should not just take pride in but shout from the rooftops. I’m not sure how many professions can claim such an overwhelming success rate, especially as determined by parents—who, understandably, set a high bar when it comes to their child’s outcome.

I hope you will take the time to review the study and then join me in sharing this information broadly, bringing it to the attention of your respective professional and personal communities. ASHA will post resources to help you share these statistics on social media accounts throughout May on the BHSM website. Also participate in the social media contest, Speaking Up For Communication.

ASHA members can also use these findings as fodder for advocacy at the grassroots level. I invite you to reach out to your local newspapers, television, and radio stations offering to discuss the results. I’ll do the same, starting with a national media tour kick-off on May 1. But I need help!

Your efforts in making local media contacts can help families in your area learn more about early signs of communication disorders as well as raise the profile of our professions and the important work we do. ASHA created easy-to-use templates to use in contacting media.

We work every day to give people a voice. Let’s use ours, collectively, to make the case for the importance of communication, the needs of those who face communication challenges, and the critical, effective work our professions do every day.

Happy BHSM!

Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP, is 2019 ASHA president. She’s a recently retired professor in the Department of Communication Disorders, Special Education and Disability Services, and former provost’s associate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She is CEO of Dynamic Resources, which publishes SLP-written children’s books. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 1, Language Learning and Education.

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