A poll by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association finds that 1 in 4 parents of children up to age 8 have had concerns about their child's ability to communicate. But more than a quarter of them did not seek help.

ASHA President Shari Robertson said most parents don't know where to get help and many get bad advice from pediatricians, teachers or people who tell them that the kids will grow out of it. Robertson said this is not good advice because early intervention is key to helping improve communication skills.

If parents can get involved at the earlier stages of development, many communication disorders can be prevented or eliminated.

"Parents know their children better than anyone. Trust their gut instinct. If they are concerned that there might be a problem, that's when they need to start looking for assistance," said Robertson.

There are many early warning signs of communication disorders. For example, a toddler should be turning to listen to sounds in their environment. After about six months, they should respond to whoever is calling their name. They should also start to imitate the sounds around them.

At about a year old, children should have the beginnings of real words, being able to name things and people in their environment.

By 18 months to 2 years old, they should be putting two words together.

For children ages 3 to 4, people should be able to understand what they're saying. If the child's speech is difficult to understand, or a child is frustrated or withdrawing from communication, Robertson said that's a big red flag that needs to be dealt with immediately.

The study also found that 95% of parents agree that speech language and hearing milestones are some of the most important. But many are not sure what those milestones may be. Only one quarter of them were able to identify the majority of early warning signs. Only 5% could identify all of them.

The association's website, www.identifythesigns.org, provides all the early signs of communication disorders, as well as what a parent can do to help their child's communication skills grow and where a parent can find a certified speech language pathologist.

She said children who are enrolled in preschools and other schools can work with a speech language pathologist employed at the schools.

At home, parents should be talking with and reading with their children. Robertson said it's two of the best things parents can do to help improve a child's communication skills.

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