Babies and young children get more ear infections than adults do because their anatomy is a little different. We all have tubes in our ears that drain fluid, but in littlies they're much smaller and horizontal. This means that it can be difficult for fluid to drain out and it gets stuck in there. Sometimes this causes infection but other times it just sits there, uninfected and undetectable to parents.
WHY IT MATTERS.
When children have fluid in their ears it can (but not always) affect their hearing. In fact - it can be like they're hearing underwater. This means that noises are really muffled and speech can be almost impossible to detect. Seeing as children learn language through listening to adults talk, fluid in the ears can have a huge impact on language development. Would you be able to learn a new language from the bottom of a swimming pool?!
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUR CHILD
Most children experience an ear infection or two in their first couple of years, but if your child has recurring ear infections or fluid build up, the resulting hearing loss at such a critical period of language development could lead to a language delay. And fair enough - we can't expect a child to learn a whole language when they can't hear and feel lousy with an infection.
WHAT TO DO
You can't always tell when a child has fluid in their ears. Children with ear infections may:
be in pain, have reddened ears, have fluid leaking, not be able to sleep, have a fever, be clumsy or off balance, not respond to their name.
Children with fluid on their ears but no infection may not respond to what you're saying as you'd expect them to.
If your expect that your child has a language delay, the best first step is to get your child's ears checked by their GP and potentially their hearing checked. If your child has recurring ear infections, make sure you go to your GP every time even if you know how to treat it or have the medication. Often, if a child's language is delayed because of their hearing, things improve quickly when they can hear again and they don't need SLT support.