10 Myths About Speech Delay in Children

by Team Stamurai

Speech problems are common among preschool-aged children. Speech delay, when left unaddressed, can be a serious problem in children.

Significant speech delays may be directly related to neurodevelopmental or health disorders. Although not all speech delays signify autism spectrum disorder, Tourette's, or stuttering, sometimes they may be results of underlying neurodevelopmental disorders or health conditions.

Myth #1 About Speech Delay in Kids: Children Will Grow Out Of Speech Problems On Their Own

Yes. Sometimes children indeed outgrow their speech problems. Children who begin stuttering by the age of 18 months may speak smoothly once more without any intervention.

However, children who are showing a delay in speech development may not recover on their own. All late-talkers may not be able to catch up on speech development without expert help.

Speech delay in toddlers may also be a sign of disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), expressive language disorder, hearing loss, selective mutism, cerebral palsy (CP), and receptive aphasia.

Saying things like "my child will grow out of his speech delay" may be harmful to their emotional wellbeing and physical & mental health in the long run. If your toddler is a late-talker or you have trouble understanding what s/he says, it may be time to consult a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

Myth #2 About Speech Delay in Kids: My Child Doesn’t Speak Clearly Because S/He Is Lazy

Let us consider the example of Steve, he says "bus" clearly as "bus". However, instead of saying "sun", he says "tun".

If your child does something similar, you may think ‘oh, s/he can say “s” in “bus”, but s/he’s just being lazy when s/he isn’t saying the “s” in “sun”.’

Well, that's not true. Your child isn't being lazy, since Steve isn't lazy either. He has a phonological disorder.

Phonological disorder is very common in preschoolers. It happens when they struggle to learn the new rules of a language and the manner in which sounds combine to form words.

As children begin talking, they automatically make certain rule-based changes to simplify their speech. This makes complicated words like ‘spaghetti’ and ‘hospital’ simpler for them to process and say. They may pronounce them as ‘pagetti’ and ‘hopital’ respectively by applying their own rule-based changes.

Phonological disorders become prominent in toddlers when these rules to simplify words do not disappear by the time they are 4 years old. It has nothing to do with laziness. Phonological disorders in children respond well to intervention by a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

Myth #3 About Speech Delay in Kids: It’s Normal For Boys To Talk Late

Research shows that it is indeed common for girls to mature faster than boys. A girl child may learn to babble and talk earlier than a boy child. However, this difference in development should even out by the time they are ready for preschool.

Sadly, boys are also at a higher risk of language delay and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boys are also more likely to develop a stutter as compared to girls. If you have trouble understanding what your 4-year-old child is saying, you should consider visiting an SLP.

An SLP can assess and evaluate your child's speech and language skills. They can tell you whether your child is at a high risk of ASD and can refer you to experts, if necessary.

Myth #4 About Speech Delay in Kids: It Runs In The Family. His Dad/Uncle/Grandpa Didn’t Talk Until He Was 5 Years Old

Speech delays that “run in the family” need thorough investigation. Since boys are more likely to develop language and speech disorders as compared to girls their age, any sign of speech delay warrants an SLP visit.

There may be a history of a family member who turned out fine without intervention despite their speech delay. It does not guarantee that your son or daughter will recover on their own as well.

If speech disorders including stuttering run in the family, your child may benefit from an early intervention and speech therapy.

Myth #5 About Speech Delay in Kids: Their Older Sibling Or Parent Talks For Them, SoThey Don’t Need To

Children talk spontaneously. If you, your spouse, or an older child is talking for the toddler in question, there may be a chance you are all compensating for their speech delay. Sometimes, parents, older siblings and even grandparents, may unknowingly, compensate for the speech delay of a child.

Research shows that the speech and language development for first, second and last-born children progress at the same rate. Interestingly, second-born children, sometimes, show superior language and conversational skills as compared to their older siblings.

While older siblings or a parent may take charge of a conversation, it should have no negative impact on the speech development of the younger child.

Myth #6 About Speech Delay in Kids: S/he Talks Fine At Home But S/he Is Shy At School

When a child speaks confidently at home but refuses to talk in school, it may be a sign of selective mutism. A child with selective mutism may refuse to talk in front of strangers, at daycare, or in other lesser-known environments.

Currently, experts define selective mutism as a severe anxiety disorder. It can affect children of any age. However, a child with selective mutism typically has their speech and language development on track.

One of the telltale signs is that your child will talk fluently and confidently at home, but they may be unable to speak in specific situations like in front of distant relatives, classmates, or new people.

Anyone with selective mutism requires the help of a counselor or therapist to cope with the high levels of anxiety that keeps them from speaking.

Myth #7 About Speech Delay in Kids: My Child Can Understand But Chooses Not To Talk

Are you sure your child can understand you? It is typically evident when they can follow simple instructions like “finish the juice”, “don’t go there” or “call daddy”.

If your child can understand you, but cannot speak clearly, then it may be a sign of expressive language delay or disorder. When a child is unable to communicate verbally, it may be a sign of expressive language disorder.

Developmental expressive language disorder (DELD) typically only affects expressive language. Therefore, it doesn’t affect a child’s ability to understand, listen, read or produce sounds.

A toddler with DLED may only speak in short, 2 or 3-word sentences. When you ask them a question, they may not be able to answer since they cannot find the right words.

Myth #8 About Speech Delay in Kids: My Child Has Delayed Speech Because Of Our Strict Parenting Style

If you blame or hold yourself responsible for your child’s delayed speech, it’s time to learn the truth.

It is only natural for parents to love their children and feel guilty if their children begin to show speech problems. There is no evidence to support the myth that parenting styles influence speech development in a child.

While strict parenting styles have been related to behavior problems in children, they do not contribute to speech delays in toddlers.

Personality traits like impulsiveness, calmness, stubbornness, and spontaneity, which may be direct or indirect results of parenting styles, do not influence speech and language development in children.

Myth #9 About Speech Delay in Kids: S/He Has A Speech Delay Because S/he Is Bilingual

Do you speak two or more languages at home? Then, it may be normal for your child to confuse languages and use words from multiple languages to express themselves early on. However, it should not hinder their speaking abilities.

As a toddler, your child’s complex language development should continue at par in each language they hear and speak at home. Being bilingual gives children the advantage of learning at least two languages, cultures and thus form strong ties with multiple communities.

Although bilingualism has been blamed for stuttering and speech delays in children, there is no research to support the claim.

Myth #10 About Speech Delay in Kids: Speech Therapy Can’t Help A Child

Early intervention is of utmost importance for the holistic wellbeing of a child who shows signs of speech and language disorders.

Speech-language pathologists have the diagnostic tools for the assessment and evaluation of your child’s speech. There is a wide spectrum of speech disorders out there that have potential therapy and treatment.

The right help from a speech pathologist is all your toddler needs to be able to speak clearly, confidently, and effortlessly. Speech therapy can address selective mutism, expressive language disorder, and stuttering in children. The earliest interventions tend to have the best results.

When it comes to our children's speech, we must be able to tell the myths apart from the facts. It is possible to improve a child's speech development with the help of a certified and experienced speech-language pathologist.

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