Some children take around a month or two longer than the others to say their first words and that's alright in some cases. Since all children follow their inherent timeline, it becomes challenging for parents to understand if their child has a speech delay. A child may be a late talker, or they may be showing signs of severe speech delay. Instead of waiting and watching, parents should talk to a qualified & experienced speech-language pathologist (SLP) about their observations and doubts.
Here are the frequently asked questions (FAQs) about speech delay, the causes of speech delay, signs and symptoms of speech delay in children, and the available treatment options.
- What Is Considered A Speech Delay?
- Speech Delay vs. Language Delay: What’s The Difference?
- Does Your Child Have A Speech Delay?
- How Does An SLP Diagnose Speech Delays In Children?
- What Can Cause Speech Delay in A Child?
- How Can Parents Support Speech Development Of A Child With Speech Delay?
- At-Home Exercises Parents Can Practice With Children to Reduce Speech Delay
- How Can Stamurai Help A Child With Speech Delay?
- What Are Some Questions About Speech Delay And Speech Therapy You Should Be Asking Your SLP?
1. What Is Considered A Speech Delay?
Infants begin crying and cooing between 6 and 8-weeks of age. These are their first attempts to communicate. At around 6-months of age, a toddler begins to babble. Soon they begin to mimic speech sounds. A neurotypical child should be able to say their first words by their first birthday. Typically, a 2-year-old can say around 50 words, and a 3-year-old can say around 1000 words.
When a child is unable to reach these speech milestones on time, experts may call it a speech delay or alalia. Speech delay affects as many as 10% of all preschool children.
Early diagnosis of speech delay by an SLP can save your child years of therapy. Today, speech delays can be effectively treated via therapy. Early interventions have better outcomes for children who have a speech delay.
2. Speech Delay vs. Language Delay: What’s The Difference?
The terms “speech delay” and “language delay” are often used interchangeably by several people, albeit incorrectly.
Speech is only a part of spoken language. It is the act of making sounds and words. A child with speech delay may not say their first words even when they are 16 or 18-months old. A toddler with speech delay may be able to form 2 to 3-word sentences, but it may be difficult to understand them. The child may not be able to express their thoughts and ideas using the correct word sounds.
These are all signs of speech delay. It can be frustrating and heartbreaking for a parent to not understand what their child is saying.
On the other hand, a child with language delay may be able to produce the correct sounds and words, but they can’t use these words to make decipherable sentences.
Most children have either a speech delay or a language delay. However, some may have both speech and language delays. Since telling speech and language delays apart may be impossible for an untrained individual, it is imperative to talk to an SLP about your child's symptoms for proper assessment & diagnosis.
3. Does Your Child Have A Speech Delay?
It may be difficult for a parent to understand if their child is a late-talker or if they indeed have a speech delay. So, we have put together the common signs of speech delay by age group.
Speech Delay in Children Aged 6-9-months
A child between the ages of 6 and 9-months should babble and coo. They should especially coo in response to a known voice or face. Babbling precedes talking. If your 9-month-old isn't babbling yet, it may be one of the early signs of speech delay.In that case, you need to speak to your pediatrician and an SLP.
Speech Delay in Children Aged 12-months
A 12-month-old child should be saying their first words. They should say "mama", "dada", "papa" or something similar with intent. They may even try to imitate two or three-syllable words that they commonly hear.
Speech Delay in Children Aged 18-months
An 18-month-old child who doesn't use at least 4 to 10 words, but uses gestures and vocalizations only is at a high risk of speech delay. Another sign of speech delay in an 18-month-old child is difficulty imitating sounds.
Speech Delay in Children Aged 24-months
If your 2-year-old toddler cannot produce words spontaneously or uses fewer than 50 words repeatedly, they may be experiencing speech delay. 70% of the speech of a typical 24-month-old should be understood by strangers. However, if they are mostly using gestures and a lion's share of their speech is incomprehensible, then the child may have a speech delay.
Speech Delay in Children Aged 36-months
A 3-year-old should be able to count up to 3, use 3-5 word sentences, and be understood 80-90% of the time. If your toddler isn't speaking yet, using very few words, or cannot speak intelligibly, these are telltale signs of speech delay in a 3-year-old.
Here is a checklist of the speech milestones you can refer to if you have reason to believe that your child is experiencing delayed speech.
4. How Does An SLP Diagnose Speech Delays In Children?
An SLP will conduct an initial evaluation of your child’s speech and language skills. They may ask you multiple questions about your child’s medical history and your family’s history of speech and language delays. A thorough medical history and examination are crucial for the diagnosis of speech delay in younger children.
In many cases, the professional will prepare an account of maternal illnesses during pregnancy, and other complications during and post-birth, such as infections, asphyxia, use of ototoxic medication, and psychological history. This information will help the professional rule out physiological causes of speech delay such as hearing problems.
Physical examination of the child’s mouth and other parts involved in the production of speech is also critical during complete evaluation.
Sometimes, children with speech delays also experience language delays. Therefore, you can expect the SLP to ask questions about –
- How much your child understands spoken language (receptive language)
- How your child expresses themselves in most situations (expressive language)
- The oral-motor health of your child (the proper functioning of their jaws, lips, tongue, and palate, and their ability to swallow)
After taking the results and reports from multiple rounds of assessment and evaluation the SLP may recommend speech therapy for your child.
5. What Can Cause Speech Delay in A Child?
Speech delay may mean that your child is not meeting the speech milestones on time. They may or may not eventually catch up with their peers depending upon the underlying cause(s) of speech delay.
Here are some of the common causes of speech delay in children –
Several children with oral-motor delays experience speech delay. In such a case, the chief cause is physiological rather than psychological. The underlying cause may be as simple as a tongue-tie or relatively more complex like childhood apraxia of speech (CAS).
Nonetheless, a child going through speech delay needs to undergo a thorough evaluation by an SLP. Some oral motor problems require a simple surgery, while others demand prolonged and intense speech therapy.
Maternal infections during pregnancy like German measles, use of ototoxic drugs, or recurring ear infections can lead to hearing loss in a child. A child with compromised hearing is likely to have trouble making word sounds or saying words.
You can check if your child has hearing loss by doing a small test at home. A child older than 1-year should be able to look at objects when you name them. However, if your child only looks at the object when you use gestures there’s a high chance that they have hearing loss.
The signs of compromised hearing in children may be very subtle. Sometimes, delayed speech is the only visible sign. It is always a good idea to consult a pediatrician or SLP if you notice a speech or language delay.
Developmental Speech and Language Disorder
Developmental speech and language disorders may be a result of anomalies in the brain structure and functions. Children with developmental speech-language disorders may experience problems in producing speech sounds, and understanding/producing spoken language.
Developmental disorders may lead to learning disorders later in life. Speech and language delays may be early signs of learning disability in children.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition. The exact causes of ASD are unknown. Each individual with ASD may have varying sets of signs and symptoms.
One of the common signifiers of ASD is a social communication disorder. Children with ASD may also have moderate to severe speech and language delays. In many cases, a speech delay is a sign of ASD. Learn more about speech delay vs. autism right here.
The severity of speech delay due to ASD can be reduced with the help of speech therapy. SLPs recommend early intervention for children for the best possible results. Consult a speech therapist for speech delay treatment that can enhance your child’s speech skills.
Lack of Auditory Stimulation
When a child grows up in an environment that is not rich in speech sounds and interactions, they may not develop speech and language skills on time. Children need to hear spoken language to be able to speak.
Lack of verbal stimulation can lead to a child experiencing a speech delay.
Other Neurological Problems
Some neurological problems (which may be present since birth) can affect how the muscles needed for speaking move and coordinate with each other. Speech delay may be a sign of congenital or hereditary neurological disorders in children.
6. How Can Parents Support Speech Development Of A Child With Speech Delay?
Start at the very beginning. Begin talking to your child at birth and continue speaking to them normally (about your day, what you are doing, or read to them) even when they are too young to respond.
- Acknowledge your baby’s coos and babbling. Respond to them with positive signals.
- Play peek-a-boo or patty-cake with your baby.
- Read books, recite poetry and sing songs to your child whenever you have the time.
- Talk to your baby throughout the day. Narrate what you are doing, what you are thinking, or where other people are.
- Give them your full attention whenever they are trying to communicate with you.
- If they are old enough to talk and respond, always wait after you ask them a question.
- Expand on what they are saying. For example, if they say "toy" you can say, "Do you want that toy?"
Children make plenty of mistakes while they rapidly acquire speech and language skills. Do not correct their mistakes abrasively and frequently. If they are mispronouncing, you can model the word and request them to repeat it after you.
7. At-Home Exercises Parents Can Practice With Children to Reduce Speech Delay
Spend a couple of extra minutes doing these exercises for speech delay in toddlers to reduce their speech delay.
Allot a Fixed Reading Time
Leaving your TV or music system on for your infant or toddler will not boost their speech. Children need interaction to hone speech skills.
Read to your child before bedtime. Pick out books that have lots of colorful illustrations and images. Encourage them to repeat sounds and words. For example, while reading a book on animals, you can ask your toddler, “what does the cow say” and repeat “moo” with them. It can be fun as well as educational for your child.
Practice Narrating And Self-Talk
It is an age-old, proven technique to boost speech skills in an infant or toddler. Children who grow up in a language and conversation-rich environment, tend to pick up speech and language skills quickly.
You can ensure that by describing what you are doing, and where you are going to your child whenever they are in earshot. For example, if you are washing vegetables, say “we are washing vegetables.” When you are playing with cars, describe each one, such as, “yellow car,” or “red truck.”
Repeat the words a few times for your child to grasp the sounds. It doesn’t matter if they are too young to respond. Repeating the simple two-word or three-word phrases will actively stimulate your child’s speech and language centers.
Use Parallel Talk
Parallel talk is similar to self-talk, but you will use parallel talk to describe your child’s activities. For example, if it’s dinner time, you can begin picking up each item in front and name them, such as “spoon,” “veggies,” “carrot,” and “milk.”
Once your child begins to talk, be sure to add to what they are saying. For example, if they say “juice,” respond by saying “Juice. Do you want more juice?”
Expand Your Child’s Speech
Once your toddler is saying one and two-word phrases, you need to begin expanding on your child’s speech.
When they point at a toy and name it, be sure to expand on their speech. For example, maybe your child points at the ball and says “ball.” You can say, “Yellow ball” or “play ball” in response. It is a proven technique to boost a child’s vocabulary.
Sing To Your Child
Singing is a fun and effective way to engage your child and grab their attention. You can learn and sing nursery rhymes to your child. You can sing your favorites from “The Sound of Music” or you can go full “Hamilton” when no one’s hearing except your child.
The melody and rhythm stimulate a child’s brain. Singing around your child will enhance their ability to understand spoken language and stimulate their spoken language.
You can begin singing to your child long before they begin babbling!
Always Praise Their Efforts
Never forget to praise your child's efforts in communication through spoken language. Whether they have babbled for the first time or used a new word, be sure to tell them what a good job they are doing.
Verbal positive reinforcement goes a long way to building a child's confidence. They will carry this confidence and esteem into adulthood! So, even if you see them fumble a little or mispronounce a new word, refrain from outright criticisms.
8. How Can Stamurai Help A Child With Speech Delay?
Stamurai has trained and certified SLPs. The team will match your family with therapists who can address the unique needs of your child.
The SLP will conduct a thorough evaluation and assessment of speech delay before telling you about the type, intensity, and duration of speech therapy your child needs.
Your child’s age will play an integral role in how the SLP interacts with them.
Online Speech Therapy for Kids - Ages 0 to 3-years
The parents of any child younger than 3-years need to interact with the SLP directly during the video sessions. The SLP will work with the parents and take direct feedback on the child's progress. The parents will learn the therapy activities for speech delay and speech delay exercises from the SLP and practice them with their child outside session hours.
Online Speech Therapy for Kids - Ages 3 to 6-years
Slightly older children can attend speech therapy online for speech delay with the SLP directly. However, their parents should attend these sessions along with them. Both will learn valuable speech skills and exercises from the SLP. Parents should try to reinforce these exercises outside the sessions to continue at-home practice.
Online Speech Therapy for Kids - Ages 7-years and above
Most children older than 7-years can attend sessions with SLPs on their own. Their parents can receive feedback from the Stamurai team regarding their progress. The parents can talk to the SLP directly if they have any concerns or questions.
9. What Are Some Questions About Speech Delay And Speech Therapy You Should Be Asking Your SLP?
- What are the possible reasons my child isn’t talking yet?
- My child only responds to gestures. Is there a chance they have hearing loss?
- My child does not speak in front of strangers or in unfamiliar environments; do they have selective mutism?
- What kind of problems can my child face due to speech delay?
- Does my child have speech delay only? Or do they have signs of language delay as well?
- What can I do to boost my child’s speech skills at home?
- Does a speech delay mean learning disorders in the future?
- Will a speech delay affect my child’s quality of life?
- Could my child have a developmental delay or congenital condition?