Children accomplish a lot during the first 12-months of their lives. They should babble within the first 6-months, and by their first birthday, they should say their first word.
As a parent, it is only natural to worry if your child isn't saying as many as 20 words by the time they are 18-months old.
You must not forget that every child develops at their own pace, but it is crucial to consider their developmental milestones. You can refer to a standard speech and language development checklist to see how many boxes your child is ticking off.
Few parents still practice the "wait-and-see" approach. We recommend consulting with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) if your child is already showing signs of speech delay.
When Should You Consult A Speech Therapist For Your Child?
Preschoolers often mispronounce words and have difficulty making complete sentences. It's entirely normal! When young children begin to learn a language, they experiment with different sounds, tongue, and lip movement to create new words and explore new ways of putting words together to make sentences.
It is often difficult to tell simple mispronunciations apart from speech problems in children.
Here are 17 common signs that your child requires speech therapy –
1. Your Child Isn’t Babbling
You should expect your child to begin babbling between the ages of 4-months to 6-months. If your 7-month old isn’t babbling yet, you need to check with your pediatrician for auditory deficits.
If reports suggest that your child has proper auditory functions, it may be time to meet with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to determine the course of action.
Talking to a pediatric speech therapist can help you steer clear of the myths surrounding speech delay in children. A speech therapist can also tell you all about the exercises you can do at home to help your child’s speech and language development.
2. Your Child Has Been Stuttering
Stuttering can develop by the time your child is around 2-years of age. Stuttering can resemble normal disfluency in children, but it is more frequent.
They may repeat whole words, one syllable, or block altogether before saying a word. Toddlers typically show very few or no secondary behaviors of stuttering.
If your preschooler has been showing signs of stuttering for longer than a month, it’s wise to consult a speech therapist.
3. Your Child Doesn’t Engage In Group Play
A child who prefers being alone or playing parallelly in the presence of children their age may have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Modern medical sciences have made early diagnosis of ASD possible to facilitate early intervention.
Children with ASD may experience speech and language delays, along with social communication disorders. Engaging in speech therapy early on can equip your child with the necessary skills to participate in social interactions and make friends at school.
4. Your Child’s Voice Is Inconsistent
Maybe you have noticed that your child's voice is unusually hoarse or shrill. Your child may also have a problem controlling the volume of their voice.
Occasionally, every child may suffer from a sore throat and hoarse voice. It is common after cheering loudly at a ballgame or after too many ice Slurpees. So, if this continues for longer than a couple of weeks, you may need to consult a speech therapist.
Chronic dysphonia may require speech therapy to bring the vocal cords back to their proper working order.
5. Your Child Has Inconsistent Speech
Very young children often have incoherent speech. Sometimes, they make up new words to express themselves. These aren’t concerning as long as their mistakes are consistent.
Inconsistent speech may consist of the same word being spoken differently throughout their speech. For example, your child may want to say "bye," but they end up saying "tie," "pie," and "die."
These may be signs of childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). Early speech therapy may reduce the persistence of the signs and symptoms later in life.
6. Your Child Doesn’t Point Or Gesture
By their first birthday, your child should be pointing at things and waving to people. Some children gesture less often than others. However, if your child doesn't gesture at all, you should talk to your pediatrician first.
The pediatrician may recommend speech-language pathologists (SLPs) or speech therapists who can explore the possible causes.
Sometimes, it is an early sign of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Speech therapy for autism can help a child develop speech and language skills significantly when started early.
7. Your Child Is Making Phonological Mistakes
Is your 3-year old still saying “fum” in place of “thumb”? Are they also saying “ba-wa-wa” instead of “ba-na-na”? Substituting words, omitting final consonants, and simplifying sound combinations are articulation or phonological errors.
It is imperative to consult a speech therapist in these cases. These may be signs that your child has weak articulatory muscles or they have trouble coordinating the movement of their speech muscles.
Regular articulatory exercises can increase the strength of a child's speech muscles. Speech therapy can improve a child's pragmatic language and social communication skills significantly.
8. Your Toddler Cannot Follow Simple Instructions
Many children have trouble understanding multi-step instructions. However, if your toddler doesn't respond to their name, struggles to follow simple directions like "the truck is behind you" or "look at the TV," then it may be concerning.
A toddler should be able to answer simple “what” and “where” questions. Just like the lack of gesturing or group play, the inability to follow simple directions may be a symptom of autism spectrum disorder.
Timely intervention with the help of a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help a child overcome the challenges that come with ASD. Attending sessions can also help the parents learn more about speech exercises for children with autism they can do with their children at home to improve their speech-language skills.
9. Your Child’s Speech Is Difficult To Understand
By the time a child is 2-years-old, any stranger should understand their speech 50% of the time. By their 3rd birthday, their speech should be understandable at least 75% of the time.
In case your toddler’s speech isn’t clear enough, you can talk to a speech therapist.
Unintelligible speech can be a sign of several speech and language disorders. The speech therapist can help you get a proper diagnosis. A professional can also help them articulate their speech.
10. Your Child Has A Cleft Palate
Around 1 in 1600 children are born with a cleft palate in the US. It is a common birth condition that can cause problems with feeding, drinking, and speaking.
If your child has a cleft lip with a cleft palate, you should speak with your pediatrician immediately. In several cases, surgery can correct a cleft palate and restore normal articulatory functions in a child.
An older child may require speech therapy to learn or re-learn ways to produce correct sounds while speaking.
11. Your Child Has Cerebral Palsy (CP)
Children with cerebral palsy (CP) may have problems speaking if the palsy affects their mouth and speech muscles. With continuing speech therapy, many children not only learn how to talk almost clearly, but they can also learn how to chew and swallow safely.
Speech therapy for children with cerebral palsy (CP) aims to boost their independence by encouraging them to express themselves. Speech therapy for cerebral palsy may also teach your child alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) methods, such as using picture boards.
12. Your Infant Has Down Syndrome (DS)
Down syndrome is a genetic condition in which an individual has extra chromosomal material (genes). It is characterized by distinct facial features and developmental delays. Many cases of Down syndrome co-occur with intellectual disability (ID).
Speech therapy for Down syndrome can help your child develop the necessary speech and language skills. It can also help with any eating, drinking, or swallowing difficulty that your child may face due to Down syndrome.
Speech therapy for Down syndrome can equip your child with alternative and augmentative communication methods like sign languages, picture boards, or electronic-synthesized speech. Speech therapists can teach your child how to speak clearly, and contribute to their communication skills, in general.
13. Your Child Isn’t Talking At School
Your child talks and shares their thoughts normally at home, but the moment they enter school or is at the playground, they don’t speak at all.
It is common for parents to receive complaints from teachers and caregivers about their children not speaking, if their child has selective mutism. It is a severe anxiety disorder that keeps children from speaking in social settings.
Traditionally, it is not a speech-language disorder. However, the intervention of a behavioral therapist along with a speech therapist can help your kid overcome their anxiety.
14. My Child is a Late-Talker
Pediatric speech and language therapy can help your child overcome any speech, language, and communication challenges they face. Delayed speech can be a sign of more than one speech and language disorder in children.
15. Your Child has a Lisp
Lisping is quite common among children. Some children outgrow lisping once they acquire language and conversation skills. However, if a 5-year old is still pronouncing /s/, and /z/ as /th/, it’s time to consult a speech therapist.
Almost all types of lisps can go away with proper diagnoses of the causes and speech therapy. Without proper treatment and therapy, lisping can persist during adolescence and adulthood. It can take a toll on a person’s self-esteem and confidence.
16. Your Child has Difficulty Reading and Writing
If your 6-year old is still struggling to read simple, monosyllabic words, it can be a serious issue. Same goes for similar-aged children who are having trouble writing. If your child is saying things like, “the words are moving around” or “the numbers won’t stay still”, you may be looking at a case of dyslexia. This condition can affect a child’s speech as well.
Reading and writing disorders can include dyslexia, dysgraphia, reading disorder, reading disability, specific reading disorder and specific reading comprehension deficit.
Speak to a speech language pathologist (SLP) or speech therapist in case your child has trouble reading, writing or understanding what they are reading. Typically, continued therapy can address these problems successfully. However, early intervention always helps more than delayed actions.
17. Your Child has a Limited Vocabulary
Your 18-month old should have a vocabulary of 50 words and they should learn around 10 to 20 new words per week. A 2-year old should begin to use two words together to form short “sentences”.
Children between the ages of 2 and 3 years should know spatial concepts such as “on,” “in,” “over,” and “under.” Take a look at this speech and language checklist to find out if your child’s speech and language skills are developing at par with their age.
If your child isn’t using or learning new words as expected according to their age, it’s time to speak to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or speech therapist.
Why should you try speech therapy for children?
Speech therapy can help your child overcome developmental stuttering and articulation disorders.
While conditions like childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), dysarthria, Down syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and Cerebral Palsy (CP) are not curable, speech therapy can help with the speech and language delay that these conditions may cause.
Do not wait if you think that your child needs professional attention. Speak to their pediatrician today if you don’t have recommendations for a speech therapist!