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Guide To Speech Delays In Children

Every parent out there eagerly awaits their child’s first words, and if they’re slow to come, things can get rather worrisome and disappointing. However, the good news is that a majority of kids who seem to talk late tend to catch up without any problems as such by the time they’re around 2 years of age.

To give you a statistic, about one in four children happen to be a late talker and more than half of them don’t need any special help whatsoever to get on track.

A language delay is when a child seems to have trouble in either saying his first words or learning new words. It may also be a concern when a child has trouble:

  • Building his vocabulary
  • Putting together words to form sentences
  • Understanding words and/or sentences

For the record, there is a difference between speech disorders and language disorders. In a speech disorder, children have difficulty in pronouncing the sounds in words. Because of this, it may be hard for people to understand their speech. Most importantly, children with a speech disorder may have excellent language skills.

On the other hand, a child who has a language disorder experiences significant delays in learning to talk and understand language.

If you are worried about your child’s speech delay, here’s a little guide to help you out.

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7 What’s Normal?

Although speech is known to develop pretty much the same way for all children, its pace can at times vary from child to child. The basic rule here is, that your child should be able to say one word when he turns 1, two-word combinations between 18 months to 2 years, and three-word sentences before he turns 3.

When evaluating delayed speech, it is normal for speech specialists to care as much about a child’s understanding of words as they would about his speech.

Even if your child can say 100 words by 18-months, there is a good chance that he will be able to understand far more. As long as he makes gestures and follows directions, you can rest-assured that he is understanding your words and communicating and there isn’t much for you to worry about.

.The fact of the matter is, that children learn and grow at their own pace. Because of this, the range of what is normal for a child is fairly extensive. This obviously means that it will be helpful for you, as a parent, to know the signs that your child might not have the skills most other kids have at his age. These problems are typically labeled as ‘developmental delays’ by doctors.

The problem may not be serious

The good news is that a lot of speech delays aren’t really serious and a majority of children can catch up, particularly if early treatment is offered. For this, it is extremely important for you to get him the help he needs as soon as a problem is suspected.

6 Speech Delays And Language

These problems are believed by experts to be the most common form of developmental delay. Although they may sound really similar to each other, the fact of the matter is that they are both different types of issues. The term speech signifies the sounds that come out of an individual’s mouth.

For this reason, children who experience a speech delay may have trouble saying words the right way or may even stutter. On the other hand, the term language refers to the meaning of sounds and gestures. Children who have language problems are known to have trouble expressing themselves and/or understanding others.

There are many different reasons because of which delays in these skills may come up. These are inclusive of:

  • Problems with a child’s tongue or the roof of his mouth that make it hard for him to form words and sounds
  • A developmental disorder like autism spectrum disorder or cerebral palsy
  • Hearing loss in case the child suffered from extensive ear infections
  • A learning disability

In the case you think your child has a problem with his language or speech, it is necessary for you to get in touch with his doctor instantly. The doctor will test his hearing and then make suggestions as to whether your child should see a professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

The specialist that you will be referred to is called a ‘speech-language pathologist’ or ‘speech therapist’. The specialist will focus on studying the ways in which your child expresses himself. This includes things like what all he can understand, the words he can say and the ways in which he tries to express himself.

Your child may need therapy

In case your child is diagnosed to have a delay, there is a good chance that he will need to take up speech therapy. For this, a therapist is going to work with him on how to pronounce sounds and words. With time, the therapy will also strengthen the muscles in his mouth and face.

5 Signs That Your Child May Have A Problem

In case you are worried about your child’s speech development, it is necessary for you to keep a watch for certain warning signs. It should be particularly alarming for you if your infant is not responding to sound or is making no effort to vocalize.

Between 12 and 24 months, parents should be concerned if their child:

  • is having difficulty in understanding even the simplest verbal requests
  • does not use gestures including waving bye-bye or pointing by 12 months
  • finds it hard to imitate sounds by 18 months
  • prefers to use gestures to communicate instead of vocalization at 18 months

Evaluation of a child over 2 years old

It is necessary for your child to be evaluated if he is 2 years of age and is only capable of imitating speech or actions while not being able to produce words or phrases. Apart from that, he should also be evaluated if he:

  • can’t follow basic directions
  • is more difficult to understand as compared to other children his age
  • can only imitate speech or actions and cannot produce phrases or words spontaneously
  • can’t use oral language to communicate more than his immediate needs
  • says only a few words repeatedly

4 Causes Of Delayed Speech

Many things can cause delays in speech and language development. Speech delays in an otherwise normally developing child can sometimes be caused by oral impairments, like problems with the tongue or palate (the roof of the mouth). A short frenulum (the fold beneath the tongue) can limit tongue movement for speech production.

Many kids with speech delays have oral-motor problems, meaning there's inefficient communication in the areas of the brain responsible for speech production. The child encounters difficulty using and coordinating the lips, tongue, and jaw to produce speech sounds.

Speech may be the only problem or may be accompanied by other oral-motor problems such as feeding difficulties. A speech delay may also be a part of (instead of an indication) a more "global" (or general) developmental delay.

Hearing problems are also commonly related to delayed speech, which is why a child's hearing should be tested by an audiologist whenever there's a speech concern. A child who has trouble hearing may have trouble articulating as well as understanding, imitating, and using language.

Ear infections, especially chronic infections, can affect hearing ability. Simple ear infections that have been adequately treated, though, should have no effect on speech. And, as long as there is normal hearing in at least one ear, speech and language will develop normally.

3 You Can Help Your Child With Language Development

It is extremely important for parents to identify speech problems as early as possible so that proper treatment can begin. For many people out there, it is necessary for the child to start talking before speech and language treatment begins. This is as far from the truth as possible because research studies have suggested that children tend to know a lot about language way before they utter their first words.

In case your child has risk factors like low birth weight, it is highly recommended for you to get him tested early and periodically for speech issues. If it is necessary for him to be treated, the treatment plan should be individualized and developmentally appropriate.

The treatment team formulated for your child will typically include an audiologist, a doctor, a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist and maybe even a social worker.

A few parenting tips

Given below are a few parenting tips that you should try out to help your child’s speech development:

  • Start talking to your child right after birth and respond to all of his coos and babbling with the passage of time
  • Listen to your child and make sure that you look at him when he talks to you.
  • Give your child time to respond when you converse with him
  • Refrain from forcing your child to speak
  • Encourage information sharing and storytelling

2 Risk Factors

There are quite a few risk factors that have the potential to increase the risk that a late-talking child with normal intelligence in the 18-30 month old range will continue to have speech problems. These factors include:

  • Continued use of gestures: Research studies have found that the numbers of gestures used by late-talking children with low expressive language are indicative of later language abilities.

  • Children who continue to use a greater number of gestures to fulfill their communication needs will find it easier to catch up with their peers. Other findings have supported this fact by claiming that older children who are taught non-verbal communication systems show a significant increase in their oral communication.
  • Age of diagnosis: a number of research studies have shown that the older the child at the time of diagnosis, the less positive the outcome. If a child’s speech problem is diagnosed late, there is a good chance that his problem will be more serious and his treatment may not be as successful.
  • Also, if a child is only developing slowly during an age range when other children are rapidly progressing (e.g. 24-30 months) that child will be falling farther behind.

Language development progress

Although a child may be slow in language development, he or she should still be doing new things with language at least every month. New words may be added.

The same words may be used for different purposes. For example, if one day ‘bottle’ means, "That is my bottle," it may mean, "I want my bottle," the next, and "Where is my bottle? I don't see it." the next week. Words may be combined into longer utterances ("want bottle" "no bottle"), or such longer utterances may occur more often.

1 Where Can I Get Help For My Child’s Language Delay?

It is extremely important for you to get in touch with a professional if you think your child is having trouble with language. For instance, you could talk to the staff at your child care center, preschool or school, get in touch with an audiologist, speak to a speech pathologist, a psychologist or even a child and family health nurse.

When you get in touch with a speech pathologist, he will assess your child’s use of language and basic understanding. There are a few language tests that may be conducted by the speech pathologist. These tests have particularly been designed to get children to use words or to see how they respond to certain commands, requests and questions.

You may also be asked a few questions regarding your child’s understanding and usage of language at home. The speech pathologist may also question you about your child’s background. For instance, he will question you on when he first started using words, whether he was a premature baby, when he started walking and a bit of your family history too.

If a language delay is suspected, the speech pathologist might suggest some therapy sessions, either one-on-one with you, or in a group where your child takes part in language activities alongside other children.

An audiologist can help too

For parents who think their child may have a hearing impairment, it is highly recommended that you get your child’s hearing checked by a professional such as an audiologist. In case hearing loss is diagnosed, the audiologist will guide you as to how his hearing can be interfering with language development and communication.

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