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Is your child a late talker? Do they have difficulty expressing their thoughts clearly? How do you know if your child has a speech delay or other language development problems?
As parents, we worry a lot when our kids don’t seem to develop at the same pace as their peers. That is perfectly normal.
But before you jump to worrisome conclusions, it would be helpful to remember that some 8-9% of preschoolers suffer from some form of speech and language development-related challenge despite being exposed to language at an early age.
Some children face only minor language challenges that can be addressed at home, while others may require professional help and guidance. Whatever the case, it is good to keep in mind that your child is not a hopeless case and that developing speech, language, and communication skills is not a race.
Children usually understand what they hear before using words. This is called receptive language.
They may be able to point to objects when you name them and follow simple directions. If your child seems to understand well for their age, they are more likely to catch up with their language. If you think they don’t understand what others say, they may be experiencing language delay.
So if your child is currently struggling with speech delay, you need to know what you can do to help them overcome this challenge.
In this article, we will consider the following:
- Some factors that cause speech and language delay
- How to help your child deal with speech delay
What Causes Speech Delay In Toddlers?
Various factors can cause a delay in a child’s speaking abilities. But just because a child is a late talker doesn’t necessarily mean they have a language development problem. Other children just need more time to catch up on this development aspect.
Still, paying attention to your child’s speech and language development is good, as this can indicate their physical and intellectual development as a whole.
Here are some developmental problems that may impact a child’s speech and language delay.
Some children may have problems pronouncing certain letters and words because they have developmental issue with their mouth, tongue, or palate.
In some cases, children may suffer from a tongue tie (also known as ankyloglossia), or their tongue may be connected to the floor of their mouths, making it difficult or them to pronounce the following sounds clearly:
/d/, /l/, /r/, /s/, /t/, /z/, /th/
This problem can be detected as early as infancy since children who have tongue-tie will often have a hard time breastfeeding.
Speech and Language Development Disorders
In other cases, a late talker’s problems do not lie in their physical makeup but in their ability to put their thoughts into spoken words.
For example, some preschool children can comprehend what other people are saying and their nonverbal cues, but they can’t find the words, or they struggle to phrase their thoughts in a way that is understandable to others.
In this case, the language development problem lies in the child’s learning ability, which is most common among those born prematurely.
Children’s speech and language development may also be related to another common disorder called childhood apraxia.
This physical disorder makes it difficult for a child to form sounds in the correct order as they pronounce words. While serious, this disorder does not affect their ability to comprehend language and nonverbal communication.
Children who have trouble hearing will have difficulty producing the right sounds when they speak. This is because what they hear is largely distorted speech and language, leading to them having a hard time forming words.
This can be quite difficult to identify at an early age, but if your child doesn’t acknowledge a person or thing unless you introduce it to them using gestures, they most likely have trouble hearing.
In other cases, hearing loss may be difficult to detect, and the only sign would be speech and language delay in your child. These kids can improve with speech and language therapy.
Lack of Stimulation
A child who has never been engaged in a conversation before or rarely engages in one will definitely have difficulty expressing themselves correctly. This is why children of speaking age must be in an environment that allows them to practice their speaking skills.
Therefore, language development problems are common among children who are victims of abuse and neglect since they lack the stimulation needed for them to start communicating with other people.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children on the autism spectrum may also show signs of speech and language delays. Other speech-related disorders common to children on this spectrum include:
- Echolalia (or repeating rather than creating phrases)
- Difficulty in both verbal and non-verbal expression
- Regression in their speech, language, or literacy skills
- Difficulty in social interaction
Speech delays and language difficulties can also be caused by neurological problems affecting a person’s speech muscles. This is true for individuals suffering from the following neurological disorders:
- Cerebral palsy
- Traumatic brain injury
- Muscular dystrophy
Children with cerebral palsy may exhibit additional problems, such as hearing loss and other developmental disabilities.
If your child cannot speak, it could also be because they are intellectually unable to form words or have delayed language comprehension.
How To Help Late Talkers With Speech Delay
As the parent, you’ll be able to immediately tell when something is wrong with your kid’s speech development, even before anyone else.
If you think something is wrong and you’re worried that your child is not developing at the right place, trust your instincts, and then take action. If you are concerned about your child’s language development, you should talk to speech language pathologists.
Generally speaking, children should be able to use more than ten words by 18 months of age. At 2 years of age, your child should be able to use more or less 80 words. So if these standards delay your child’s speech development, what can you do to help a late talker?
How Can You Do Speech Therapy At Home?
Here are five ways to encourage speech development at home with late talkers. You don’t have to do all five things every day, but try using these pediatric speech therapy practice exercises and strategies a few times per day or per week.
Tip # 1: Self-Talk
Set aside time each day or week to talk to your late talker in short but clear sentences or phrases. It can be about anything you can think of. You can describe an object you’re holding, an action you’re doing, or something you’re hearing.
It’s okay to repeat the same words to your child. The more you repeat those words, the better they will remember and hopefully mimic them.
The SLP also will check the following:
- Receptive language skills (what your child understands)
- Spoken or Expressive language skills (what your child can say)
- Sound development
- Clarity of speech
- Oral language status (how the mouth, tongue, palate, etc., work together for speech as well as eating and swallowing)
Based on the test results, the speech-language therapist might recommend speech therapy for your child.
Tip # 2: Use Sign Language
With the same tip mentioned above, you can work on incorporating sign language as well. This is also a great way for your child to start communicating their thoughts in nonverbal ways, especially for late talkers.
If your child shows signs of a problem, a speech pathologist may suggest that you talk to an early intervention program. This program can work with you to find ways to help your child communicate better. They can also help if you have other concerns about your child’s development.
So try to use few gestures as you talk to them, encouraging them to follow your lead as the days progress. Soon, they can do the signs themselves and hopefully transition to the use of spoken words in time.
Tip # 3: Use Parallel Talk
This strategy is similar to self-talk. This time, you won’t be talking about what you’re doing.
Instead, you will be talking about what your child is doing or about how your child is feeling.
Continue using short sentences and phrases so your child can easily follow you.
Tip # 4: Expansions
This strategy will be based on your child’s speech or a few gestures. Add another word to any word your child may use.
For example, if you say the target word “milk,” you can say “want milk” or “I want milk.” This will help your child learn proper phrasing, encouraging speech and improve your child’s vocabulary.
If your child is not saying anything, you can use the expansion technique based on their gestures.
For example, if your child is pointing at something, you can say the name of that object. Or you can label whatever your child is trying to communicate but can’t seem to find the right word for it.
Tip # 5: Receptive Vocabulary Building
Last but definitely not least, you can help your child build their vocabulary by having them point to pictures of people or objects that you label. A good example of this exercise would be, “Where is the bird?” or “Where is Mommy?”
Or, you can develop a game where they’ll have to show you or point to you what you’re asking for. The goal here is to make this activity as interactive as possible, thus increasing the chances of your toddler’s speech development.
If your toddler still shows little or no improvement even after doing all these five things, then it would be best for you to take your child for evaluation with speech pathologists to deal with their speech delay.
Your doctor may also suggest programs in your area, such as Early Intervention. The earlier they can receive a speech-language pathologist’s help, the better chances they have to speak normally by the time they enter school.
(This article was last updated Jan 24, 2023.)
All Things Childcare strives to provide research-based information. While the contents of this article have been fact-checked, we encourage our readers to seek actual medical advice from health professionals.