Determining the Causes of Speech Delay in Your Child
As a parent, you know your child. You listen to him/her talk and how he/she communicates. You also listen to other children of the same age and compare your child’s development to theirs.
Knowing what is normal, and what is not, in your child’s speech and language development may help you determine whether or not to be concerned.
Speech has to do with the sounds that come out of our mouths. It includes articulation, the way sounds and words are formed. It can be frustrating when speech is not understood by others, as in stuttering or mispronunciation.
Language is much broader. It refers to the entire process of expressing and receiving information in a meaningful way. It is understanding and being understood through communication - verbal, nonverbal and written. It can also be a measure of intelligence. Language delays are more serious than speech problems.
Although problems in speech and language differ, they also overlap in many ways.
- A child who has a language problem may be fine with the pronunciation of words but may not be able to put more than two words together.
- For another child, it may be difficult to understand their speech, but they try to use words and phrases to express ideas.
- Another child may speak very well but may have difficulty following directions.
Delayed speech and language development is one of the most common childhood developmental problems, affecting five to ten percent of pre-schoolers.
It can be difficult to determine whether a child is merely a “late bloomer” in their ability to communicate, or if they have an expressive language disorder or underlying cause of their delayed speech. The earlier a child gets professional help, the greater their progress will be. If it turns out that they are a late bloomer, the extra attention to their speech will not have done harm.
The developmental causes of speech and language problems in children are varied.
- Speech and language problems are often an early sign of a learning disability - manifesting as a developmental speech and language disorder. In these children, the brain works differently and as a result, the child has trouble producing speech sounds, using language and understanding what others say.
- An often overlooked, yet possible cause of delayed speech is hearing loss. This is very easy to determine with tests that can be done by at Coastal Ear, Nose and Throat.
- Neurological problems, such as traumatic brain injury, muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy affect the muscles involved in producing speech.
- Extreme environmental deprivation often results in speech delay. If a child is abused, neglected or does not hear other people speaking, they will not learn to speak themselves.
- Babies born prematurely often have developmental delays, including those involving speech and language.
- One of the early signs of autism is language, speech and communication difficulties.
- Occasionally, a child may have difficulty decoding speech sounds. This is called auditory processing disorder. It can be significantly improved with language and speech therapy.
- Selective mutism describes a child who refuses to talk at all in specific situations, such as school or social events.
- Structural problems of the mouth and lips, such as cleft lip or cleft palate, can interfere with normal speech. A short frenulum (the fold beneath the tongue) can limit tongue movement for speech production.
- Some children have difficulty executing and sequencing speech movements. This is called Apraxia of speech.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, you can call our office at 732-280-7855 to schedule an appointment.
Seek evaluation if your child is over two years old and manifests any of the following:
- Will only say certain words or sounds repeatedly
- Is unable to communicate his or her immediate needs with oral language
- Can imitate speech but doesn’t produce words or phrases spontaneously
- Is unable to follow simple directions
- Is more difficult to understand that expected for his or her age
- Can’t follow simple directions
- Has an unusual nasal or raspy tone of voice
If you or your pediatrician suspect that your child has a problem, an early evaluation by a speech-language pathologist is crucial.