June 17, 2020

Language and Speech Delays: Don’t Ignore the Signs

Children who experience a speech or language delay often suffer from frustration and isolation, which can manifest in behavioral issues and other learning delays

Speech and language delays are the most common delay in preschool-aged children. Yet, many parents ignore the issue, hoping that the problem will correct itself. Let’s look at some of the signs that indicate your child is struggling to express themselves, possible causes for a delay, how to help your child at home, and how speech therapy can benefit your family.

What is delayed language or speech

Language, at its basic level, is the ability to understand and be understood. For people, that takes the shape of verbalizing words, using non-verbal actions, or writing/drawing.

A child may have a language delay and need a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) if they are:

  • not using verbal or non-verbal cues to communicate
  • not pronouncing words correctly
  • having speech fluency issues
  • having other oral, cognitive, or comprehension problems

Speech is the verbal expression of language. It’s the sounds we use to communicate. Speech usually begins before a child’s first birthday. When you hear an infant babbling, squealing, or screaming, you’re hearing their first step in learning to talk. If your child is not “being noisy,” they may need assistance.

When to be concerned

Anytime you are worried about your child not meeting developmental milestones, or you believe your child is not responding or behaving like other children, you should consult with your child’s pediatrician.

When it comes to a delay in communication, the first step is to make sure your child is hearing correctly. Hearing impairments are the most common reason a child is having trouble expressing and/or understanding language.

Some key things to look for to know if your child is where they should be regarding their language development are:

By 12 months:

  • Responds to hearing their name
  • Babbling (nonsense words)
  • Says at least one word
  • Points to items they want

1-2 years:

  • Follows simple, one-step commands
  • Points to a few body parts
  • Names a handful of common objects
  • Learning one new word a week

By 2 years:

  • Verbalizes at least 25 words
  • Says several two words phrases
  • Can be understood by strangers about half the time

By 4 years old, a child should be understood almost all the time if a stranger were to hear them speak. If your child may not be hitting every milestone, it does not necessarily mean they require speech therapy. However, if you do have a concern, it never hurts to speak with your pediatrician about having an evaluation.

Why are language milestones important

The short answer is, if a child does not learn to properly communicate, they may become frustrated, which could manifest in behavioral issues. They may also begin to fall behind in learning. Being able to communicate is so fundamental to us as humans; without being able to express themselves, children can begin to feel discouraged and isolated.

According to a study by the University of Michigan Health System, between 5-10% of preschool-aged children have some kind of speech or language delay.

There are several reasons why a child may develop a delay in language:

  • Hearing impairment
  • Autism
  • Intellectual disability
  • Oral dysfunction

Whatever the cause, it is important to have your child’s language routinely screened by your physician to be sure they are on track. If there is a speech delay, and it is ignored, you could be looking at more worrisome issues down the road.

How you can help at home

There are several ways you can help your child develop language and speech skills at home. From the time you bring your baby home, you should begin talking, singing, and reading to them. Babies respond quickly to hearing voices, and their brains are rapidly learning how to make noise themselves (as all new parents find out fast).

As your child grows and begins to babble, you should respond to those strings of nonsense. Babies will even eventually start taking turns with you as if you are having a real conversation. This is an important language development as they begin to understand that conversation is a “two-way street!”

Lastly, when your preschooler reaches the dreaded “why” stage. Try not to ignore them. Answer their constant questions, and if it’s something you cannot easily explain, try asking them, “Why do you think?”

Speech therapy

So, let’s say you’ve contacted your child’s doctor, and you’ve both decided your child needs speech therapy. Don’t panic!

At Lumiere Children’s Therapy, our specialists are trained to help your child in a caring and enriching environment. We maintain several different programs and approaches, and we use what works best for your child. Some things speech therapy can help with are:

  • Receptive and expressive language: Understanding what others say or what is read, and putting thoughts into words and sentences.
  • Articulation: The way a child uses clear and distinct sounds in speech.
  • Phonology: The basis for all language; it is the sounds we learn to make to form words.
  • Motor planning and apraxia: How to plan how to say an idea, then say it. Apraxia is when a child’s brain has difficulty coordinating oral movements needed to speak.
  • Fluency: Combining sounds, syllables, words, and finally phrases in a smooth, concise manner.
  • Executive functioning: The control that allows a person to keep up with a conversation as it progresses, including the ability to block out distractions to stay on topic, and also to be able to come up with relevant ideas for that topic.

These are just some of the ways speech therapy can help a child who is struggling with a language delay.

At Lumiere Children’s Therapy, we offer help to children from ages birth to 18 years of age. We believe every child brings with them a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, which is why we begin with a multidisciplinary team to assess your child. This allows us to approach your child with a customized plan of care exclusive to them. Please contact us for more information on how we can help your family learn and grow.

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