Is your child a late talker?
This can mean different things for different children. If your child isn’t talking as well as their peers it might be a sign of delayed speech or delayed language development.
Every child grows and learns at their own pace and many instances of delayed speech in children aren’t very serious. If your child has a speech delay, it doesn’t always mean something is wrong. You may simply have a late bloomer who’ll be talking everyone's ear off in no time.
As with other milestones, the age at which kids learn language or start to talk can vary. Knowing a bit about speech and language development can help you figure out if there's any cause for concern and whether you should seek help from a professional.
How Do Speech and Language Differ?
- Speech is the verbal expression of language and includes articulation (the way we produce sounds and words).
- Language is about understanding and being understood through communication (verbal, non-verbal, and written).
What Are Speech or Language Delays?
There are some differences between a speech and language delay although they are often difficult to tell apart and are frequently referred to together. For example a child with a language delay might make the correct sounds and pronounce some words, but they can’t form phrases or sentences that make sense. Whereas, a child with a speech delay might have trouble forming the correct sounds to make words.
What Causes Speech or Language Delays?
The most common causes of speech-language delay include:
- Hearing loss
- Slow development
- Intellectual disability
- Oral impairment (oral–motor problems), e.g. problems with the tongue or palate, which can limit tongue movement
Other causes include:
- Psychosocial deprivation (the child doesn’t spend enough time talking with adults).
- Autism (a developmental disorder).
- Apraxia (difficulty in planning speech movements)
- Selective mutism (the child just doesn’t want to talk).
- Cerebral palsy (a movement disorder).
- Family history (children who have a close family member with a history of a language delay or communication disorder)
Living in a bilingual home might also affect a child’s speech and language skills. The child’s brain has to work harder to interpret and use two languages. So it might take the child longer to start using one or both languages they are learning.
How are delays treated?
Your child might not need any treatment at all. Some children just take more time to start talking. But if your child does need treatment, it will depend on the cause of the speech-language delay.
The SLP (or speech therapist) will check your child's speech and language skills. They will carry out standardised tests and look for milestones in speech and language development. The course of therapy or treatment will depend on the cause and type of problem. To help your child communicate better, the speech-language pathologist might help your child:
- Produce the sounds more easily
- Understand the meaning of words and different types of sentences
- Understand social cues
- Communicate in various situations
- Learn sign language
- Learn how to use a hearing aid and special programs on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
How can I help my child?
- Ask questions from an SLP in order to understand the problems your child has.
- Accompany your child during treatment.
- Follow the suggestions your SLP makes.
- Discuss your child’s situation at their school and with family members.
- Discuss your child’s progress with the SLP.
- Try to speak calmly to your child. Try to maintain a relaxed environment at home to reduce anxiety.
- Don't show impatience or irritation when your child is talking to you.
- Try to minimise interruptions when your child is speaking.
- Don’t bring attention to your child's speech-language disorder.
- Ask your child to put your instructions in their own words after giving an explanation or command.
- Ask the teacher about class activities in advance to help prepare your child for discussions in advance.
- Discuss your child’s situation at their school to avoid bullying.
- Discuss your child’s situation with their teachers and with family members.