Speech and Language Delay in Children

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Speech and language delay in kids

Children develop the ability to communicate very rapidly in the first few years of their life. The pace at which they achieve it varies from one child to another. Some children speak much earlier, while some others take longer than usual. Identifying a delay in speech and language development becomes very tricky for parents as it is often brushed aside as a small roadblock. Here are some important facts about delayed speech in children and how you can help your child overcome it with right interventions.

Difference Between Speech Delay and Language Delay

The terms ‘speech delay’ and ‘language delay’ are often used interchangeably. However, they are two different types of communication delay and do not necessarily mean the same. A speech delay refers to a condition where a child is unable to speak or produce any sound of the language that is appropriate for his age. Language delay, on the other hand, largely means a delay in the verbal components of a language. A child is said to have language delay when he lacks the age-appropriate language skills, either in terms of understanding it or speaking it.

When Do Children Develop Speech and Language Skills?

Children develop different aspects of communication continuously up to at least six years of age. Here is a simple chart that you can use to track your child’s speech and language development.

Age Speech/language development
Birth Crying
2-3 months Shows variation in crying depending on the reason. Cooing.
3-4 months Random babbling, crying
5-6 months Rhythmic babbling, crying
6-11 months Trying to talk through babbling, sometimes with expression.
12 months Recognises and responds to name and simple instructions. Speaks one or two words, imitates sounds
18 months Vocabulary increases to 5-20 words
Between 1 and 2 years Vocabulary grows to speak 2-word sentences, can understand ‘no’, waves hi, bye and imitates familiar sounds.
Between 2 and 3 years Vocabulary drastically increases to include at least 450 words, speaks short sentences, and understands colours, body parts, big and small sizes, plurals. Identifies self as ‘me’, listens to the same story repeated many times.
Between 3 and 4 years Can narrate stories using 4-5 word sentences, a vocabulary of about 1000 words, aware of a lot of concepts and can recite several rhymes.
Between 4 and 5 years Vocabulary of over 1500 words used to make sentences that are 4-5 words long, frames a lot of questions with what? why? etc., aware of many concepts, uses past tense.
Between 5 and 6 years Can frame full sentences with 5-6 words using a strong vocabulary of 2000 words, understands relative spatial orientations like near, far, besides, away, etc., can describe objects, can count up to ten easily, understand left and right side

Source: https://www.mottchildren.org/posts/your-child/speech-and-language-development

Causes of Speech or Language Delays

There are many causes for both speech and language delay. The same problem can sometimes cause both speech and language problems.

  • Learning disability: Many children suffer from learning disabilities due to some defects in the functioning of their brain causing speech delay.
  • Autism spectrum disorders: A spectrum of disorders categorised under autism are usually found associated with speech delay.
  • Hearing impairment: Children with impairments in their hearing are most likely to suffer from a delay in speech, and mainly, language, as they do not get a chance to hear and imitate a language.
  • Chronic ear infections: Chronic ear infections that go unnoticed in some children can manifest as a delay in their speech and response, owing to a lack of input for imitation.
  • Oral abnormalities: Children who have abnormalities in their tongue or palate have difficulty in articulating their oral cavity to produce meaningful sounds.
  • Oral-motor issues: Some children have issues in the areas of the brain that dictate the coordination of the oral components of speech. A failure in this coordination results in speech delay in children.

Oral-motor issues for speech

  • Neurological issues: The muscles that are critical for speech are affected by some birth-related defects like cerebral palsy, brain injury and muscular dystrophy. In such situations, the speech of the child gets affected and requires therapeutic interventions.
  • Family history: Presence of a close family member with a speech delay can indirectly influence the communication milestone of the child.
  • Prematurity: Some premature babies, who are born before completing a full term, suffer from a delay in their milestones. You can discuss with your doctor about finding out the corrected age of the baby, in order to track the age-appropriate development.
  • Lack of opportunity: Some children pick up speech and language slowly because of the sheer lack of interaction in their early stages of development. In rare cases, where the baby does not receive enough stimulation for communication, there is a delay in the milestone.

Signs of a Child’s Speech or Language Delay

In the first three years of your child’s life, language skills develop rapidly. If you observe any following signs of delay, talk to your baby’s doctor about it.

Age Signs of delay
12 months Does not respond to communication. Lack of cooing, babbling, imitation of talking, waving hands, shaking head or pointing fingers.
18 months Not uttered a single word, doesn’t point to even a single body part
24 months Has a vocabulary of only a few words and prefers to communicate through pointing or grunting, does not respond to simple commands, doesn’t imitate actions/words, Sudden loss of language skills or loss of vocabulary
30 months Vocabulary less than 50 words, uses single syllables compared to full words and pronounces words without final consonants
36 months speaks only two-word abrupt sentences/phrases, unclear pronunciation, lack of interaction with other children
48 months Confusion in using words like ‘me’ and ‘you’, lack of clarity in using single consonants

How is Speech Delay Diagnosed?

With the right kind of awareness, parents can observe signs of delay in their children as early as two and half years. Speech delay in 3-year-old kids can be diagnosed with proper consultation. Under such circumstances, the child has to be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist to estimate the extent of delay and the underlying cause for it. The pathologist then recommends the appropriate speech therapy for the child.

Can Speech Therapy Help Your Child?

Speech delay treatment in the form of speech therapy certainly helps the child greatly in overcoming the barrier of communication delay. However, in some cases, the medical conditions leading to the delay need correction before starting the therapy.

Speech therapy for kids

Ways to Help Your Child Develop Speech at Home

Children develop their language skills right from birth and providing an atmosphere that is conducive to their growth is very critical for meeting the appropriate milestones. Here are some ways by which you can help your child develop speech, at home.

  • Talk to your baby continuously right from birth. It stimulates the baby’s language centre in the brain.
  • Make it a two-way communication. Respond to every babbling of the child almost like having a conversation.
  • Talk to the baby while doing your regular chores and explain each and every action of yours, to engage the baby.
  • Readout loudly from books and point out pictures by naming them.
  • Include storytelling sessions often during playtimes. This helps children visualise and imagine things that are told to them.
  • Encourage playtime with other kids. Children pick up words and behaviours from peers much faster.
  • Recite rhymes together and encourage your child to enact it.
  • Sing songs to your baby right from birth. Songs stimulate multiple centres in the brain and improve their interest in language.

Sing to babies

  • After about three years of age, children tend to ask a lot of questions. Patiently answering them helps them understand things better.
  • Travelling with children and explaining to them the things that they see, leave a lasting impression in their mind.
  • Do not make fun of their grammatical errors. Understand that as growing children, they learn by making mistakes.
  • Elaborately talk about the things that your child says. For example, if your child has a favourite toy, talk more about it to improve their vocabulary.
  • Attend puppet shows or storytelling sessions that kindle the imagination of the child and opens up their opportunity to learn new words.
  • Do not compel your child to speak, especially when the child is not comfortable. It can set a negative image about communication.
  • Play simple word games, where you can ask the child to identify a word with the clues you give. You can reverse the roles and encourage your child to give clues for words.

Speech or language delay is one of the most common conditions found among children today. Early identification and intervention is the key to helping your child overcome the problem and successfully developing good communication skills.

Also Read: Developmental Delay in Children

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