Delayed Speech in Children

Child talking to mother

Speech or communication is one area where some children may falter. For some, the speech problems fade out with time while others may need therapeutic treatment. As a parent, you need to remain vigilant in looking for the signs, and seek the help of an expert if needed.

Common Speech Disorders in Children

1. Omissions:

This occurs when your child leaves out certain sounds. For example, your child may say ‘I go to coo’ instead of ‘I go to school’.

2. Substitutions:

This occurs when your child replaces a sound. For example, You may hear your child saying ‘I like tate’ when she intended to say ‘I like cake’. Your child has replaced the ‘t’ sound with ‘k’ sound. You may even hear children substituting the ‘l’ and ‘r’ sound with a ‘w’ sound. For example, ‘The lion roared’ may become ‘The wion wawed’.

3. Distortions:

This happens when your child is unable to pronounce the ‘S’ and ‘R’ sound properly. This is also known as lisping. For example, she may pronounce a ‘rabbit’ as ‘wabbit’, or, seven as ‘theven’ etc.

Mother and child talking

4. An Anomaly in Voice:

As air moves up from your lungs and vibrates your vocal cords, your voice is initiated. This process of voice formation is known as phonation. As the voice passes through the throat, the nose or the mouth, it changes. This is known as resonance. If your child suffers from voice disorders, then she may have problems related to phonation or, resonance or, both.

a. If your child’s voice sounds harsh, husky, and croaky or you hear random variations in her pitch, she is suffering from a phonation disorder.

b. If your child’s voice has a nasal tone, then she is suffering from a resonance disorder. Such a disorder occurs owing to an imbalance of the sound energy as the voice passes through the spaces of your throat, nose or your mouth.

5. An Anomaly in Fluency:

This occurs if your child repeats, hesitates, or prolongs while speaking; it means that she is suffering from stuttering. This is an anomaly in fluency wherein the flow of speech gets distorted. You may observe stuttering in children when they are tired, or get excited, or are put into challenging situations where they may get tensed.

6. Apraxia:

This is a disorder related to the nervous system. If your child’s brain has difficulty in coordinating with her body parts that help in the production of speech, then she may understand the language but find it difficult to produce it. Examples of childhood apraxia of speech include an occasional mispronunciation of words, groping while coordinating the tongue, lips, and jaw to make a sound, etc.

What Causes Speech Problems in Kids?

  • Brain damage resulting from an accident or owing to suffering from a stroke, or in some cases, defects since birth, may result in speech disorders.
  • Hearing problems can lead to speech disorders. A cleft palate is a condition where your child may have a hole in the roof of her mouth. It is a birth defect and it interferes with the air as it passes through her throat, nose, and mouth, leading to speech disorders.
  • Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a genetic disorder which gets inherited. You need to watch out for symptoms like an elongated face or, for protruding eyes in your child. It leads to repetitive, cluttered speech.
  • Congenital disorders, such as cerebral palsy, may lead to stuttering.
  • Receptive Language Disorder makes it difficult for your child to understand written and spoken language.
  • Expressive Language Disorder makes it difficult for your child to recover the appropriate words and form meaningful sentences.
  • Expressive-Receptive disorder makes it difficult for your child to understand language, as well as produce it.
  • In pre-schoolers, their incorrect dental formation may lead to speech problems.

How to Treat Speech Disorders in Children?

To treat speech disorders in your child, you may seek the help of speech therapy. Sometimes, hearing tests and physical examinations may not be able to reveal the concerns in your child. That is exactly where the role of a speech-language pathologist comes into play. Most of the speech-related treatments would partly include a consultation with a therapist, who would observe your child while she speaks, to identify the problems and accordingly plan her treatment. Treatments include breathing exercises, voice exercises, and strategies for relaxing the muscles when your child speaks. All such exercises are part of oral motor exercises.

Speech therapy

Best Ways to Help Alleviate the Speech Problem in a Child

  • Your child learns to speak by hearing. Delayed speech in children can be treated if you focus on using the right words with the correct pronunciation to help her listen and learn. You can use complete sentences to help her understand expressions. It makes sense if you read out books to your child regularly. Stories can attract their attention and help them learn the language. While reading, do ensure to point out to specific objects like a ball, a tree, a dog, a car etc. and speak out the words loud and clear for her to hear properly. You can have regular musical sessions with your child in the form of singing nursery rhymes, or, listening to songs to help her learn to speak.
  • You need to stay alert regarding the speaking problem in the child. Sometimes a nasal sound in her voice may be owing to some breathing problem which needs treatment, or for simple issues like a stuffy nose. While you need to consult your paediatrician for treating her allergies, sinus problems or colds, simply helping her to blow her nose can solve minor issues.
  • If your child is stuttering, then maintain your eye contact with her while speaking to her slowly. She will follow your actions. Maintain a smile on your face and handle her with patience so that she stays calm. It will help in easing her muscles. Children often stutter owing to stress. If you provide your child with a peaceful and relaxed ambience at home, then it would help in reducing her anxiety. Conducting finger plays can help in upgrading the speaking skills of your child.
  • You can go to a speech-language pathologist to get help and follow the instructions.

As a parent, you can make a difference in your child’s life by giving her the confidence to fight out any disorder. So, look for the symptoms of speech disorders and take the necessary steps to remove or minimize them.

Also Read: Language Development in Children