Toddler Speech Development: Will My Child Need Speech Therapy?
Author: Melissa Maypole
Does your two–year-old have trouble pronouncing her “R”s? Are you the only one who can understand your four-year-old’s speech? If you’re thinking that there may be an underlying speech delay to blame, you may be right. Up to 10 percent of children in America suffer from some type of speech disorder. No child begins speaking perfectly; however, it can be hard to differentiate between a true language or speech problem, and a normal bump in the road towards language acquisition. Before you begin looking for a speech language pathologist (SLP), consider these general guidelines for determining where your child’s speech falls on the continuum of normal, or abnormal, development.
As your child first learns how to use speech to communicate, beginning around her first birthday, it may be difficult to understand everything she says, and her vocabulary may be very limited. This is completely normal. By age three, however, she should be speaking clearly enough that someone who is around her on a regular basis—like family, for instance—should be able to understand most of what she says. If you’re still translating for strangers at this point, that’s ok. Her speech will still be a bit abnormal sounding for someone who’s not used to hearing it. Moreover, children at this age aren’t expected to be able to pronounce every letter correctly. Sounds made by letters like “l” and “r” may still be difficult for your youngster. As cute as her attempts are, they may very well provoke a giggle or a smile from listeners. If by her third birthday, she is still struggling to pronounce the letters “k, g, f, t, d, and n,” there may be cause for concern.
By the time your child is four years old, he’s likely to be talking your ear off, and the ears of anyone else willing to listen as well. Normally, children this age have no problem pronouncing most sounds. They should do well enough that they can easily communicate with adults and peers—even those who are not used to hearing them speak. If your child’s speech is still hard to decode, or if he begins to stutter or repeat the syllables in a word while speaking, then ask your pediatrician or a SLP for an evaluation.
If you feel that it’s necessary to have your child evaluated for a possible speech problem, then you’ll need to find a licensed and experienced SLP who specializes in working with children. You may be able to get a referral from your pediatrician, or you can use the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association’s free service to find a professional near you. It’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to speech issues, as they’re usually treated more easily and effectively if the condition is caught early.