Identifying Delayed Speech and Language Development
The ability to communicate with words is central to our experience of being human. Imagine being unable to express your ideas, feelings, and needs. Yet, three to ten percent of children have delayed speech development, with boys three to four times more likely to be affected than girls. Early identification of delayed speech and language development is important, because it can help to minimize the impact of the delay on a child’s social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being.
How do I know if my child has delayed speech or language development?
Identifying a speech and language delay depends on the developmental stage where the child is at. Speech and language development follows a predictable course throughout the early years. Speech refers to the physical act of talking, performed by the motor center of the brain and speech muscles, whereas language refers to the meaning of what is being said. Here is a summary of the most important speech and language milestones during the first three years:
0 to 6 months:
- Smiles and makes eye contact
- Makes vowel-like sounds
- Reacts to a caregiver’s smile and talk with vocalizations
6 to 12 months:
- Uses consonants while babbling (for example ba-ba-ba)
- Babbles to gain attention
12 to 18 months:
- Uses one or two words meaningfully
- Babbles sentences with intonation
18 to 24 months:
- Uses 6 to 20 recognizable words
- Starts using two-word sentences, like “More milk.”
24 to 30 months:
- Follows a short series of related commands, like “Get your blanket and teddy in your room.”
- Starts using three-word sentences
30 to 36 months:
- Uses more than two hundred words in different combinations. Speech and grammar errors may still be common.
Remember that while most typically developing children will achieve these language milestones within this broad developmental framework, some may achieve certain milestones slightly earlier or later than indicated by this summary.
What are the signs of delayed speech or language development?
All children grow, change, and learn; but occasionally, an individual child may need some specialized help to facilitate development. Here are some indicators that your child might need professional help:
- No change in your child’s speech and language skills for two to three months.
- Inconsistent or missing reaction to speech and other sounds.
- Marked frustration in trying to communicate.
- Your child doesn’t imitate language he hears in his environment everyday.
What causes delayed speech or language delay?
Speech and language delay can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:
- Hearing loss;
- Intellectual disability;
- Neurological problems (for example, cerebral palsy or autism);
- Prematurity; and
Speech and language delay is distinguished from speech and language disorder. A child with a speech and language delay reaches communication development milestones later than typically developing children, whereas a child with a speech and language disorder shows atypical communication development.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, you can contact a speech- language pathologist. You can find a professional near you at the directory of the American Speech Hearing Association.