While all children develop at their own pace, some children have persistent problems learning how to communicate. If your child doesn’t communicate as much as most children of the same age, they may have speech or language delay. 

In this article, we explore the causes and signs of speech and language delay, before discussing how early diagnosis and intervention can help children achieve their developmental milestones. 

What Causes Speech or Language Delays in Children? 

Between 5% and 12% of children are diagnosed with a speech or language delay — as revealed by research published in the medical journal, FP Essentials, developmental delays are so common because they are caused by many different conditions. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for instance, may require different learning approaches to master speech and language. As we learn language and speech through observation, children with hearing impairments may experience language delays because they are less able to learn from their environment.

While the causes of speech and language delay differ, the effects do not. Developmental delays impact a child’s ability to learn and communicate, causing them to lag behind their peers. In fact, children with untreated speech and language issues go on to experience a “higher incidence of mental health difficulties, reduced social well-being and reduced academic achievement” — as revealed by an extensive study published in the South African Journal of Childhood Education.  

Signs of a Speech or Language Delay

Children can experience either a speech or a language delay, or a combination of both. Speech delay relates to verbal expression and how successful a child is at forming sounds and words. Language delay refers to a child’s communication ability and how successful they are at giving and receiving information through verbal, nonverbal and written means. 

Tracking your child’s development against typical speech and language milestones is crucial to picking up the signs of speech and language delay. We share some milestones below:

At 12 months, children should be able to:

  • Respond to their name most of the time
  • Say “mamma” and “dadda”
  • Use gestures, like pointing and waving goodbye
  • Look for and be able to find where a sound is coming from
  • Babble with intonation — their voice should rise and fall as if they were speaking in sentences

Between one and two years of age, children should be able to:

  • Follow simple commands, first when an adult speaks and gestures, and then later with words alone
  • Get objects from another room when asked
  • Point to objects or events to get you to look at them too
  • Bring things to you to show you
  • Point to objects so you will name them
  • Name a few common objects and pictures when asked
  • Learn one new word per week 

By two years of age, children should be able to:

  • Follow simple commands without adults providing gestures
  • Be able to say 50–100 words
  • Point to body parts, common objects and pictures in books
  • Say two-to-three word phrases like “all gone,” “mommy go bye-bye” and “want juice”
  • Be understood by adults half the time they speak 

Delays often corrEspond with specific behaviours, including: 

  • Acting like they are in their own world
  • Not registering certain noises, like hearing their own name
  • Preferring to play alone
  • Being fascinated by objects children aren’t typically interested in
  • Being able to repeat lessons like the ABCs, but unable to use words to ask for things
  • Not seeming to be afraid of anything 
  • Not expressing pain in an expected way

What Should I Do if I Suspect My Child Has a Speech or Language Delay? 

If you are concerned that your child is not hitting their language development milestones, have them evaluated by a specialist as early as possible. Some children with speech or language delays never close the gap in their development; so the earlier the intervention, the better their learning outcomes and faster these results are achieved. 

At Thomson Kids, our childhood development specialists provide expert diagnostic assessments that pinpoint the cause of speech and language delays. Along with our assessments, we offer guidance on which intervention programmes are best suited to help your child. 

Want to learn more about our diagnostic assessments? Get in touch to speak to an expert or to book an assessment.

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