As children grow, there are certain milestones most parents look forward to, such as crawling, walking and speaking. By their first birthday, most children know a word or two; at 18 months, their vocabulary should consist of 5-20 words and include simple two-word sentences. But these are rough guidelines; every child progresses at a different pace.
Approximately one out of every four children experiences a speech delay, and most eventually catch up without any sort of intervention.
Still, it’s best to bring up any concerns with your child’s doctor. If there is a language disorder or developmental problem, early treatment is key to preventing learning problems down the road.
What Are the Reasons for a Speech Delay?
A variety of factors can lead to delayed speech and language skills. These include:
- Hearing loss
- Oral anatomy (problems with the tongue or soft palate)
- Dysarthria (a disorder involving the muscles that control speech)
- Exposure to multiple languages
- Neurological disorders such as autism, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy
- Learning disabilities
- Auditory processing disorders
- Premature birth
- Environmental deprivation
If your child’s doctor cannot rule out a speech delay, a speech-language pathologist should be consulted for a full evaluation. This involves a series of tests that will be used to assess your child’s receptive language and expressive language skills, sound development and speech clarity, and oral-motor skills. Speech therapy may be recommended to help your child develop the skills necessary for effective communication.
What Can Parents Do?
Both heredity and environment play a role in speech development. As a parent, there are steps you can take to assist your child with speech development. Communicate often (talk and sing), encourage verbal interaction whenever possible, and read to your child starting at a young age.