Speech is a critical element of proper communication, which is why it’s important to pay close attention to your child’s speech development. There are many ways in which speech delay can impact a child’s life. Learning about the various speech problems a child goes through and how they can be resolved will ensure your child gets the best start in life and will learn to communicate more effectively.
What Causes Speech Problems in Children?
There are a large number of reasons a child may develop a speech problem. Many of these causes stem from early childhood and are unavoidable. Whether you’re experiencing speech problems in toddlers or you are concerned about an older child, understanding the primary causes can help you determine what type of help your child requires. Some of the most common causes of speech problems include:
- Developmental Issues
- Hearing Loss
- Intellectual Disabilities
- Auditory Processing Disorder
- Apraxia of Speech
- Neurological Disorders
- Selective Mutism
- Speech Articulation Disorder
- Voice Disorders
- Fluency Disorders
- Dysphagia or Other Feeding Disorders
Many of these conditions can only be diagnosed by a doctor, but it’s important for parents to identify the signs of a potential problem so they can seek the help necessary, which can include speech therapy for kids of all ages. When you seek help at the earliest stages, you will be giving your child the greatest chance of growing up to be able to communicate effectively in all facets of their lives.
What Should Parents Look For?
There are many signs a parent can look for to identify potential speech problems in their child. While there is no set number of symptoms or even specific symptoms that can point to a certain problem, there are certain milestones a parent should pay attention to. The more carefully you evaluate your child’s speaking skills or lack thereof at an early age, the more likely you will be to help resolve your problem. Some of the signs you should look for include:
- An infant that doesn’t cry. Crying is the first form of communication. If your baby doesn’t cry, there may be an underlying issue that should be evaluated.
- Your baby doesn’t recognize familiar sounds, such as a parents voice, a family pet or some other sound found in your home on a regular basis.
- Your child doesn’t recognize and repeat basic sounds by the age of six months.
- Your child has difficult pronouncing certain words or sounds.
- Your child’s vocabulary isn’t growing. Young children should develop their vocabulary at a fairly rapid rate, though it’s important to recognize every child develops at a unique rate. Children should speak in single words by 16 months and speak 2-word phrases and have a 50 word vocabulary by 24 months
- Your child doesn’t seem to understand what you are saying. By the age of two or three, children should be able to follow simple instructions.
- Your child has difficulty interacting in social situations.
If you identify any signs your child isn’t developing his language as rapidly as he should be or it seems like he isn’t hearing you or the things that are going on around him, it’s important to seek the help of your pediatrician. They can complete a preliminary examination and testing and refer you for additional help or to a specialist who can determine the underlying problem.
The Benefits of Speech Therapy for Toddlers and Children
One of the most common treatments for speech problems, whether it’s a simple language delay or caused by a more complex problem, is speech therapy. This treatment gives your child exercises and tools he can use to work on his articulation and expression so he can communicate more effectively. In some situations, your child’s speech therapist may recommend teaching your child other ways to communicate while they work on their speech, including the use of sign language. There are many other tools therapists may use, which include:
These activities may include play therapy and talking about things. For instance, the therapist may read your child a book and point out the pictures, asking questions and allowing your child to answer. This allows the therapist to model proper speech and can help him or her identify which areas your child needs work in.
When children have difficulty talking clearly, these exercises are the ideal way to help your child express himself. These activities are often play-based and allow the child to work directly on the specific sounds that are giving him trouble.
For some children, speech problems are related to an inability to swallow or due to the inability to move their mouths in the proper ways. Oral-motor therapy allows therapists to train a child physically to make the right sounds to produce words, aiding in their speech.
Speech therapy can be used by itself for children who don’t have a medical condition that needs to be treated or in conjunction with another treatment plan, including medication or even surgery, depending on the official diagnosis.
Do Children Need Intervention?
One of the biggest questions parents ask is whether their child really needs to go through treatments or if the problem will solve itself on its own. In some situations, speech problems can resolve on their own, but in most situations, at least seeing a pediatrician or even going through speech therapy can beneficial. Even if it’s something that will resolve on its own, speech therapy is not harmful and can help the child learn to communicate more effectively at a faster rate.
What Can Parents Do?
In addition to seeking professional help and continuing the exercises at home, there are other things parents can do to help their child. As a parent, it can be frustrating to see your child struggle with speaking. Some of the things you can do with your child at home include:
- Talk to your child from birth. This gets your child used to the patterns of speech and can help your child develop proper speech.
- Respond to your baby’s noises.
- Look your child in the eyes while he is talking to you.
- Play games from an early age.
- Tell your child what you’re doing and seeing when you are together.
- Read to your child on a regular basis.
- Sing to your child and play music to him.
- Plan time together and hold a conversation with your child to get him talking.
- Don’t criticize grammar, especially in younger children.
- Expand upon what your child says to help him learn how to develop full sentences.
- Talk about what you see in photos, particularly family photos where the faces are familiar.
- Ask plenty of questions and allow your child to answer however he sees fit.
- Answer your child every time he speaks. This is especially important if your child doesn’t’ talk often. It rewards him for the interaction.
- Arrange play dates with children who aren’t speech delayed.
The primary goal for parents should be to get your child talking whenever possible. It doesn’t matter if they are speaking with proper articulation. As long as he is talking to you, it is a giant step forward. The more you interact, the more he will learn to model his speech after yours.
Speech problems are extremely common. However, for many children, these problems are temporary and can be fixed with the right professional assistance and some persistence in how their parents interact. Whether your child is suffering from articulation problems or isn’t talking at all or anything in between, it’s important to bring up your concerns with your child’s pediatrician. He or she will be able to tell you what’s normal and what may need to be looked into further. With the right interventions, your child will learn how to communicate effectively.