Early Signs of Speech Problems in Children

Early prevention is the key to any childhood problem. Catch speech problems early on and they won't get a chance to become problems that frustrate and upset your child.

Listen for Cooing
That adorable cooing babies do may not be what you consider speech, but that is how we all learn to talk and develop our language skills. Baby babble should be present by age 12 months, single words like "mama" and "dada" by 16 months and two-word phases by 24 months. If your child misses these milestones, it's time to call the pediatrician. Chances are that nothing's wrong; babies will develop at their own pace. But if there is a physical reason for the speech problem, it's best to treat it before your child becomes fully aware of it.

What Causes Speech Problems?
There are many reasons for speech problems, and some could indicate very serious problems if they're coupled with other warning signs. For example, if your baby does not gesture, point or grasp by age 12 months, there's no baby babble and the child refuses cuddling and avoids eye contact, it could be an early indication of autism.

Some children who had normal baby babble and start talking in one- and two-word phases can suddenly stop talking. If this is followed by the additional loss of social skills, this could also be a warning sign of autism. Regression in toddlers is fairly common, especially if there's a change that causes your child stress, such as the arrival of a new sibling or a parent returning to work. Don't assume that these stresses are the whole answer; if something doesn't seem right to you, talk to your doctor.

Speech delays can also be due to hearing problems. If your baby doesn't seem to react to sound, seeking a hearing test should be your first step. Ear infections or a buildup of ear wax could be preventing your infant from properly hearing sounds, which can lead to speech problems.

If your child has normal speech development and suddenly refuses to talk, even though he or she seems to understand you and listens, it could be just plain stubbornness. This has been known to happen when a baby sister or brother suddenly shows up to take your firstborn's place. It could also be a result of you pushing your child to speak. Give your toddler some space, but don't hesitate to call your doctor if other symptoms appear.

As adults, we don't realize the tremendous amount of muscle work and control that goes into speech. It takes a lot of effort for toddlers to master speech, and delays in motor or neurological development can lead to speech problems. Even the soreness of teething can be enough to make a child not want to talk. If everything else seems normal, and your child is attentive to you and interacting happily with people, talk to your doctor about a possible assessment of neurological and muscular development. In most cases, this is a temporary delay that will pass as your child grows.

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