Speech Delays in Children

Speech delays in your child can be concerning for parents, especially if the cause of the delay is unknown. If your child has a speech delay, keep in mind that 5% to 10% of children have a developmental disorder that causes a speech delay. Your child is far from alone. 

There are two main types of speech delay: expressive and receptive. An expressive speech delay means that your child has difficulty generating speech. A receptive speech delay means that your child has trouble understanding speech. Some children have a combination of both types of speech delay.

What Causes a Speech Delay?
A speech delay may result from problems with the production of words, such as a problem with the vocal chords. It could also be because of a hearing problem or difficulty processing speech, as in developmental language disorders or mental retardation.

A developmental language disorder is the most common cause for a speech delay. In addition to the developmental language disorder, many of these children have an expressive delay, though they will probably meet other milestones, such as being able to understand others' speech and being able to recognize their parents, objects and read facial expressions.

Some children with an expressive delay are "late talkers." Unfortunately it is impossible to tell if they will grow out of this without treatment. Therefore it is best to seek treatment rather than wait and see.

When to Seek Professional Help
If your child isn't meeting the milestones set for his age, talk to your pediatrician. Pediatrician's views on when to seek further treatment vary, with some waiting to see how your child develops and others referring your child to a speech pathologist. Remember that with early intervention many children, especially those with a developmental language disorder, can be treated and develop normal speech.  Therefore it may be best for your child to at least meet with a speech pathologist to determine whether treatment for a speech delay should begin.

How Can Parents Help?
There are things that parents can do to help their children learn to talk. Reading to them, beginning when they are born, can be beneficial. Also talk to your child, all the time. Narrate what you're doing throughout the day to him and ask him a lot of questions. Use simple language that he can understand, but don't talk down to him. When your child does talk, make sure you give him praise. This will encourage him to continue. When he responds with a simple word, expand upon that word, turning it into a simple sentence.  He will begin to understand how language works. One thing to avoid doing is withholding something from your child if he refuses to speak. This only increases your child's frustration, making talking something stressful rather than exciting.

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