The first years of a child’s life is equally exciting and frightening for parents. It is amazing to see the miracle of human growth and development, but frustrating when parents are unable to see progress in a normal timeline. It’s difficult for a parent to know exactly when your kid should walk, be potty trained and even talk. Parents should remember that all kids grow and excel at different speeds.

Surely a sense of relief comes with the development of a child’s speech and language, giving them the ability to communicate any issue with their parents. So, when something as important as speech and language skills do not develop, or progress very slowly, what is a parent to do?

First parents need to understand that speech and language are two separate abilities.

  • Speech is the verbal expression of language and includes articulation (the way sounds and words are formed).
  • Language is much broader and refers to the entire system of expressing and receiving information in a way that’s meaningful. It’s understanding and being understood through communication — verbal, nonverbal and written.

What are the signs of a speech delay?

Speech delay occurs in up to 10 percent of children. An infant that isn’t responding to sound or isn’t vocalizing is of particular concern. Between 12 and 24 months, reasons for concern include a child who:

  • Isn’t using gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye by 12 months
  • Prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate by 18 months
  • Has trouble imitating sounds by 18 months
  • Has difficulty understanding simple verbal requests

Parents should seek an evaluation if a child over two years old:

  • Can only imitate speech or actions and doesn’t produce words or phrases spontaneously
  • Says only certain sounds or words repeatedly and can’t use oral language to communicate more than their immediate needs
  • Can’t follow simple directions
  • Has an unusual tone of voice (such as raspy or nasal sounding)
  • Is more difficult to understand than expected for their age. Parents and regular caregivers should understand about half of a child’s speech at two years and about three quarters at three years. By four years old, even people who don’t know the child should mostly be able to understand what they are saying.

The causes of delay of speech vary from child to child. There are numerous reasons, some of the more common reasons are:

  • Mental retardation
  • Hearing loss
  • Maturation delay
  • Expressive language disorder
  • Bilingualism
  • Psychosocial deprivation
  • Autism
  • Elective mutism
  • Receptive aphasia
  • Cerebral palsy


Things You Can Do to Improve Speech Delay

  • Just because your child may show signs of speech delay, or may be affected by one of the genetic causes, do not throw in the towel on helping them progress. There are very simple steps a parent can take to help develop their child’s speech and language skills. By using some of the following tips, the chances of your child catching up to the rest of the kids their age are much greater.
  • Take time to communicate with your child. We tend to lose, or lack an ability when we do not use it often. Engaging with your child from day one, will teach them all the fundamentals of communication while make it second nature.
  • Read! Reading is never outdated. It is a great way for people of all ages to develop and maintain a strong sense of language. Start reading age appropriate books at six months, and encourage them to imitate motions and sounds in order to create motor skills. As they get older, parents should progress to teaching them to recognize words and eventually read.
  • Guide them into learning. When they are younger, fortify their communication by guiding them through conversations. Set up conversations with questions about the day, explain things you are doing, ask and acknowledge their responses. It may be difficult, but try to refrain from using baby talk.

Naturally, when there is an issue, mental or physical, early acknowledgement and treatment is the best action a parent can take.