Speech Delays in Toddlers: How to Spot it and What to Do

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10 Signs of Speech Delays in Toddlers | If you suspect your toddler may have a speech delay, this post is a great resource. It includes 10 common signs of speech delays in kids plus a list of common causes to help you get to the root of the issue so you can find the right treatment option. And if you want to know how to help a child with a speech delay at home, we've also include 5 tips for parents to assist with speech development.

At some point, most parents of toddlers worry about their little one’s development. One of the most common worries is a delay in speech.

If your toddler isn’t talking, you may wonder if they have a speech delay.

This post will help you learn how to spot a delay if your child has one and you’ll also discover steps you can take to help.

What is a Speech Delay?

Speech is about expressing ourselves verbally through language and how we articulate that language with sounds and words.

We know as parents that every child develops differently, so at what point should we be concerned about their level of speech?

At around 12 months of age, most children will say their first word. A typical 2 year old can say around 50 words, increasing to 1000 words by age 3.

A speech delay means that your child has not reached the developmental milestones at the same rate as their peers.

Approximately 10% of preschool children have a speech delay, with boys being more likely to experience it than girls.

So how do you know if your child is experiencing a speech delay? Take a look at these 10 signs of a speech delay in toddlers.

10 Signs of a Speech Delay

It’s hard for a parent to know if there is really a problem, or if their toddler is just taking a little longer to get there. These 10 signs of a speech delay will help you determine if you should take the next step:

  1. Your child is not using gestures by 12 months (waving goodbye or pointing)
  2. By 18 months, your toddler prefers to use gestures over vocalizing their needs
  3. They have difficulty understanding simple verbal requests
  4. Your toddler is 18 months old and they have difficulty imitating sounds
  5. By the time they are 2 years old, they aren’t able to produce words or phrases on their own and they can only imitate actions or speech – they should be saying at least 25 words
  6. Your child is 2 years old and can’t follow simple instructions
  7. At 2 years old your toddler tends to repeat words over and over or uses only sounds to communicate their needs
  8. By age 3, your child isn’t saying at least 200 words
  9. You notice that your child has a raspy or nasal sounding voice
  10. They are unable to say words that they have learned previously

What Causes Speech Delays in Toddlers?

Both physical impairments as well as oral-motor problems can cause speech delays in toddlers.

  • Oral Impairment:  An oral impairment such as problems with their tongue or the roof of their mouth (palette) can cause delays. Some toddlers have difficulty coordinating their tongue, lips, and jaw muscles to produce sounds.
  • Hearing:  Problems with hearing can also affect speech production. A simple hearing test can be helpful if you think your child is experiencing a delay in speech.
  • Ear Infections:  Any ear infection, but especially chronic infections, can affect speech. The concern is if the infections are in both ears. If it’s only in one ear, it shouldn’t have any effect on speech development.
  • Premature Birth:  If your little one was premature, they may experience a delay in speech and language development.
  • Autism:  Children on the autism spectrum can have a speech delay along with other signs associated with autism spectrum disorder.
  • Neurological Problems:  Muscles needed for speech can be affected by certain types of neurological disorders such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or a traumatic brain injury.

How Are Speech Delays in Toddlers Treated?

There are many effective treatments for speech delays. If you feel your toddler is experiencing a delay, there are things you can do to help.

The first step is to make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician, who can offer an assessment to help determine if they need to see a speech language pathologist who will check on their speech and language skills. Based on what they find, they make refer you to see a speech therapist.

If you receive a referral to see a specialist, don’t worry. Remember that there is no one at fault. With a little help, your child will start to see an improvement. A speech therapist will work with your child to help them improve their speech as well as their language skills.

5 Tips to Help a Speech Delayed Child at Home

As a parent, there are things you can do to help your child with their speech development:

  1. Kids learn by repetition. Try repeating words to your toddler in different ways such as reading a book or singing a song. Encourage your child to imitate sounds and gestures.
  2. Narrate your day. As you go through your day, talk with your child about what you’re doing. You can also point to objects in and outside your home and name them.
  3. Give your child your full attention when they’re trying to talk to you and have patience when they’re responding to a question.
  4. Encourage your child to interact with children who have good language skills.
  5. Try a speech-therapy app to create a fun, engaging way to help your child learn to produce sounds, words, and sentences.

Once again, it’s important to remember that every child develops differently.

However, if you’re still concerned about your child’s speech, or you think they may have an underlying problem that is affecting your child’s development, don’t be afraid to seek treatment.

Early intervention can help avoid speech delays in toddlers and put them on the right path for success in the future.

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