Does My Child Have A Speech Delay? When To Seek Help

Speech & Fluency

As you’ll know if you have multiple kids, all children develop at various rates. Many have gross motor skills earlier than others; you’ll hear of an infant walking at 10 months to the horror of their parents and family pets. Others might develop language skills and speak in full sentences as early as two, far bypassing peers.

It’s important to remember that faster or slower development in a particular area can exist as an anomaly. The child who walks at 10 months might not speak until relatively later than their peers. The child who reads at 4 might struggle socially. Every human posseses a unique combination of environmental and genetic factors which influence their development of motor, social and language skills.

When it comes to language and speech skills, what are the typical expectations for children before and at school age? 

How might you predict whether your child will struggle with language as they age or whether they are simply picking up language more slowly, but at an appropriate pace on the developmental continuum for their age?

Types of language delays

Speech delays can be divided into two forms: receptive and expressive. It’s also possible for children to struggle with both understanding and expressing.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, receptive language delays mean a child might have trouble:

  • Understanding what people mean when they use gestures, like shrugging or nodding
  • Following directions
  • Answering questions
  • Pointing to objects and pictures
  • Knowing how to take turns when talking with others

Children who struggle with speaking, or expressive language delays, may have trouble:

  • Asking questions
  • Naming objects
  • Using gestures
  • Putting words together into sentences
  • Learning songs and rhymes
  • Using correct pronouns, like “he” or “they”
  • Knowing how to start a conversation and keep it going
  • Changing how they talk to different people and in different places. For example, you speak differently to an adult than a young child. You can talk louder outside than inside.

Speech delays in toddlers & preschoolers

Between the age of 1 and 2, most toddlers pick up language at a standard pace. As with all skills, language develops at different rates in toddlers and preschoolers due to inherited and environmental factors. Most preschoolers will retain certain idiosyncrasies most parents find adorable, like mispronouncing multisyllabic words and struggling with the more challenging phonemes such as /ch/ and /r/.

Between the ages of 2 and 3, most children can speak in short 2-3 word sentences, use anywhere between 200-1,000 words and can mostly be understood by parents and other family members.

Most late talkers “grow out” of their delayed speech or mispronounced sounds, and projecting which children will or won’t can be difficult at this stage.

According to Olswang, L.B., Rodriguez, B. & Timler, G. (1998), toddlers with speech delays are more likely to experience future language delays when the following risk factors are present:

  • quiet as an infant; little babbling
  • a history of ear infections
  • limited number of consonant sounds (e.g. p, b, m, t, d, n, y, k, g)
  • does not link pretend ideas and actions together while playing
  • does not imitate (copy) words
  • uses mostly nouns (names of people, places, things), and few verbs (action words)
  • difficulty playing with peers (social skills)
  • a family history of communication delay, learning or academic difficulties
  • a mild comprehension (understanding) delay for his or her age
  • uses few gestures to communicate

If your preschooler has limited vocabulary, is difficult to understand much of the time and exhibits some of the above risk factors, it would be wise to seek the help of a Speech-Language Pathologist. When treated early, outcomes for speech therapy are generally better.

Is my kindergartener’s speech delayed?

What seems like normal “preschool speak” can become more obviously an issue when your child reaches school age and comparison among children is more apparent.

By the age of 4-5 years, most children will be able to form sentences of at least six to eight words. In addition, they will typically be able to name four or more colours correctly and count to ten aloud.

If you think your child might have a language delay and/or hearing loss, speak to your family doctor or paediatrician immedately about a hearing screening.

You don’t have to wait until kindergarten or reading age to see whether your child will “catch up.” You can reach out to a speech-language pathologist to express your concerns and get advice about your child’s stage of development.

What happens when a speech delay is identified?

Depending on the specific areas in which your child is struggling, your child’s health care team might include your family doctor, a speech-language pathologist, an audiologist, a psychologist, and/or an occupational therapist.

A speech-language pathologist strives to teach your child strategies for understanding and communicating linguistically. The SLP will often work together with you, the parents, to help encourage and enhance your child’s communicative skills at home. 

If hearing loss has been diagnosed, a treatment plan might involve the use of hearing aids, auditory rehabilitation and, sometimes, cochlear implants or surgery to aid in hearing outcomes.

Children with language delays thrive best in smaller instruction groups and with one-on-one language and reading intervention. Language plans should be individualized to your child’s specific needs.


When did you first identify that your child’s language was developing at a different rate from their peers?

Find a Speech-Lanugage Pathologist near you here.

Reach out to us regarding individualized reading intervention here.

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