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What is considered a delayed speech?
Delayed speech is often confused with a speech disorder, although these two are very different from one another. But, a speech delay can certainly precede a speech disorder. A speech delay is very much how it sounds a delay in an individual’s speech acquisition. This being said, there could be a speech ‘sound’ delay, as well as a language delay.
A speech ‘sound’ delay would be considered if a child is not acquiring certain speech sounds as early as expected, however, they do not quite meet the criteria for it to be considered a speech sound disorder. For example, this could mean that the sound may be emerging, but hasn’t been mastered by the child yet. A language delay might mean a child is developing language, however, it is developing slower than is to be expected. So again, the child might not meet the criteria for a language disorder, however, they are falling behind their same-age peers in the acquisition of language.
Parents and caregivers can look for a few signs as to whether or not their child has a speech delay. While comparison with other children is sometimes not the best for a parent to do, in this case listening to your child and taking into account whether or not they ‘sound’ like their same-age peers can be very helpful. And asking oneself a few questions, such as:
By 12 months, is your child utilizing gestures?
By 18 months, is your child vocalizing or imitating sounds?
By 24 months, is your child producing speech spontaneously?
By 36 months, does your child have at least 200 words in their vocabulary?
And while it is true, some children are just late bloomers, the earlier a speech delay is detected, the better the outcome for the child. Some children may only need simple and light intervention, while others may be at risk of their speech delay turning into a speech disorder.
SPEECH DELAY CAUSES
What causes a speech delay?
There is no concrete explanation or cause for a speech delay, though a few factors can put a child more at risk of developing one. A few of those factors include:
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): An early sign of autism can include a speech delay. However, just because a child has a speech delay does not mean that they have autism. While one might precede the other, neither is a cause for the other.
Oral Impairments: An oral impairment can make speech acquisition difficult for children, resulting in a speech delay. This impairment can be motor based (difficultly with planning and carrying out speech through the articulators) or it can be structural (such as a cleft palate/lip).
Speech or Language Disorder: A speech delay can be caused by some sort of speech or language processing issue, such as a speech or language disorder. Such diagnoses are typically characterized by difficulty producing certain sounds, comprehending language, or producing a wide variety of language (i.e., limited vocabulary).
Neurological Issues: A speech or language delay can be secondary to a neurological diagnosis (i.e., traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, etc.)
SPEECH DELAY DIAGNOSIS
How is a speech delay diagnosed?
A speech delay is typically diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist. Initially, a speech-language pathologist might receive a referral from the child’s pediatrician or parent/caregiver (or even an educator). The assessment begins with a thorough evaluation of a child's speech and language skills. The speech-language pathologist, depending on the setting, might start out with what is known as a ‘screener’. The screener will be administered, and if the child fails said screener, a red flag is raised to the speech-language pathologist that something might be amiss.
The speech-language pathologist will then follow up with a full assessment. This assessment may include observing the child's ability to produce sounds, understand language, use words and phrases, and communicate effectively. Speech therapists often use standardized tests and informal observations to gather a complete picture of the child's communication abilities. Additionally, they consider factors such as the child's age, developmental history, and any potential underlying medical conditions.
A delay is often diagnosed if a child does not meet the criteria for a speech disorder, but is still showing signs that they are falling behind their same-age peers. Following this, a speech-language pathologist might offer the parent/caregiver early intervention services in order to prevent the delay from progressing into a disorder.
SPEECH DELAY TREATMENT
How is speech delay treated?
Speech-language therapists play a pivotal role in designing interventions that target specific areas of difficulty. These interventions often encompass various techniques such as articulation exercises, language-building activities, and communication strategies. Therapy sessions are interactive and engaging, encouraging the development of speech and language skills through repetition and practice.
How a speech delay is treated is dependent on what aspects of speech are considered ‘delayed’. A child may exhibit a speech delay in the sense that they have not mastered certain speech sounds at the age that they are expected to, but the speech sounds are still emerging and present. In this case, the child might be repeatedly drilled with the speech sounds that they have yet to master in order to assist them in catching up with their same-age peers.
Similarly, if the speech delay is more language based (i.e. the child is not developing a vocabulary at the same pace as their same-age peers) the child might undergo language intervention. This could include exposing the child to the aspects of language they are lacking in. For example, introducing the child to more literature or focusing on the uses of adjectives, pronouns, irregular verbs, or anything else they may be exhibiting a delay in.
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