Earlyspeak | Article

Is My Child's Speech or Language Delayed?

Parents are often the first adults to notice a
possible delay in their child's speech or language
development. Your child's speech may not be
clear. Or, your child may use shorter sentences
than other children the same age This
observation generally leads to three questions:

Is my child's speech or language delayed?
Speech skills are different from language skills.
Language refers to the use of words and
sentences to convey ideas. Speech is the
production of sounds that make up the words and

Using developmental milestones, such as those
listed below, you can compare your child's
development with that of other children the same
age. Read the description and ask yourself the
questions listed. You can get an idea if your
child'B communication skills are about the same,
higher than, or lower than expected

Use caution when applying any measure of
development to your child. Individual differences
or special circumstances need to be accounted for.
This can be done by consulting with your school's
speech and language clinician or by checking with
your local speech and hearing clinic

Milestones of Speech and language

• One-year-old children should be able to
understand a variety of words and should
be using a few single words.
• By age two, words should be combined
into two-and three-word phrases and
• Between the ages of three and five,
children learn to carry on a conversation,
ask and answer questions, follow and give
directions, and speak alone in the presence
of a group These skills are important to
success in kindergarten.
• After age five, sentences become
increasingly complex. Children begin
using words like "when," "while," and
"since" to relate two or more ideas in a
single sentence. The language level used
by teachers and textbooks assumes that
children have this skill by the age of

seven or eight.

• As a rule, children use understandable
speech by age four and use all speech
sounds correctly by age five to seven.
At what point should I be concerned
about my child's development?
Both social and academic success depend on well-
developed speech and language skills. Your child
may be having difficulty developing these skills if:

1. Your child has experienced ear infections or an
unusually long stay (six months or more) in
the hospital.
2. The child is not understood by playmates or
others outside the immediate family.
3. The child is frustrated when trying to
communicate and the situation does not
improve over a one- or two-month period.
4. There is a delay of one year or more in
developing speech and language skills For
example, here is a sample of aff^'ajj language
development (compiled by Beth Witt):

• Says only one or two words at a time
• Cannot answer "what" or "who"
• Speech is not comprehensible except in
• Does not seem to hear or understand all
that is said; seems to "tune out" what
others say.
• Does not start conversations. Speaks only
when spoken to.
• Does not understand spoken directions
without visual assistance from pointing
and other gestures.
• Repeats what others say rather than

• Talks in only two- or three-word phrases.
Word order is poor.
• Cannot answer simple "what" "where," or
"why" questions.

f • Sentences or words are jumbled and
disordered—hard to understand.
• Does not talk to peers or adults unless
prodded, and then talks as little as
• Does not respond to simple two-step
directions: "Go to the kitchen. Bring me a
• Cannot listen to two or three lines of a
story and answer simple questions about
what was read.

• Talks in only three- or four-word sentences
about present events.
• Cannot answer questions about
"yesterday" or "tomorrow" Cannot answer
"how" questions.

• Rxir articulation is still a problem. Child's
speech is unclear.
• Talks a great deal, but remarks may not
be relevant to the situation.
• Has trouble sitting and listening to story
of more than four or five sentences
without "tuning out."
If any of these problems exist, it is recommended

that you have your child's speech and language

skills evaluated or tested.

What can I do about my child's speech
and language problem?
Check with your local school district to see what
evaluation and therapy services are available for
your child Many districts offer programs for
preschool children. Some districts even extend
services to infants. If your local district does not

have a program for your child, call the
Department of Education in your state and ask
what services are available on a state-wide basis.
If you live in a larger town, you may have the
services of a speech and language clinician in a
hospital, clinic, or private practice available to
you. (For information, call the American SpeechLanguage-
Hearing Association.)

After you have located a source of professional
assistance, schedule an appointment for an
evaluation. Then allow yourself a couple of days
to think of, and write down, all the things about
your child's communication that concern you. By
writing them down, you relieve yourself of the
burden of trying to remember them on the day of
the appointment.


Articulation—The production of speech sounds.

Evaluation-Tests used to measure a person's level
of development, or to identify a possible disease
or disorder.

Speech and language clinician—A person who is
qualified to diagnose and treat speech, language,
and voice disorders.

Carolyn A Weiner, MA, CCC