What you need to know about childhood speech delays blog header

What parents and educators need to know about childhood speech delays

Speech delays and deficits are a hot topic in early childhood these days. Parents and educators may have different perspectives, but many of their questions are the same: Is my child’s speech development where it’s supposed to be? How do they compare to their peers? What should I watch for when it comes to speech delays? These are all burning questions, but I’m here to give you the 411 and help you feel more confident that you’re doing everything to help your children find their voice and promote resilience in early years, whether you’re a parent or an educator.  

Children develop at different rates

Here’s the number one thing to remember: every child is different! 

That means every child will develop at different speeds and in different ways. This is why cognitive development of preschoolers are framed as ranges of time rather than specific ages. Some children reach milestones relatively early and some reach milestones a little later. Speech and language are the same. 

Small group play

Whether your children reach their milestones in speech earlier or later than others, try to avoid jumping to conclusions. You can always talk with your child’s pediatrician about when to expect certain language and communication milestones and when to be concerned. You can also check the CDC’s website for Developmental Milestones. Here‘s a helpful PDF of the CDC’s Milestone Checklist. Perfect for the side of your fridge!

Parents: Don’t get stuck comparing! 

It’s easy to get stuck comparing one child to another, but it’s important to remember that window of time in which typical development occurs. Consider your gut feeling as a parent. If you feel as though you have concerns about a possible delay, reach out to your child’s pediatrician or an Early Intervention team. Try not to compare your child to anyone but themselves and always remember, you know your child best. 

If you have concerns about your child having a speech delay, make sure the first thing you do is schedule a simple hearing screening. What? Really? Yes! This will help determine if there is any hearing loss. Ear infections are common in small children, and a hearing screening can also detect any scar tissue from chronic ear infections that may be affecting your child’s hearing. Once any hearing loss is ruled out, then you can pursue a speech evaluation. 

Behavior problem or speech delay?

There is a definite tie between behavior and communication. If you are feeling like your child just isn’t listening to you, it may be a deeper-rooted issue. Behavior problems in young children can come from a receptive language delay or a deficit in the child’s understanding of language. Behavior may also rear its ugly head if the child cannot adequately express themselves. This oftentimes leads to frustration and subsequent behaviors. If a child is displaying challenging behaviors, try to stay patient, and consider a possible speech delay. 

The power of early intervention in speech deficits

Family with child in front of computer

The use of early intervention can result in huge successes. It’s important to be aware of your child and their developmental milestones. While every child does develop differently and there is some wiggle room for milestones, whether you’re a parent or an educator, if you’re having concerns, voice them early! There is ample data to support the theory that intervening and supplying therapy and resources early on yields wonderful success. Don’t wait. 

Team up!

Just like any other aspect of child development and education- it takes a village! When parents, educators, and therapists work together as a team, it creates the best results. This will allow the child to experience support around the clock in various settings throughout their day. If educators are frequently modeling the correct use of speech sounds and language, that can help any children struggling to develop their communication. Furthermore, educators or therapists will often give ideas of things that parents can do at home or in the community with their children to aid in their progress. The more opportunities to practice, the better.

Signs of a speech delay 

So, what should we look for? 

When your child is an infant, you want to make sure that they are smiling and interacting with others. Babbling and making vocalizations is another important step in speech development for infants. As babies progress into toddlerhood, those vocalizations should progress into multiple sounds and the use of gestures, such as pointing. If a child has trouble following simple directions at any age, this could indicate a receptive language delay and can be a cause for concern. 

If your child is only saying a few words, or their words are not easily understood, these are also reasons to consider a possible speech delay. If at any point during development a parent or educator has concerns, a simple speech evaluation would be helpful. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to early intervention.

What can parents and educators do?

One of the more important things you can do as a parent or educator is to simply communicate with children, and with each other. Listen and respond to what your children are doing, even if it’s just baby babble! You can also play with them and encourage them to play with other children as well. 

When speaking to a child, model the correct use of words. It’s tempting to repeat those adorable little baby words like “ba-ba” and “ni-ni,” but it’s extremely important to use the correct words–“bottle” and “night night”–when responding back to your children. Narrating what you are doing and what your child is doing is also helpful for language development. This might seem simple, but it makes a huge impact!

As children get older, it’s good to increase the length of your sentences when you’re talking with them or giving them directions. Giving babies and toddlers simple directions with fewer words is fine, but as they get older, increasing that sentence length will expand your child’s language development. 

Lastly, reading to children daily is one of the easiest ways to expand their language development. The plus side is that children love being read to and it’s the perfect time to bond and spend time together!

All of this fosters the use and development of speech and communication.

Navigating possible childhood speech delays and communication development can be overwhelming, but being informed, being proactive, and working together are the keys to success. There are plenty of helpful tips and resources out there, but always remember:

Trust your gut!

Christi Schlager

Christi has been teaching in the classroom for close to 10 years. She has taught both Special Education and Early Childhood Education. Christi enjoys gardening, creating, the beach, and motherhood.