It can be hard for parents to accurately judge the development of their child’s speech for a number of reasons. Firstly, different children develop at different rates, and comparing them to their friends or siblings is not always an effective measure. Additionally, we know that young children have to learn how to speak, and so hearing them make mistakes or struggle with certain sounds is expected up to a point. It is difficult to know when this is typical behaviour, and when you should consider raising the red flag, so we have outlined some key points to help parents identify the warning signs of a speech disorder.
Speech sound disorders are those where the person finds it physically difficult to speak. Apraxia, where the signals from the brain to not work to create the necessary movement in the mouth, or dysarthria, where weak muscles limit a person’s ability to make the necessary movements, are examples of speech sound disorders.
By age 2, most children should be able to properly vocalise the b, h, m, p, and w sounds in words, and by age 3, this extends to d, f, g, k, and t. Also by age 3, most people who know the child well should understand the majority of what they are saying. While it is not unusual for strangers to struggle to understand a child they don’t know, people who see the child regularly should.
It may be tempting to correct your child as they speak, but this is not an effective way of teaching, and will likely only hurt their confidence. Instead, lead by example and make sure you enunciate the problem sounds when you speak.
A language disorder is one that is not related to a physical problem, but to their comprehension of language and how it is used. The warning signs for a language disorder tend to be a little clearer than those of a speech sound disorder, and include:
- Not smiling or interacting with other people from birth
- Not making babbling sounds at around 6 months
- Making few sounds or gestures overall between 7 & 12 months
- Not understanding or understood by others by age 2
- Not making basic sentences or interacting with other children by age 3
Parents who are concerned that their child may have a language disorder should take them to see a speech therapist if they display multiple symptoms of those listed above. When at home, you can encourage their language development by interacting with them frequently, having others interact with them, and narrating what you do. You may be tempted to repeat the same words, or focus on one language even if you live in a multilingual home, but studies show that a richer diversity of language is better for their development.
The main signs of a child developing a stutter are repeating or stretching out the starts of words, but taking frequent pauses between words can also be a warning sign. If this is the case, you should take your child to see a speech therapist, but remember not to interrupt them or finish their words/sentences for them. You may think you’re being helpful, but it will only lower their confidence.
It is perfectly normal for parents to worry about their children, and that includes worrying if they’re worrying too much. It is important to remember that all children develop at different rates, but if you have read the signs listed above and still have concerns, taking your child to see a speech therapist is the best way to alleviate your anxiety, or get the most effective treatment for your child if necessary.