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Does my Child Need Speech Therapy?

At one point or another, almost every parent will wonder if their child’s development is on track with their age group. Rest assured, you are not alone. In fact, developmental delays are common amongst children and speech delays are no different. The good news is there are now more options than ever to make sure your child gets the support they need - where they need it - for continued development.

The root meaning of “speech” is the ability to express thoughts and feelings through sound production or words— understanding or comprehending language or expression of words from others is a discussion for another day. Speech delay refers to a child’s inability to appropriately form sound or words typical of their age group.

Where does my child stand compared to typical childhood development?
Not every adult is expected to be equipped with knowledge about child development, especially those who are new to parenthood. If you are even remotely suspicious that your child is experiencing speech delay, consult with your pediatrician and refer to the many developmental milestone charts available online. The following chart is a compilation of information about typical childhood speech development ages newborn to 3 years:
Speech Development by Age Group
  • Try imitating speech sounds

  • Say a few words, such as "dada," "mama" and "uh-oh"

  • Imitates simple words and sounds; may start using a few single words meaningfully (7-12 months)

  • Babbling has both long and short groups of sounds such as “tata upup bibibibi”
  • Make gurgling sounds when playing with you or left alone

  • Babble and make a variety of sounds

  • Babbling becomes more speech-like and they experiment with different sounds including p-, b-, and m-

  • Chuckles and laughs

  • Use his or her voice to express pleasure and displeasure

  • Imitates his or her own voice
  • Smile when you appear

  • Make cooing sounds

  • Cry differently for different needs
  • Say as many as 10 words

  • May start using 2-3 word sentences in order to get what they want (12-24 months)

  • Says more words as each month passes (12-24 months)

  • Uses one or two-word questions (“Where’s kitty?”) (12-24 months)
  • Use simple phrases, such as "more milk"

  • Ask one- to two-word questions, such as "Go bye-bye?"

  • Speak about 50 or more words

  • Speak well enough to be understood at least half the time by you or other primary caregivers
  • Has a word for almost everything. 

  • Uses two- or three- words to talk about and ask for things. 

  • Uses k, g, f, t, d, and n sounds. 

  • Speech is understood by familiar listeners most of the time.

  •  Often asks for or directs attention to objects by naming them. 

  • Asks why?
  • May stutter on words or sounds
(Mayo Clinic, 2019)
(Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2019)
(, n.d)
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reported that approximately 5% of U.S. children have noticeable speech disorders by the time they enter 1st grade. Roughly 3 million Americans stutter, most of whom are between the ages of 2 and 6 years old. Boys are 3 times more likely than girls to develop a stutter (2016). 

In many cases, children will grow out of stuttering and develop normal speech patterns to communicate with others. However, stuttering is not the only speech problem that impacts children. Below are listed some causes for speech delay during childhood:

  • Speech motor disorders. There are two common types of speech motor disorders: dysarthria and apraxia. Dysarthria refers to slowed speech due to muscle impairment of the face (muscle weakness, nerve damage brain damage are common causes). Apraxia is difficulty coordinating, planning, and sequencing muscle groups of the face and mouth to accurately produce speech (Northwestern Communication, 2019). 

  • Deafness. Complete deafness or even chronic ear infections can impact a child’s ability to learn speech components to form language.

  • Respiratory disorders. A child will struggle with producing sounds if they are unable to sufficiently produce enough air to talk.

  • Developmental disorders. Autism, Down syndrome, mutism, expressive language disorder, and intellectual disability are just a small number of developmental disorders that can delay speech development. 

  • Brain injury. Traumatic, anoxic, prenatal, inflammation, and infection injury of brain tissue can also drastically delay or change speech development.

  • Neglect, abandonment, or abuse. Some children who are seen by speech therapists for intervention experience abuse at home. Traumatic environments can lead to unhealthy brain development which can directly worsen speech (Welc, 2010). 

What type of issues do speech pathologists address?
If you or your pediatrician suspect symptoms of speech delay in your child, then it is time to get a referral to see a speech-language pathologist (SLP). For those who are unfamiliar with this profession, SLPs provide services for a lot more than just speech delays. Highly certified and experienced SLPs can also address the following issues across the lifespan: language, cognition, swallowing, feeding, fluency, voice production, resonance, and auditory (hearing) rehabilitation. SLPS are also licensed to write speech-related treatment orders as well as make diagnoses specific to speech, swallowing, and language. 

What do I do next?
You are past observing your child and communicating with your pediatrician. Maybe your child has been referred to speech therapy, or maybe you are now on your own to find one. What do you do next?
You can proactively start the research on your own… and find services that are high quality and convenient for your entire family. Residents of Davidson and Williamson County should consider visiting our therapist search page and begin browsing therapist’s profiles and credentials, each of which will come to you to serve your child. Once you find a therapist who you like, you can view their schedule in real time and book right away. The sooner your child receives services for speech delay, the faster they can maximize his or her potential so they can participate in activities and relationships that matter most to your family. 

Statistics on Voice, Speech, and Language (2016). National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Viewed on June 18, 2019.
Language Development: Speech Milestones for Babies. (2019). Mayo Clinic. Viewed on June 18, 2019.
Age-appropriate speech and Hearing Milestones. (2019). John Hopkins Medicine. Viewed on June 18, 2019. 

How does your child hear and talk? (n.d.) Available from the website of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association: “”. All rights reserved. Viewed on June 18, 2019.
Motor speech disorders: Apraxia and dysarthria. Northwestern Communication: Center for Audiology, Speech, Language, and Learning. Viewed on June 18, 2019. 

Welc, J.B. (2010). Understanding the Impact of Abuse and Neglect on Speech and Language Development. Viewed on June 18, 2019. 

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