speech delay

Speech delay refers to when a child’s speech is developing slower than their same aged peers. This is different to speech disorders. Speech development refers to reduced clarity of the speech more than the child not saying enough words (late talking).

​Types of speech delay

Children do show some variation in the rate of speech sound development. However, speech sound development in typically developing children will follow fairly predictable steps. If these steps are not met at the same age indicated by the broad milestones, the child may be presenting with a speech delay.  Speech delay may involve:

  • Not physically able to say sounds that are expected at the child’s age (e.g., the /l/ sound can be hard for some 2 year olds to say but 4 year old children should be able to pronounce it well!).
  • Still using phonological processes that only younger children should be using.
Our FREE speech sound developmental checklists will provide a guide to what age children should be saying specific sounds and what phonological processes are expected at different ages.
speech delay

What age can you determine if there is a speech delay

Even babies can show “speech delays”. Baby speech development includes predictable slow but steady increases in the number of speech sounds they use in their baby babble. Baby babble milestones indicate what type of babble is expected at different ages. Babies that do not babble or are not meeting these milestones at the expected ages may be at risk of later speech delay.

Toddler speech development also follows predicable stages going from reduced clarity to increasing speech intelligibility from 18 moths to 3 years. This toddler period is the developmental stage that speech delays frequently become more apparent.

3 year old speech is typically predominantly clear! There are still some sound development skills still developing in the preschool years, however, speech delays are evident when these older preschool children “sound like” younger children.

​By primary school, speech sounds should all be developed. Speech delay can impact on their ability to learn letter-sound matching needed for early reading skills.

speech delay

​What to do if children show a speech delay

Implications of speech impediments such as speech delays can be significant. Research has shown that speech delay can impact social and learning skills that can last all the way to high school if early intervention is not obtained. Speech delays may be related to other learning difficulties and hence addressing early speech delays can diminish ongoing concerns.

​By using Speech Sound Checklists and monitoring speech development, you will be in the best place to pick-up any potential concerns early. Speech therapists can provide speech sound development assessments and identify areas of strengths and gaps in a child’s speech development. If the sound errors are OK for their age speech therapy will not be provided. If speech delays are identified, a speech therapist will provide programmes of how to teach a child all the sounds they are not using properly.

​Speech therapy in the early preschool years is strongly recommended so that the child does not get into the “habit” of saying sounds or words incorrectly if they are showing speech delays for their ages.

speech delay

​Model speech to children with speech delay

If you hear a child saying a sound incorrectly the best thing a parent or carer can do is to “model” the correct sound or the correct adult word form of the word. Rather than thinking it is “cute” and saying the word the way the baby or toddler is saying it, give a “correct model”. Say the correction louder and with emphasis. This give the child’s sound system feedback that it needs to be adjusted. You do not have to make the child say the word back correctly all the time! For a lot of children hearing the corrected model is very important.

For example:

​Child says: “look dat”

​Adult says: “Yes, it is a Cat! A lovely Cat! Hi Cat.”

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Sandra McMahon

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