Speech Impediment: What are Speech Impediments in Children?

speech impediment

Speech Impediment is a broad term used to describe the huge range of different types of speech and verbal communication problems children may present with. The term speech impediment can sometimes be used when the underlying cause of speech issues are not easily determined or there is more than one underlying speech issue (e.g., delayed and disordered speech). Terms like speech difficulties, child speech problems, speech disorders are all used instead of speech impediment at times.

​Types of Speech impediments in Children

Speech Impediments in children can refer to:

Structural Problems

Some children are born with abnormal tongue, lips or palates. If the facial structures are atypical it can impact on speech development. Children born with cleft lips and palates may have speech problems for example. Tongue-ties may also impact on speech development.

Nerve Damage

Children with cerebral palsy or those that have had some kind of brain damage (e.g., car accident or near drowning) may have damage to the nerves that help the muscles of the face and chest need for speaking. Speech impediments may result.

Hearing Problems

Children born with hearing problems and those with chronic ear infections can have speech delays and difficulties.

Developmental Difficulties

Children with slow to develop speech or other developmental problems may have speech sound developmental delays resulting in speech impediments. Intellectual impairment, autism and verbal dyspraxia can impact on how easily children learn to verbally speak.

Articulation difficulties

Difficulties physically saying sounds are sometime referred to as speech impediments. An example would be a lisp.


Sometimes children that stutter are referred to as having a speech impediment.

Implications of a Speech Impediment for a child

speech impediment

Implications of a speech impediment vary greatly depending on severity and cause of the speech difficulty. No matter what the cause however the literature clearly shows that child have the best outcomes when intervention is sought as early as possible.

​Early intervention should be sought if red flags for speech impediments are showing during baby speech development, toddler speech development or ongoing problems in preschool & school are present in regard to speech development.

There is evidence that young children with speech impediments are at risk of concerns in areas such as:

Social skills
  • To develop social skills children learn to talk to both adults and children. Unclear speech can impact on their ability to engage in “conversations” (either verbally or non-verbally). It is very hard to negotiate, compromise with others, and to be able to recognize and follow social “rule” with a speech impediment.
Expressive (using) language
  • Speech sound development and growth of sentences are very closely linked. Children with poor speech clarity tend to keep their sentences short so that others have more of a chance to understand them. Using language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas may be needed if speech impediments are severe. Early grammar is also very closely linked to speech sound development. If a child can not say the /s/ sound it can impact on their ability to use plurals (e.g., “two CakeS”) or indicate ownership (e.g., Mummy’s bag).
Self Confidence
  • If children have tried to talk and have not been understood it can impact on their self-confidence. A child’s belief in their ability to perform a task.• Fluency or stuttering can be related to poor speech sound development. The smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are produced when talking can make it sound like a child has a stutter
  • The child may be “clingy” or always want a parent/carer to be around if they are their main means of communicating with other, If children need you to translate or help with their communication their independence skills can be impacted on by their speech impediments.
Fluency or Stuttering
  • Fluency or stuttering can be related to poor speech sound development. The smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are produced when talking can make it sound like a child has a stutter
  • A child may become overly frustrated due to not being understood. Hitting out, biting, screaming and throwing things can be more related to reduce clarity due to a speech impediment than poor behaviour alone.
Reading and Spelling
  • Reading and spelling which rely on sounding out the words can be impacted on by speech impediments. If you can’t say the right sounds when you are trying to spell a words it makes spelling that work even more difficult.

What to do if you suspect a child has a speech impediment.

speech impediment

Seek advice from a speech therapist that works with early speech development. It is never to early to ask questions and get advice. It is better to be told a child is age appropriate than become stressed that your child’s speech is lagging behind their peers. Early intervention can put children’s speech development on the correct path before the above concerns set in.

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Sandra McMahon

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