Know the early signs of a speech-language disorder

May 25, 2017 | by Alyssa Eskra, MS, CCC-SLP
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Are you worried because your child hasn’t started talking yet? Or is it that your child doesn't seem to listen or understand what you’re saying?

Some of the speech-language disorders that can affect children include:

  • Language disorders - difficulty understanding or processing language (receptive), or difficulty using language (expressive)
  • Speech sound disorders - difficulty pronouncing sounds or unintelligible speech
  • Fluency disorders - interruption of the flow of speech (e.g., hesitations, repetitions, or prolonging sounds or words)
  • Voice disorders - problems with the pitch, volume or quality of the voice

Some children may have hearing loss that interferes with development of speech and language. An audiologist can help if you have any concerns about your child's hearing.  For other children, a communication issue may be attributed to another condition, such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder or selective mutism. In some cases, the development of speech and language is simply delayed.

Don't wait and hope your child will outgrow a communication problem. Speech and language disorders can have negatively affect your child’s ability to read, write, learn and even socialize. The earlier you get help for your child, the better.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) lists some of the early signs to help you determine if your child has a speech-language disorder:

Signs of a language disorder

  • Doesn't smile or interact with others (3 months)
  • Doesn't babble (9 months)
  • Does not use gestures (e.g., waving, pointing) (7–12 months)
  • Has not used first word (15 months)
  • Does not follow simple directions (20 months)
  • Doesn't put words together to make sentences (1½–2 years)
  • Has trouble interacting with other children (2–3 years)
  • Has a vocabulary of less than 50 words (2 years)

Signs of a speech sound disorder

  • Less than 50 percent intelligible to unfamiliar listeners by the age of 2
  • Unfamiliar listeners can understand less than 75 percent of what 3-year-old says
  • Inconsistent productions of the same target sounds or words

Signs of a fluency disorder

  • Repeats first sounds of words—"b-b-b-ball" for "ball"
  • Stretches sounds out—"f-f-f-f-farm" for "farm"
  • Significantly rapid speech rate

Signs of a voice disorder

  • Uses a hoarse or breathy voice
  • Inability to speak loudly
  • Chronic cough or excessive throat clearing

It’s important to identify speech-language problems early, so your child can begin treatment as soon as possible, as early intervention is key.

ASHA says: “The earlier a child's speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is that problems will persist or get worse. Early speech and language intervention can help children be more successful with reading, writing, schoolwork, and interpersonal relationships.”

If you’re concerned about how your child is communicating, start with your pediatrician. Your doctor may suggest you take your child to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for a comprehensive evaluation.

As a parent, your involvement is crucial to helping your child overcome a speech-language disorder. You can help by telling stories, playing word games, reciting rhymes and songs, engaging in conversation, reading books together, and more. ASHA also offers these activities parent can use to encourage speech and language development in young children, from birth-2 years, 2-4 years and 4-6 years of age.

Learn more about speech therapy at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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