Does My Child Have a Speech Disorder?

It’s perfectly natural to worry about your child and wonder if he is developing at a rate that is on target for his age level. The world of pediatrics is overflowing with milestone charts that measure everything from gross motor skills to cognitive abilities to language and speech development. Just remember that every child develops at his own pace. Avoid panicking if, for example, your one-year-old is a little slow to point to his a picture in a book upon request. While this is considered to be the target age for that particular skill, some toddlers simply need a bit more time.
That said, you know your child best. If you feel that he might show signs of a speech disorder or delay, it’s always best to take him to a speech-language pathologist (SLP), or speech therapist, sooner rather than later. If your child does require speech therapy, starting a treatment program before he enters elementary school is preferable. This way, a speech problem is less likely to hold him back academically.

Common Signs of Speech Disorders
The term “speech disorder” covers everything from stuttering to dysarthria (a neurological condition that compromises oral-motor muscles). While it’s impossible to cover every speech and language issue in one article, here are a few of the common signs to watch out for.

Articulation Disorders
Children with articulation disorders have trouble producing sounds. Some sounds may be omitted entirely, while others may be pronounced incorrectly. For example, you may notice that your toddler says “gog” instead of “dog.” Your child may also add extra sounds onto words, or he might simply be very difficult to understand.

Phonological Disorders
A child with a phonological disorder makes certain patterns of speech errors. He is able to correctly pronounce sounds, but fails to apply the proper rules of language. If your child has a phonological disorder, you will likely notice that he makes the same speech errors consistently. He probably also simplifies words by leaving off sounds. You might notice that your child can correctly pronounce the “b” in “blue,” for example, but he avoids saying the “b” in “tub.”

Expressive/Receptive Language Disorders
An expressive language disorder means that your child has problems selecting and using words to express himself. A receptive language disorder means that your child has difficulty understanding spoken or written language. A child could also have a mixed expressive/receptive language disorder. Some of the common signs of the former include slow acquisition of words, delays in babbling, and problems with the rules of language. Children with a receptive language disorder may appear to be ignoring a person who speaks to them, may have trouble following directions, and may frequently repeat words and phrases. This repetition of spoken language is called echolalia; it can also be a sign of other speech and language problems.
These are just a few of the speech and language issues that speech therapists commonly treat. Check out the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website for a more comprehensive resource on speech and language in children.

Speech and Language Milestones
I’d like to stress again that every child develops differently. Use these speech and language milestones as a general guide to the development of your child.

Birth to 1-Year
By the time a child is three months old, he typically begins to react to noises and make cooing noises.
By the time a child is six months old, he typically begins to babble with various sounds, including “m,” “b,” and “p.” He also giggles, attentively listens to music, and looks in the direction of sounds.
By the time a child is one year old, he typically recognizes common words (like “juice”) and can respond to them. He also babbles with groups of sounds, like “bibibibi.” He may articulate one or two simple words, like “mama.”

One to Two Years
By the time a child is about one year old, he typically will point to pictures in a book or to a specific body part upon request.
He will often begin to follow simple directions.
By the time he is two years old, he will typically speak about 50 words. He can typically link two words together, like “What’s that?”
His articulation may still be unclear much of the time, but parents will typically understand some of the words.

Three to Four Years
By the time a child is three years old, he may speak 250 to 500 words. He will also typically link three to four words together in a simple sentence.

By age four, a child will typically speak in complete sentences, speak clearly enough for non-family members to understand, and answer simple questions.

If you’re concerned at all about your child’s speech and language development, it’s always best to consult a speech therapist instead of taking the “wait and see” approach.

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