Speech Problem in Children

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From cooing, to babbling to saying that first word, the development of verbal communication in children occurs in the same general sequence of steps.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that each child follows his own personal timeline — even kids within the same family can vary widely in the timing of those first words or first sentences. 

So how are parents supposed to know if their child has a speech or language problem that should be addressed by a professional?

Developmental red flags can often be identified by a pediatrician at well-child visits with a few simple questions. But more subtle issues might still slip under the radar. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, these are potential signs of a language disorder:

  • Birth to 3 months: Doesn’t smile or interact with others
  • 4-7 months: Isn’t babbling
  • 7 to 12 months: Makes few sounds
  • 7 to 12 months: Doesn’t use gestures such as pointing or waving
  • 7 months to 2 years: Doesn’t seem to understand what others are saying
  • 12 months to 18 months: Only says a few words
  • 18 months to 3 years: Doesn’t string together words to make sentences
  • 2 to 3 years: Has trouble playing and talking with other children
  • 2.5 years to 3 years: Has problems with early reading and writing skills, such as not showing interest in books or drawing.

Other snags in communication may happen with word pronunciation. Although some of these issues may only be temporary, here are a few lingering signs of speech sound disorders to listen for:

  • 1-2 years: Says p, b, m, h and w incorrectly in words
  • 2-3 years: Says k, g, f, t, d and n incorrectly in words
  • 2-3 years: Produces speech that is unclear, even to familiar people.

Although it may be tempting to correct speech sounds each time you hear it spoken incorrectly, parents should avoid doing so. It can actually be more helpful to your child to simply make sure you’re saying the sounds correctly when you talk.

Stuttering is yet another common speech issue with which many children struggle. A child who stutters should be given plenty of time to talk without interruption. If any of these problems persist, working with a speech-language pathologist can definitely be helpful. Early detection and treatment are paramount in both speech and language delays.

According to the University of Michigan Health System, here are some ways parents can help their children cultivate their communication skills from the very beginning:

  • Start talking to your child at birth.
  • Respond to your baby’s coos and babbling.
  • Play simple games with your baby like peek-a-boo and patty-cake
  • Describe for your child what he is doing, feeling and hearing throughout the day.
  • Don’t try to force your child to speak.
  • Read books aloud.
  • Sing to your child and provide him with music.
  • Talk a lot to your child. Tell them what you are doing as you do it.
  • Ask your child a lot of questions.
  • Use gestures along with words.
  • Don’t criticize grammar mistakes. Model good grammar instead.
  • Have your child play with kids whose language is slightly better than theirs.

For even more tips on speech and language development and common problems, read this helpful resource page from the University of Michigan, or visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website.

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