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Speech Delay in Toddlers: An All-in-One Guide for Parents

This blog discusses language development, in particular the signs of speech delay and its causes and diagnosis, answers to many questions that parents have, and gives practical suggestions for overcoming this issue.

Welcome to our series of All-in-One” guides connecting blog writers around an important topic that is explored in-depth on our blog page. The subject of this guide is speech delay in toddlers.

Unfortunately, parents aren’t handed a “Parent’s Manual” when they take their children home from the hospital the first time. Whether it’s your firstborn or any of your other children, all come out differently and learn differently. This blog provides a cohesive, consistent source of information about communication development stages for children of all ages in the context of speech delay.

Some Background on Speech Impediments

A ‘speech and language impediment’ is a very broad term for types of disorders that result in a lack of skills in communicating, fluency, hearing, etc. Whether a physical impairment or a neurological disorder, these can be tested for by professionals. We describe three types of speech and language disorders in 6 Types of Speech Impediments, which explores some of the reasons kids experience speech delay.

Figuring Out If Your Child Has a Speech Delay

In the first chapter of my ideal kids manual for parents, I’d have a section on how to figure out if my child is a late talker. In her blog Does My Child Have a Speech Delay?, SLP Natalie Barnes explains that “A speech delay occurs when your child’s speech develops in the correct sequence but at a slower pace than their peers.” 

As well, SLP Stacie Bennett says that “All children go through the same stages as their speech and language develops. However, it’s hard to know exactly when your child will get to each stage. There is a range of what is normal, and it can vary a lot.” 

So, in her blog How to Know If My Child is a Late Bloomer or a Later Talker, Stacie also lists four ways to determine how fast or slow a child learns speech and language. She also provides normal language milestones to check if you suspect that your child may need testing.

Similarly, if you think your child’s speech might be lagging behind, but you’re not sure, check the blog Signs Your Child Is a Late Talker to learn about specific speech and language milestones by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Also, studies show that kids who have a delay will catch up to their same-aged peers by five years of age if they get an early diagnosis by an SLP, and get the appropriate help as soon as possible! This is great news!

The Speech Blubs app has a free screener if your child has difficulty making speech sounds and talking correctly. The screener gives you a personalized report with actionable advice specifically for your child. The app can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.

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Parents work on speech skills with their children using the learning app

Reasons to Stay Calm

Parenting is difficult even on a good day, and so the effort to determine your child’s speech status can seem daunting. Please know that you are not alone. In fact, according to the University of Michigan Health System, delayed speech or language development affects 5 to 10 percent of preschool-aged children. You can start by looking at the risk factors involved in children having speech delay in our blog How Common is Speech Delay?, which also lists some of the causes of speech delay.

There is hope on the horizon, in the form of practical suggestions to help your child reach speech milestones in the blog How Long Does it Take for a Late Talker to Start Talking?. The short answer is that there is no short answer. Also, since every child is different, it’s impossible to state an absolute date when your child will catch up with peers. The blog talks about all of the different variables involved in developmental delays for your education, and so that you don’t blame yourself.

Another Cause of Speech Delay

Many families these days are composed of parents who speak different languages within the same household. Learning two languages means twice the necessary input, twice as much language processing, and at least twice as much social interaction needed using the language constructs. Not surprisingly, bilingual children often experience what seems like speech delay. However, in the blog Do Bilingual Kids Start to Talk Later? the take-away is that bilingual children are not behind in their speech development compared to monolingual children; they just learn at a slower rate. 

Another Issue: Communicating with a Non-Verbal Child

Coping with a non-verbal child requires a different level of action. To help, our blogs explore the theoretical and practical aspects of helping a non-verbal child. 

Our blog about setting communication goals for non-verbal kids first digs into your non-verbal child’s stages of communication, and describes, “non-verbal children as being on a four-stage continuum.” Also, if “you identify your child’s stage of communication, you will know what they can and cannot do, as well as what you can expect them to do next. This will help you set communication goals for them.”

Secondly, its focus is on setting goals for kids in the different four stages of communication. This blog also includes helpful videos by experts to help you learn the processes involved in each stage to set the appropriate goals.

Lastly, the article focuses on how to give your child reasons to communicate. More specifically, how to help your child: 1. make requests, 2. refuse or tell you “no,” 3. greet and say goodbye, 4. interact or make comments, and 5. learn to make choices.

Again, there is hope for non-verbal and speech delayed kids

The app Speech Blubs was actually made for non-verbal kids, and provides lots of fun activities to get kids making sounds first, then words, then phrases, and then whole sentences! Remember, you have to give them reasons to communicate. Using Speech Blubs with your child provides opportunities to do just that! 

The app’s activities use other kids to model behaviors your child should try to imitate. Your comments and questions are very necessary here. This is not a “set and forget” app for your child. The app’s effectiveness is directly related to how much you put into the app time. Also remember that we only recommend 10-30 minutes/day to respect the guidelines for screen use by various pediatric organizations. So, make the most of your time with Speech Blubs.

FYI

Here are some other loosely related blogs about speech delay, just in case:

Send Questions to Speech Blubs

Have a question for our Speech Therapists?

Leave them in the comments! If you want to get a personal answer from our speech therapist, write to
ask-a-therapist@speechblubs.com!

The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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  • My son is 2.5 yrs but he speaks a few words.He does make animal sounds and does actions on rhymes.Can I get my child screened from a speech therapist?If yes then when and how?

    • Hi, thank you for your question! We have an online screener that you can take for free. But if you want to get a speech therapist evaluation, talk to your pediatrician! You can also check out ASHA’s page of certified SLPs or get in contact with one of the speech therapists in our SLP network. Hope that helped! Let me know if you need anything else.

  • My daughter is 3yr old twin baby with one brother.
    My twins are 34 week premature babies with weight less then 2kgs.
    My daughter have delay in speech she don’t understand our commands and also still don’t say mumma and Daddy.
    Though she some time says a single word for week or 2week and after that she stop saying that word.

    She like playing with kids
    She do eye contact and also smile when we talk to her.
    She respond on her name after like 2/ 3 calls and sometime at one go.
    Her hearing test are all clear.

    She understand action but not what we say.
    Though some words she understand like milk, walk, choclate, slipper.

    She also have some problem in sleep.even when she is super sleepy she keep on playing for hour…at night and when try to put her in bed she just run away and start playing with anything.

    We also took her to neurologist but is didn’t point out autism or adhd.

    I m very concerned for her ..please guide
    Should we again consider to took her to neurologist for 2nd opinion.
    Do she have autism and adhd symptoms.

    Please help.

    • Based on your current description, I would say her inability to calm down or relax would be symptoms of ADHD, not autism. It also seems that she has a speech and language delay, which is pretty common in twins or multiples. One child may have no issues, while the second child can be further behind in motor or speech skills. The first thing I would recommend is going to see a speech-language pathologist to address the speech issues. Secondly, I would recommend getting a second opinion when it comes to the ADHD diagnosis. There are varying degrees to Attention Deficit and it might just be Attention Deficit and not hyperactivity.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • My 18 month old does not speak. Communicates only with noises and pointing. Gets upset easily and busy/loud situation cause him anxiety. He gets excited about routines like nap time and feeding our puppy, but upset about the unexpected. Could this be really early signs of ASD or possibly something else? Any advice is appreciated!

    • First of all, could it be a symptom of ASD? Yes, but it can also be a sign of JUST a speech delay because of his inability to communicate. At 18 months, children can typically produce 2-10 words but may also produce sounds (babbling). The sounds p, b, m, and d are usually the only sounds that kids have consistently at this age. They also have some vowels, such as a, o, and e. I would recommend talking to your pediatrician about your concerns at his 18 month checkup and possibly seek a referral for Early Intervention. This service is provided for children up to three years of age. The therapist will come to your home to work on any areas that are depressed. After he turns three and if there are still delays, a speech pathologist will assist you further!

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • Hi there,
    I have a 2.5 year old with a speech delay. We are currently working with an SLP, and she doesn’t see any signs of autism. But one concern I have is that he still babbles. The babbling is always directed to us and usually involves gesturing like pointing, and will have a word or two that we can understand, but I’m still concerned. He does talk more than he babbles and his babbling has decreased as his vocabulary is increasing. Is this typical with toddlers who have a speech delay?

    • Yes – this is completely normal. When a child has a speech delay, that means everything is delayed. I’m suspecting that his babbling was quite delayed, which led you to get a speech evaluation. Think of it this way – if a child is diagnosed as being 4 months behind his/her peers, that means, when they do learn to start speaking and their vocabulary increases, it will still be 4 months behind where they “should be.” As long as he is starting to accompany the babbling with gestures, you are modeling good speech and his vocabulary is increasing, it sounds like the speech therapy is working and he is progressing!

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • I came across your blog and purchased speech blubs.

    I’m having a hard time differentiating between a speech delay and ASD. My son is 4 (in a week) and the only concern we have with him is his speech. He doesn’t demonstrate anything other than a delay in expressive language.

    I get stuck on the fact he doesn’t really come up to us and tell us stories. He will tell you what’s happening in a book, he will tell you what’s happening in a show but he doesn’t do the typical thing toddlers do when discussing stories about what they did during the day. I’m having a hard time differentiating between his strong willed nature and a disorder.

    His pediatrician and his speech language pathologists do not have autism concerns. His daycare does not either. (I’ve asked all eyes that are on him as nauseam.) He was also evaluated by the state and didn’t qualify for speech but we decided to do it privately since he was having some delays in expressive language in my opinion. So we go to private lessons.

    He is 4 in 1 week and still has problems telling us how old he is, what he did at daycare, (although they tell me he has the ability to play nicely by himself). He does not go up to anyone and tell random stories. Like I mentioned I’m not concerned about other behaviors, he maintains eye contact, has great pragmatic language and skills. He has been evaluated by several speech pathologists. He doesn’t have obsessive tendencies nor repetitive movements. He shares in interactive play and takes turns when playing hide and seek. He shares in amusement when joking around. He is interested in other kids.

    I guess my question to you is- is this typical of just a language delay and do kids with just a language delay diagnosis catch up? It’s so hard to keep things positive when your child isn’t talking like other kids.

    • As a mom of an almost four-year-old, I totally know and understand where you are coming from. From a mom’s perspective, it is very stressful when you feel like your child isn’t doing something other children are doing. It immediately makes you concerned. From a professionals point of view – children develop at all different rates. It sounds like your son is developmentally “typical” in every other aspect of learning. Telling stories is a very broad skill that has many layers to it. If a child is diagnosed with a language delay, telling stories is most definitely an area that will be impacted. He may not have the vocabulary or ability to string multiple concepts together to formulate a typical conversation. This is something that his private speech therapist can most certainly address! I’m sure you are, but make sure you discuss it with the speech pathologist to make sure it’s targeted! Hope that helps!

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • My four year old boy appears not too interested in talking. For his age, his speech development is quite slow. How do I encourage him to talk more with me?

    • The first thing I’d like to ask you is has your child been diagnosed with a speech and language delay? There’s a difference between not wanting to talk and not being able to talk! Please let me know so I can assist you further. Thanks.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • Hi my daughter just turns 2 and still cannot say few phrases like mama and papa but when we teach her abcs and numbers she knows how to say it not perfectly but almost also when playing puzzle of abcs and number she knows how to put the missing puzzle should i be alarmed that my child has speech delay?she talks but we cannot understand what she says well thank you and keep safe.

    • At two years of age, we like to see children combining two words into phrases. In order to do this, children should have a vocabulary of 50-100 words. If your daughter does not have around 50 words and is not combining words into short phrases, I would suggest getting a speech and language evaluation in order to increase her vocabulary. The good thing is that she is attempting to communicate and can say a few words! Her receptive language (what she understands) also seems to be in the average range!

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

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