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Speech is the motor act of communicating by articulating verbal expression, whereas language is the knowledge of a symbol system used for interpersonal communication.

In general, a child has a speech delay if the child’s speech development isn’t developing at an expected rate. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital posted, “A child with a speech delay might use words and phrases to express ideas but be difficult to understand.”

Also, a child with speech delay has speech development that is typical of a normally developing child of a younger chronologic age; and so, the speech-delayed child acquires skills in a normal sequence, but at a slower-than-normal rate. 

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To determine whether a child has a speech delay, the physician must have a basic knowledge of speech milestones.

In baby development, normal speech progresses through the following stages:

  • cooing,
  • babbling,
  • echolalia (repeating words immediately after hearing it from another person),
  • jargon words (words that are nonsense),
  • word combinations, and
  • sentence formation.

These stages are all completely normal and is the process children go through on their way to communicating effectively.

Speech delay is a common childhood problem that affects 3 to 10 percent of children (aafp.com).

Also, the disorder is three to four times more common in boys than in girls (aafp.com). 

Speech Stages for Kids with Language Disorders

Birth to 3 months4 to 6 months7 to 12 months1 to 2 years2 to 3 years
Reacts to loud sounds with a startled reflexLooks or turns toward a new or familiar soundBy the age of 1 your child should have around 3 words or soBy the age of 2 your child should have about 50 wordsBetween 2-3 years your child should have about 200 or so words
Soft sounds will often soothe and quietResponds to “no” command and changes in your voiceKnows words for common things such as, “cup” and saying such as, “bye-bye”Uses 2 to 3 word sentences to talk about and ask for thingsCan understand and respond to requests like “bedtime” and “dinner-time”
Will turn head towards the sound being heardWill try to imitate his or her own voiceMakes babbling and jibberish sounds, even when aloneAs each week and month passes more words are added to the vocabularyCan name common and familiar objects , actions and concepts
Is awakened by loud voices and soundsEnjoys toys and objects that make soundsStarts to respond to requests such as “come here”Can understand simple yes/no questions like “Do you want to play”Will try to use words to express emotion like “happy” or “sad”
Smiles in response to certain voices when spoken toBecomes scared when a loud voice or noise is heardEnjoys games like peek-a-boo and nursery rhymes like Itsy-bitsyCan understand commands like “stop” and “no more”Uses two or three words to talk about and ask for things
Seems to know your voice and will quiet down if cryingWill start making sounds such as, “ooh,” “aah,” and “b” soundsImitates simple words and sounds; may use a few single words meaningfullyWill follow 2-step commands like, “clean-up” or “come here”By 3 years of age, your child should be understood by an unfamiliar adult about 75% of the time

Although it’s not always the case, speech delay can be seen in association with other disorders.

Now, this isn’t necessarily the case all of the time. I’ve had children on my caseload that were just speech delayed and, with appropriate and consistent therapy, were on target with their peers by age 5.

Other issues/disorders common to those with speech delay

  • Autism
  • Bilingualism
  • Hearing loss (severity will range depending on when assistance for the hearing loss was received)
  • Maturation delay – developmental language delay
  • Psychosocial deprivation – not spending enough time/poor quality of time with adults, or physical deprivation (e.g., lack of food, poor housing)
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Family history

Many times parents hear the same old: “Don’t worry, he/she is just a late bloomer, he/she will catch up on her own!”  Still, you should check here to clarify the difference between late talker and speech delay. And remember, early intervention can mitigate speech and language delays, so if you think your child may have expressive language problems, make an appointment with a speech-language pathologist right away!

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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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