How common is speech delay in toddlers?

A language and/or speech delay in toddlers is a type of communication disorder. Your child may have a language delay if they don’t meet the language developmental milestones for their age.

Their language abilities may be developing at a slower rate than most children’s. They may have trouble expressing themselves or understanding others. Their delay may involve a combination of hearing, speech, and cognitive impairments. 

Speech delays in toddlers are quite common. According to the University of Michigan Health System, delayed speech or language development affects 5 to 10 percent of preschool-aged children. Certain states also have a higher incidence of speech delay for reasons that are currently being studied. 

What Are the Signs of a Speech or Language Delay?

If your child is diagnosed with an expressive delay (what they are verbally producing or writing), receptive delay (what they are understanding) or a combination of both, they will not reach the typical speech milestones like their peers. The specific symptoms and severity of the delay will depend on the age of the child and the skills that are depressed. 

Children with a language or speech delay may exhibit the following symptoms, but it’s important to remember they may show SOME signs, not all:

  • Not babbling by the age of 15 months.
  • Not talking by the age of 2 years.
  • An inability to speak in short sentences by the age of 3 years.
  • Difficulty following directions.
  • Poor pronunciation or articulation.
  • Difficulty putting words together in a sentence.
  • Leaving words out of a sentence.

What Can Cause Speech Delay?

Language delays in children have many different causes. In some cases, there may be several different reasons why a child has a delay. These reasons may include:

  1. Hearing Loss children diagnosed with a hearing loss will develop speech slower than children who can hear. If the child receives an amplification device early enough, they will catch up to their peers fairly quickly. 
  2. Autism Not all children who are diagnosed with Autism have a communication disorder, however, Autism typically affects communication and social language. 
  3. Intellectual disabilities – these disabilities will affect a child’s ability to learn, retain and utilize new vocabulary and language. 
  4. Several psychosocial effects – These situations will typically affect children and their ability to communicate. For example, a child who is neglected will not be exposed to early language and will then exhibit a delay. 

Does Language Delay Run in Families?

There are several risk factors that can lead to a child being diagnosed with a speech or language delay. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, potential risk factors for speech and language problems include:

  • Being male.
  • Being born prematurely.
  • Having a low birth weight.
  • Having a family history of speech or language problems.
  • Having parents with lower levels of education.

So going back to the question from above – yes – it is common to have more than one child with a speech delay. This is even more common if the father has had a communication disorder.

Here you can get a free assessment quiz of your child’s speech milestones.


Stacie Bennett, Speech-Language Pathologist, speech therapy

Stacie Bennett has been practicing as a Speech-Language Pathologist for the past ten years. Currently, she works full-time at a vocational high school in New Jersey and have her own private practice. Feel free to contact Stacie if you have any questions!

“My two year old had it for less than a week and he’s already saying more”

Mariah C., Mom

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