Common Speech Problems for Younger Children

An Interview with Speech Therapist Laura Dyer, author of Look Who's Talking

Interview by Allison Martin

What are some of the common types of speech and language problems in children?

Some children show only isolated speech errors such as substituting one sound for another, but others may have profuse error patterns in their speech. Some speech sounds are easier to say than others and your child should slowly become more and more intelligible. Language gives meaning to our speech sounds and delays may involve aspects of comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, and the social conditions that surround our interactions. It is very important that language delays be addressed early because they lay the foundation for strong reading skills and your child's academic success.

What warning signs should parents be watching out for?

Parents should seek early intervention services if their baby does not show any gesturing or babbling by 9 months, no spontaneous single words by 16 months, and no spontaneous 2-word phrases by 24 months. Parents should be concerned if their child shows any loss of language or social function at any time. Parents should pay attention to how well their child is comprehending language (following directions). Parents should also watch for signs of hearing loss (doesn't smile when spoken to, doesn't startle at loud noises, doesn't stop playing to listen to a sound) and follow- up, if needed, on any hearing test results received at the hospital. About 10-15% children are late bloomers. A late talker is a child who hasn't reached a 50 word vocabulary and isn't using two words together by age two. Although some catch up on their own, 50% or more have persistent language delays.

How can parents help their children develop better speech?

Use an interactive style when you talk, play, and read with your child. This will benefit speech and language development more than a controlling style. Follow your child's lead and give them many chances to communicate instead of choosing the objects of play and the subjects to talk about. Don't over-anticipate your child's needs. It also helps to avoid many questions and commands. Just get on your child's eye-level and language level which may involve shortening or simplifying sentences. If you do not know what is typical for your child's age, consult a good resource. Try to read to your child every day.

If you have a concern it's always a good idea to bring concerns to your doctor's attention and have your child evaluated. Although there might not be a diagnosable reason for a delay, your child may need help from a speech-language pathologist. You can find listings for programs in your county, in the government pages of your phone book. If your child is two or younger, you'll be given information from the early intervention services office (under Education or Health Dept.). Children ages three to five are usually referred to a speech-language pathologist within the local public school system for assessment.

Laura Dyer is a speech therapist and the author of Look Who's Talking.