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What Causes Speech Delay in Children?

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 2 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Speech Delay Language Delay Speech


My son will be 3 in 2 weeks' time. He has been assessed by a developmental paediatrician who diagnosed him with severe speech delay. He has been undergoing speech therapy for 6 months, and we have noticed no improvement. He doesn't say Daddy or Mummy, doesn't call anyone by their names, knows a few words such as "car", "good bye", "good boy". He is extremely affectionate and cheerful, loves company (both adults and children) has good eye contact and clearly a sense of humour.

We are at a loss to know why he's not talking (hearing was tested and apparently ok). He is growing increasingly fustrated by his lack of speech and though he loves his nursery, they admitted he is very much behind his peers, development wise. What else can we do to help him please? What could be the causes of his lack of speech?

(Miss Muriel Minvielle, 16 December 2008)


I congratulate you on taking such an active interest in your son’s development—your continued involvement is sure to help him to reach his fullest potential! As you know, children develop at their own rates, with very few following a ‘textbook’ pattern, so while your son is considered delayed in his speech, he very well may catch up to his peers and learn to better communicate verbally, relieving your current worries.

Speech delays can sometimes be the result of oral impairments--physical difficulties with the tongue or palate--but since your son was examined by a developmental paediatrician, I doubt that these issues apply to him. Since you’ve already ruled out hearing problems, a common cause of speech delay in young children, and your son is working with a speech therapist, it may be beneficial to focus on the things that are going well, rather than those that are worrisome.

Your son is affectionate, social and has an age-appropriate appreciation for humour, all of which indicate that he is unlikely to suffer from any type of emotional disorder that would explain his limited speech abilities. That’s certainly good news.

One thing that developmental experts stress is that speech is only a portion of overall language development. Language, in the broad sense, encompasses verbal, non-verbal, and written communication as ways of expressing and receiving information. Your son does have a few words, which indicates that he is physically capable of speech, and you did not indicate that he has other notable delays, so I am assuming that he is able to understand and process the verbal cues that he gets from others. For example, if you were to ask him to get his jacket and shoes, he is able to comply.

There are a few steps that you can take at home to encourage your son’s verbal development. One of the most basic is simply to talk to him—a lot. Use descriptive language whenever possible and be patient as he tries to communicate with you.

Many children who have trouble talking compensate by pointing or gesturing, using a self-developed ‘sign-language’ of sorts. While such tools may make parents uneasy, worrying that reliance on non-verbal communication methods may discourage attempts at traditional speech, they can be helpful in easing his frustration. You can use simple signs at home, always verbalising the appropriate words in tandem with the hand motions. Talk to him as you go about your day and be sure to ask him questions, giving him time to respond and acknowledging his attempts, even when they are difficult to understand. Do try to resist providing answers for your son, even if he struggles a bit to make his thoughts known.

Providing early intervention gives your son a distinct advantage in overcoming his speech difficulties. By working with his doctor, speech therapist, and teachers, you will be able to help your son to communicate with the world in a way that makes him feel comfortable and confident.

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I have a 5 years & 6 months old son. He is finds it difficult to pronounce most words, even though the basics are there. He can call people by name, he can greet and respond when you greet back, overall he can say 4 - 6 letter sentences properly. My biggest problem is that me & hubby speak Sotho to each other, his minder speaks Zulu with all of us including him, and he can speak English and some Afrikaans words. I think all these languages confuse him and he gets agitated when he struggles to express himself and often resulting in him hitting and being nasty to others. I fear he wont be able to make friends or cope outside home as others might not be as patient as we are with him. I fear leaving him with anyone but his minder because of this.
Patty - 2-Oct-12 @ 1:49 PM
Hi, I too have a 5 1/2 year old who i have been told has a very severe speech disorder, although i have received no official diagnosis, despite battling with OT's, paediatricians and speech therapists for well over 2 years. He has very poor speech most of which is not able to be understood. He has difficulties at school and from September will be going into a high staff ratio nurture room for addition support due to learning difficulties also. The school recgonise this is now a major problem, however we are on school holidays. In the past three weeks since breaking up from school, he has regressed and now has no understandable speech and has started to choke when drinking ?!? His behaviour is at breaking level and the self harm, and violence is just something i have no idea how to cope with. He has an older brother and a younger siter who are now quite scared by his violent outbreaks. His interaction with others is limited and only on his terms, as he has no sharing skills. He does have a variety of other issues such as sensory issues with clothes and foods, balance issues and a one sided weekness. I woul dlove someadvice on this or just a chat withsomeone who is going through this? Alternativey does anyone know of a parents support forum where i can obtain some additonal support as my family and i are struggling a great deal and i feel another trip to the doctors just wont be any help. I want to help him in any way i can but i just dont know where ot begin, so any advice on this matter would be very much appreciated. Thank you
Sallen - 10-Aug-12 @ 5:32 PM
I also have a son 3 years and three months old and feel he would benefit from speech therapy. He does say a few sentences and understands clearly what I am saying. He says wash your hands, wash your face. Thank you very much, How are you, I am fine thank you. says many other words but is not contrcuting sentences. He often points to things and I encourage him to talk and try to pronounce things over and over. He copies me a lot. He is multilingual as we speak theree languages and he communicated in all languages but in piece meal. I am still worried about him though and raised the matter with the teacher and doctor as well. He is a very loving and affectionate boy and sociable boy. Very caring. He finds it very easy it pronounce difficult words like to infinity and beyound and deactivate and understanding. I mean his speech is very clear in pronounciation. HIs father is very worried though. I am not sure what the best was forward is although I talk to him a lot and explain things to him in simple language that he understand. I would appreciate any advise on the matter
Afiyah - 19-Jul-12 @ 12:58 PM
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