What Causes Speech Delay in Children?
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?
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.