Does your child have a speech delay? How to find out if your child needs a speech evaluation.

Four of my six kids have had childhood apraxia of speech, attended outside speech therapy, and are now unbelievably proficient at verbal communication—as in they never stop talking! Since I’m a homeschool mom who is also a licensed speech-language pathologist, I’m often asked by friends and acquaintances how to know if their child is behind in his or her speech development.

First of all, many people don’t realize that when speech therapists talk about “speech,” they are only talking about the verbal sound system part of communicating. The words we use and understand is our language, which is the other big component of communication.

Speech production has three main areas:

Articulation–producing the sounds by moving the lips, tongue, teeth, jaw and roof of the mouth

Voice–using the vocal folds and breath to create vibration/sound

Fluency–the rate and rhythm of verbalizing; dysfluency is often called stuttering.

Types of Articulation errors

One of the common errors made are errors that follow patterns, called phonological disorders. These types of errors follow a pattern where the child may leave off the beginning or ending sound of most words, or reduce all consonant blends (like bl or str) down to only one sound.

Some kids may have more than one type of error with the same sound depending on where the sound is located within the word.

Another common speech disorder is childhood apraxia of speech which has these characteristics

  • very difficult for anyone to understand your child
  • he or she was a “late-talker”
  • you notice inconsistent errors
  • more errors with longer words
  • groping to figure out how to place their tongue and lips
  • usually accompanied by a high understanding of language concepts (such as being able to follow directions or point to objects when you name them).

Typical Speech Development

Here are some general rules to help you decide if your child is on target for speech development. You may want to ask a supportive friend or relative to help you listen to your child because it’s easy to miss the errors when you are used to your child’s speech.

Most children use these sounds by 3 years of age: p, b, t, d, n, m, k, g, w

Most children use these sounds correctly by 6 years of age: s, z, f, v, sh, ch, dg, th, l and r

Unless there’s a medical reason (such as a cleft palate) most children don’t sound “nasally” or have too much air is leaking though the nose when they are talking

Children should be understood at least 90% of the time by the time they are 5 years old by someone who is not familiar with their speech (i.e. a grandparent who only sees them once every few months; a clerk at a store)

My SLP Soapbox

You will not be doing your child any favors by thinking it’s cute and that they will grow out of it naturally. Some kids may, but most don’t. If they are kindergarten age and acquaintances can’t understand most of what they are saying, you need to be concerned. Because waiting to see if they grow out of it could result in a detrimental outcome (like your 18 year old still saying “thiwy wabbit” instead of “silly rabbit”). Yes, that really does happen and it affects every aspect of their lives. I know this sounds harsh, but articulation errors are much easier to correct when they are young. No teenager wants to have attention called to their speech by having to attend speech therapy sessions, right?

Take a couple minutes now to really listen to your child’s speech and decide if further action is needed. Anytime a family is concerned about their child’s communication development, a consultation with a speech–language pathologist is recommended. Most SLPs are willing to “screen” your child for free in order to determine if an in-depth evaluation is needed.

Please don’t wait for your doctor to bring it up during a well-child visit. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that many doctors aren’t as proactive with speech-language referrals as speech therapists would like, probably just due to a lack of information about speech-language therapy. Most doctors are happy to give a referral, they just aren’t going to suggest it unless you broach the subject first.

I think my child may have a speech delay. Now what?

Despite all of our good intentions to accomplish the many, many items on our to-do list, by the time we spend hours searching for next year’s curriculum, refereeing squabbles between the kids over the last popsicle and carpooling to ALL.THE.THINGS, sometimes we’re just too tired to do one more thing. And things like this tend to get pushed to the bottom of the list, because, you know, it’s not the “crisis of the day” that needs to be dealt with RIGHT NOW.

speech delay preschool

Here are three easy steps to take if you are concerned about your child’s speech:

  1. Find a local SLP: Ask friends who they’ve used; google pediatric speech-language pathologist in your town; or look up area SLP’s certified by the American Speech Hearing Language Association here
  2. Call and ask if they will do a quick screening. Set up an appointment.
  3. If an evaluation is needed, call your pediatrician’s office and ask for a speech evaluation referral.

If you are also worried about your child’s language development (using and understanding words) check out this article.

You can find out more about childhood apraxia here

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