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

Four of my six kids have either had childhood apraxia of speech or 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 has a speech delay.

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 (separate) 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).
speech delay advice

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 2 years of age: p, b, n, m

Most children use these sounds by 3 years of age: t, g, k, w, ng, f, d

Most children use these sounds by 5 years of age: ch, j, l, s, sh, y, bl

Most children use these sounds correctly by 6 years of age: z, v, br, dr, dg, fl, gl, gr, st, tr, kl, kr, pl, and r

Most children use these sounds by 7 years of age: sl, sp, th, and sw

Unless there’s a medical reason (such as a cleft palate) most children don’t sound “nasally” or have too much air is leaking through 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 “They’ll grow out of it” Speech-Language Pathologist Rant

Because I know you want what is best for your child, I have some tough love words for you. Please know that I tell you this of out love and concern.

You will not be doing your child any favors by thinking their speech errors are cute and that they will “grow out of it” naturally. Some kids may, but most don’t. And there’s no way to know ahead of time. Research shows that kids who do “grow out of it” on their own, typically go on to have reading and learning difficulties or differences. That means that it really is best to get professional advice and intervention AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE!

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” or your 10-year old having significant reading delays). Waiting it out can affect every aspect of their lives. I know this sounds harsh, but speech 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?

What you can do right now…

Take a couple of minutes right 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 delay:

  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 (free) 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 (how they use and understand words) check out this language development article.

You can find out more about childhood apraxia here.

speech delay preschool

This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Reused with permission.

I am a licensed Speech and Language Pathologist, but I’m not YOUR CHILD’S Speech and Language Pathologist. If you have a speech or language concern, please contact a licensed Speech and Language Pathologist. Neither Whole Child Homeschool nor its agents are rendering medical advice.

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