How can I tell if my child is facing a speech delay problem?
It can often be a challenge to assess whether a child's delay in speech is normal or one that needs special attention. However, there are some clear clues that can help you map where your child should be on the developmental curve. Before the age of 12 months, children usually develop the ability to start cooing and babbling, and even uttering simple words like "mama" and "dada". Between 12 and 15 months, they start adding new words to their vocabulary, and by the age of 2 your child would start stringing together at least 3 words and forming short sentences. But don't panic if your child isn't following the usual speech development pattern, a few months' delay is not unusual at all. It's best to consult your paediatrician if you suspect a delay.
What causes speech delay?
The most common reason is oral impairments, such as problems with the tongue or palate (the roof of the mouth). A short frenulum (the fold beneath the tongue) limits tongue movement for speech production. There could also be a possible chance of oral-motor problems, meaning there's inefficient communication in the areas of the brain responsible for speech production, making it difficult for the child to co-ordinate the lips, tongue, and jaw to produce speech.
Can I know if my child has a higher chance of speech delay?
Some kids tend to be slower at building speech abilities than others, these include:
- Preemies: Premature babies usually take longer to reach milestones, than their peers.
- Multiples: Speech pathologists estimate that speech delay incidents are highest among multiple babies.
- Ear infections: If the fluid discharge in a child's ears stretches for longer than usual in the first or second year, it results in poor hearing that causes delayed speech.
Word of caution: Boys often develop speech later than girls. So, just because his sister was talking nineteen to the dozen by the time she turned 1, doesn't mean he will too! At 16 months of age, boys use an average of 30 words, while girls tend to use around 50. So don't worry until you notice other speech delays in your little tot!
How can I help my child?
Speech therapy is the most common form of intervention. In some cases, physical and occupational therapies are also used to treat the problem. Children with speech delays due to impaired hearing are taught sign language to build and improve their vocabulary. The therapies and treatments vary in each case, depending on the severity and cause of the delay. There are also some things you can do at home to help accelerate your child's speech development.
Communicate: From the time of birth, talk and sing to your child. Not only does this help you bond with her, but also opens up a whole new world of sounds and language for her, long before she starts talking.
Read: You can start reading to your child as early as when she is 6 months old. Take your pick from picture books, and books with sounds or pop-ups, and eventually move on to short stories that your child will enjoy listening to.