Speech and language delay is a reasonably common problem in preschool children, with as many as 10% being affected. Some of the possible causes are thought to be:
• Slower than normal development
• Loss of hearing
• Autism
• Not spending enough time talking with adults
• Elective muteness – choosing not to talk
If your child does not appear to be developing at a similar rate to other children his or her age, it may be speech and language delay. Although you should always remember, children will develop at their own pace, with some being faster in certain ways than others. If you do suspect speech and language delay, take your child to their doctor, who can refer you to a specialist if they feel it is appropriate.
They may decide to begin by referring you to an audiologist to have your child’s hearing checked. A hearing problem at a young age can cause speech delay or unclear speech because when a child learns to speak, they can only repeat back the sounds that they can hear. Therefore, if what they are hearing is ‘different’ to them, their speech will reflect this and will be less clear or understandable than it should be. If a hearing problem is the issue, then hearing aids or implants may be needed, and perhaps even enable your child to ‘catch up’ with other children their age developmentally once the issue is resolved. Very commonly, hearing problems in young children between the age of 18 months and 3 years of age are due to glue ear, which is a build up of fluid behind the eardrum. This can be easily managed with either medications or in some cases a small operation where a grommet is inserted into the eardrum to release the fluid. Once the hearing of whatever cause is treated, the speech usually begins to improve within a few weeks.
If your doctor feels your child needs help from a psychologist, behavioural specialist or social worker, then they will refer you to a health visitor who can make those arrangements for your child. Sometimes, of course, it may be a case of no real treatment, just that your child is taking a little longer than others with no real cause or explanation, and they will catch up eventually with no lasting adverse effects.
Lastly, remember it can be very frustrating for both the child and parents when dealing with speech and language delay. A child who cannot express themselves may act out in other ways and it is common for behavioural issues to occur, even as the main problem. It is essential to remain patient as much as possible and praise every effort, for it is not something the child can generally control.