Would you like to know more about your child’s speech development? Perhaps you are worried in case they have a speech delay? After you read this page you should understand about the difference between speech and language development and know a little about the different kinds of speech disorders.
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What is the difference between Speech Development and Language Development?
I remember being asked this question in my interview to apply to study Speech and Language Therapy. I can’t remember what my answer was but it must have been good enough to get a place at the University I had chosen as fifteen years later I have my studies complete and ten years of practice under my belt!
In simple terms speech refers to the way we pronounce words and the sounds we make. Language is the content of our talking, the strings of words put together into sentences to convey our thoughts and meaning.
A child who has a speech delay will have difficulty in pronouncing some or all of their sounds. This can be very mild and only affect certain sounds or letters. In some children it can have the effect of making them sound younger than they are so called ‘baby talk’ or it can make them so difficult to understand that strangers or even family members struggle to interpret their message.
How do I know if my child has a Speech Delay?
Children typically learn to make sounds in a similar order. It is no coincidence that the words for Mom and Dad in most languages start with the letters M, D or P (Mama, Mummy, Dadda, Papa etc). These three sounds are among the first for the majority of children throughout the world and you will probably have heard your baby or toddler practising loudly as they shout ‘Dadadada’.
But what about the rest of the sounds? These tend to follow a typical pattern or order of development too. I have seen many charts and variations describing the normal ages and stages over the last 10 years. What I’ve found is that the M and P are among the first to be developed with others like K and G occurring around 3 and sounds such as R being as late as eight years old before they are pronounced clearly in some children.
With such a wide variation on normal speech development, how do you know when to seek help for your child?
A good rule of thumb is that by the age of three, parents and family members who see your child very regularly should understand everything they say. By the age of four, an adult who has never met your child before should be able to understand everything they say when they speak. If you are worried that your child is not clear in their speech, you should seek advice from a Speech and Language Therapist in your area.
This is an old fashioned term really nowadays and we tend to use other descriptions to refer to difficulties with speech. Speech delay is the general term that covers all difficulties with pronunciation of sounds but you may hear your therapist use other more specific terms. Here are some of them along with their meanings.
When we talk about a speech delay, we usually refer to a child who is having difficulty in pronouncing sounds in that they are later than most children of their age to learn to pronounce some sounds. These children are still learning their sounds in the typical order (see above) but are slower to do so than the majority of their peers.
These children typically substitute sounds in a predictable fashion e.g. /s/ will always be replaced by /d/ or /t/ meaning that the words sun, sock and soup become tun, dock and doup.
This is another general term and refers to a child who is having difficulty pronouncing sounds but is not following a typical pattern. They may have unusual sound substitutions or they may use sounds that are not typically found in English speech.
Phonological Disorder or delay
The term phonological can be used instead of speech so if you are told your child has a phonological disorder or phonological delay see the explanations for speech disorder or delay above.
This typically refers to the situation where a child is able to pronounce all of their speech sounds but some of them are pronounced in a slightly unusual way. An articulation disorder is very common and covers difficulties with speech such as a lisp (where sounds, typically the ‘s’ sound, are produced with the tongue slightly more forward and through the teeth than normal) and difficulties pronouncing the ‘r’ sound (those of you in the UK think of TV personality Jonathan Ross and the way that his ‘r’ sound often is more like a ‘w’ making Ross sound like Wross).
Articulation difficulties, particularly mild ones are not considered as a priority for public speech services. Many of the general adult population have ongoing articulation difficulties and it will not hinder a child in their academic progress and so tends to be considered a ‘cosmetic’ therapy.
Having said this, many parents would prefer that their child did not have any differences in their pronunciation and as such prefer to seek speech services for their child or to work to help them at home. It is always best to seek the guidance of a qualified Speech and Language Therapist for an assessment of your child’s speech but in many cases of articulation difficulties, you will be given a program of exercises to work on with your child at home.
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