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The Informed Parent

Speech Development

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jan. 25, 1999

Speech development is a common concern for any young family. Fortunately, children are born with an innate drive to produce speech sounds, and they soon learn to understand and repeat the basic structure of the language that they hear. At the same time there are many causes which can interfere with proper speech. Some of these causes could be developmental disorders, hearing problems, mental retardation, autism, or articulation problems. Developmental language disorder is the most likely cause of speech delay, and it can affect 5%-10% of our children. The problem that these children have to face interferes with their ability to learn language, followed by their ability to use their language skills.

This language problem may be receptive, as an inability to comprehend language. Or it may be expressive, as an inability to express their thoughts.

It is interesting to note that most children with developmental language disorders have a family history of delayed speech, left-handedness, stuttering or other developmental disorders.

Language milestones are reached by young people at varying ages. By the age of five years the child whose language is delayed and different from the norm is likely to be at risk for language and language-related learning disorders.

Verbal milestones are also effected by developmental language disorders. Children normally will be saying a few words at 18 months, putting two words together at 2 years, using nouns, pronouns, and verbs at 3 years, and using complete sentences at 5 years of age. Some may have problems with a particular aspect of language, and not with others. Some may not grasp the meaning of words or use them improperly.

It is important to remember that no single symptom is, by itself, sufficient to indicate a language disorder. Often, language problems occur in clusters, and may include other disabilities such as incoordination or social immaturity.

Often, preschool children may be delayed in their development and use of speech. This can be further delayed with older siblings who do their talking for them, or in multilingual households.

One should consult your child's doctor if there is suspicions of speech delay. Early recognition of a possible language disorder can be evaluated and the child's progress followed. The doctor may wish to evaluate hearing, speech, and language skills.

Although language disorders are common, they are often overlooked. Your child's doctor has a vital role in the early identification of language disorders, and for timely referral and treatment.

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