Speech delay, also known as alalia, refers to a delay in the development or use of the mechanisms that produce speech. Language delay is a communication disorder, a category that includes a wide variety of speech, language, and hearing impairments.
The milestones of language development, including the onset of babbling and a child's first words and sentences, normally occur within approximate age ranges. Speech/language delay is the most common developmental disorder in children aged three to 16 years, affecting approximately 3 to 10 percent of children. It is three to four times more common in boys than in girls.
Symptoms based on healthofchildren.com are as follows:
- failure to meet the developmental milestones for language development
- language development that lags behind other children of the same age by at least one year
- inability to follow directions
- slow or incomprehensible speech after three years of age
- serious difficulties with syntax (placing words in a sentence in the correct order)
- serious difficulties with articulation, including the substitution, omission, or distortion of certain sounds
Specific symptoms of language delay may include the following:
- not babbling by 12 to 15 months of age
- not understanding simple commands by 18 months of age
- not talking by two years of age
- not using sentences by three years of age
- not being able to tell a simple story by four or five years of age
Before your child reaches age 2, there's wide variation in what's considered normal. But some signs that may indicate he needs help:
At 1 year: (s)he isn't babbling or speaking in mock sentences at all. He doesn't seem to understand or respond when you talk.
At 18 months: (s)he hasn't said at least one word.
At 2 years: (s)he says only a few words and communicates mostly through grunting and pointing, or he's losing language skills—either his vocabulary has shrunk or he no longer talks very much.
At 2 1/2 years: (s)he's still speaking in single syllables, drops final consonants or doesn't have a vocabulary of 50 words.
At 3 years: Strangers can't understand his pronunciation, or he speaks using only simple two-word phrases.
What to do?
Kids acquire speech, like all the other developmental skills, at their own pace. Most children who talk late eventually catch up. But if you have concerns about your child, don't hesitate to discuss them with your pediatrician, who can guide you to a specialist if necessary.
The therapy will be based on the cause. When the cause is less environmental stimulation, you can do several stimulations:
- Before age 2 1/2, listening to your voice is a great way for your child to learn to talk, so read aloud, sing songs and ask open-ended questions to invite conversation.
- Blowing bubbles can develop oral muscles
- toy phones and pretend play encourage talking.
- Massage your child's cheek and oral cavity
Famous late talkers
- Gary Becker, Nobel Prize-winning economist
- Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist
- Julia Robinson, the first woman president of the American Mathematical Society
- Arthur Rubinstein, piano virtuoso
- Edward Teller, physicist and nuclear power pioneer