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Many parents have concerns regarding speech delay in toddlers, often seeking answers about their child’s speech and language development. Read on to learn more about speech and language milestones in young children, understanding the causes for speech and language delays in toddlers, and how CI Therapies can help. Understanding and identifying speech delay in toddlers early is crucial, as it paves the way for timely intervention. Such early intervention is pivotal in nurturing and enhancing a child’s speech and language development.

In the following sections, we delve deeper into the causes and implications of speech delay in toddlers. Our focus will be on providing informative content that helps parents and caregivers understand when and why a child might experience a delay in speech and language development. Additionally, we’ll highlight how CI Therapies’ use of evidence and play-based strategies and techniques can assist in addressing these challenges. Our goal is to inform parents and caregivers about the significance of early identification and intervention in speech delays, which can be instrumental in supporting and enhancing a toddler’s speech and language skills.

Recognizing Signs of Speech Delay

If you’re a parent of a toddler, and have been around other toddlers, you might have had thoughts such as My older child was talking so much more than this by now! Or The neighbor’s toddler is a month younger than mine and she has so many more words! Does my 18-month-old have a speech delay?

You may have heard some of these terms: speech delay, expressive language delay, expressive speech delay and may be wondering if these terms describe the same thing, and if so, what is that? 

Let’s break it down!

Signs of Speech Delay in Specific Age Groups

Speech refers to the sounds we make to form words. For example, the sounds “m” and “ah” come together to form the word “mama”. Difficulty with pronunciation of words in toddlers is to be expected. In fact, based on recent norms (Hustad et al., 2021) children are usually understood most of the time by age 5. It is also common for toddlers to be understood better by their closest caregivers, so if you feel like you understand a lot of what your toddler is saying, but their relative who only sees them at the holidays each year says they don’t understand anything, don’t be discouraged, this can be a completely typical part of a child’s development! If, however, you are concerned about a speech delay, here are some questions to consider:

  • Does my child use a variety of vowel sounds within their words? (ah, oo, uh, E, I, A)
  • Does my 2 year old toddler use at least 5 different consonant sounds?
  • Does my 3 year old toddler use at least 10 different consonant sounds?
  • Can I understand my 3 year old more than half of the time?
  • Does my child imitate the words I say?
  • Do I feel like my child’s speech skills are growing over time?

If you answered no to any of these questions, it may be a good idea to chat with your primary care provider about a speech and language evaluation. 

Language refers to the meaning behind the words. For example, when we hear “mama” the child may be referring to their mother. Language does not have to include speech, for example, many toddlers use signs and gestures to communicate as well! American sign language, and use of an AAC device are also language systems that do not involve speech from the communicator. 

If you are concerned about a language delay, here are some questions to consider:

  • Does my 18 month old have 10 words or gestures that they use to communicate? It’s okay if they don’t make all the sounds in the words correctly. When counting words, include things that are said consistently (such as, “water” is always “wawa”); Animal noises, environmental sounds, and signs also count!
  • Does my 24 month old have 50 words and is starting to combine those words into 2 word phrases?
  • Does my 3 year old use at least 3 word phrases for a variety of reasons? 
  • Do I feel like my toddler’s language skills are growing over time?

Understanding Causes and Reasons for Speech Delay

A speech delay refers to when a child’s speech and language development lags behind their peers. A delay may be a normal variation in development, while disorders imply persistent difficulties. Sometimes the reason for a child’s speech delay can be attributed to a factor, however many times the reason for a child’s delay is unknown. The following factors can attribute to speech and language delays in toddlers: 

  • Developmental Factors:
  • Genetics: Some children may have a genetic predisposition to speech delays, often seen when there’s a family history of language difficulties.
  • Prematurity: Premature birth can affect various aspects of development, including speech and language skills.
  • Environmental Factors:
  • Limited Exposure to Language: Children raised in environments with limited exposure to language may experience delays. Factors like socio-economic status and parental education can play a role.
  • Bilingualism: While bilingualism itself does not cause speech delay, it might manifest as a temporary delay due to the need for the child to manage two language systems.
  • Health Factors:
  • Hearing Impairments: Hearing plays a crucial role in language development. Children with hearing impairments may experience delays if their hearing loss is not identified and addressed early.
  • Neurological Conditions: Conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, or neurological disorders can impact speech and language development.

Regardless of the reason for a child’s delay, it is imperative that the child receive timely intervention in order to support the development of speech and language skills.

Speech Therapy for Toddlers: Strategies and Techniques

Speech language pathologists use a variety of strategies and techniques to support speech and language development. The child’s likes and interests are also incorporated into therapy to ensure the child is engaged and having fun! The following describes the strategies and techniques commonly used in therapy: 

  • Early Intervention:
  • Speech therapy for toddlers emphasizes early intervention, recognizing the significance of addressing speech delays during the formative years.
  • Early identification and intervention can mitigate potential long-term challenges, promoting more effective communication skills as the child grows.
  • Family-Centered Approach:
  • Collaboration with parents is central to the success of speech therapy for toddlers. Involving parents ensures continuity of strategies and techniques beyond the therapy sessions.
  • SLPs provide guidance to parents on creating a language-rich environment at home, fostering communication through daily routines and activities.
  • Play-Based Therapy:
  • Play is a natural mode of learning for toddlers. Speech therapists use play-based activities to engage toddlers in language-rich interactions.
  • Games, toys, and imaginative play provide opportunities for vocabulary expansion, turn-taking, and social communication development.
  • Modeling and Imitation:
  • Toddlers learn through imitation. Speech therapists model sounds, words, and sentences, encouraging toddlers to imitate and practice.
  • Repetition and reinforcement play a key role in helping toddlers internalize new speech patterns.
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC):
  • For some toddlers with speech delays, AAC tools such as visual aids, picture boards, or electronic devices can enhance communication.
  • SLPs work with families to introduce and integrate AAC methods, tailoring them to the toddler’s individual needs.
  • Articulation Exercises:
  • Articulation exercises target the development of specific speech sounds. Through fun and interactive exercises, toddlers practice correct tongue and lip placement to produce specific sounds.
  • Activities like blowing bubbles, playing games, and pretend play make articulation practice enjoyable for toddlers.
  • Storytelling and Book Sharing:
  • Reading books and telling stories play a vital role in language development. Speech therapists use this opportunity to expose toddlers to diverse vocabulary, narrative structures, and comprehension skills.
  • Interactive discussions during book-sharing sessions enhance expressive language and communication.

Next Steps: Seeking Professional Help for Speech Delay in Toddlers

At CI Therapies, our highly trained, nationally certified, speech and language pathologists will complete a thorough evaluation to determine the nature of the delay, and provide both resources and goals to help your child progress in their speech and language skills. If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, getting help sooner rather than later can make a big difference. 

Addressing speech delays in toddlers is crucial for their overall development and future success. Early intervention plays a vital role in helping children overcome these delays. It supports improved communication skills, social interactions, and academic achievements. Seeking professional guidance from a speech-language pathologist ensures that they will get the individualized support they need. 

If you are interested in learning more about how CI Therapies can support your child’s speech and language development, contact us by phone at (608) 819-6394 or sign up for a consultation here to access specialized assistance and guidance for your child’s speech and language needs. You can also check out more information about speech therapy here for additional information related to speech therapy at CI, FAQs for parents and caregivers, and handouts related to a variety of communication challenges. Remember, early intervention is key, and seeking professional help can make a significant difference in your child’s language development and overall well-being.