Communication is one of life’s most fundamental skills. Children who are able to express themselves and are confident in communicating have great chances of academic excellence and greater social progress. They can express their needs, emotions, and thoughts and it get them well acquainted with the world around them.

However, children often still require some extra support in achieving developmental milestones as per their age. In some cases, up to 8%, need help to overcome or cope with speech disorders to improve their linguistic abilities. In such cases, speech therapists help diagnose and treat speech disorders and communication problems.

Parents may sometimes be unable to determine if their children have speech problems or delayed communication. It is better to get familiarised with the topic so you can better help your child with the issue. 

Common Speech and Language Disorders

One study in NSW (McLeod & McKinnon, 2007) revealed that upto 13% of children at primary and secondary schools have a communication disorder. Children suffering from delayed speech or having difficulty speaking find it difficult to make friends, read, and write. However, therapy and treatment can help make a difference in children’s lives.

Language problems can also hinder the capability of children to understand and express their thoughts. It is not just children who have speech disorders. If someone does not receive appropriate treatment, they can carry these issues into adulthood. The condition can also arise from other causes, including cancer, dementia, brain injuries, or strokes.

Speech Disorders

It is a condition in which a child has problems creating or forming the speech sounds needed to communicate with others. If your child shows the following symptoms, they might need speech therapy.

Toddler (1-2 years)

Can not properly pronounce sounds like b, p, m, h, and w.

Early childhood (2-3 years)

Difficulty saying k, g, f, t, d, and n sounds.

Another indicator is when people who know the child still find it hard to understand them. The causes of most speech disorders are still unknown. They can be divided into three major categories.


It means the ease with which a person says things. One of the fluency disorders is stuttering or stammering. Onsetting from childhood, this disorder is marked by constant problems with the flow of speech. It usually happens in early childhood (3 years), and a child oddly pauses and repeats certain syllables, words, and phrases or extends them. This happens when they think faster than they speak. It goes away with time, but if it stays longer than 6 months or occurs when your child is over 3.5 years of age, consult a therapist.


Children with articulation problems struggle to make particular speech sounds, and pronunciation is strained or difficult. As a result, they may also develop a lisp. Some sounds are easier for children, such as b, p, and m, but sounds like r, l, and th take time. Initially, you might hear children saying ‘wabbit’ instead of ‘rabbit.’


This problem is connected to how well your child can project their voice. If they have a loud, too soft, hoarse, or strained voice, it indicates that they have a voice disorder. Other causes include pain or a lump on the vocal cord while speaking- nodules or polyps.

Language Disorders

Children with language disorders have difficulty conveying their messages through speech. They will face problems like finding the appropriate word to complete sentences. In other cases, they may be unable to comprehend what people around them are saying.

A child certainly has a language disorder if he/she doesn’t babble within 7 months of age, speaks only some words by the age of 1.5 years, is unable to combine two words together by 2 years of age, or from the age 2-3, they are unable to communicate properly with children of their age.

Mainly there are two types of language disorders. A child can have both at the same time. 


It is a disorder where children do not comprehend what is being said. They might respond in ways that seem out of context. They will also find it difficult to point to objects when asked to follow directions.


Children with this disorder have problems communicating and expressing themselves. They will be unable to make words into sentences, initiate a conversation, and ask questions. It is not easy to identify the cause of a language disorder as sometimes it may be due to an illness, head injuries, or ear infections.

Language disorders that have physical causes are called “acquired language disorders”. However, doctors are not always sure what causes a language disorder.

Other factors include malnourishment, Down Syndrome, autism, premature birth, and genetic history. You shouldn’t assume that your child will fall behind in academics, though, as children growing up with language disorders have been seen to perform better than an average student.

What’s the difference between speech and language?

Most parents are confused and unable to understand the difference between speech and language.

Speech difficulty

Children having difficulties while speaking are unable to articulate particular sounds. Physical problems like cerebral palsy or cleft palate are possible primary causes. However, it is also possible that a child simply learned the sound incorrectly.  Sometimes, it is only restricted to some sounds like lisping while saying all /s/ sounds. It also happens with a group of sounds such as those that must be pronounced in the front or at the back of the mouth, such as /k/ for /t/ or /g/ for /d/.

Language difficulty

Children with language difficulties are unable to understand what the person says. They are incapable of expressing themselves. Such children cannot exchange communication and have difficulty using complete, grammatically sound sentences, labelling objects, and following commands.

What’s the difference between a delay and a disorder?

A delay refers to the fact that a child is developing linguistic abilities at a slower rate than his/her peers, or what is expected at that age. Often children who start talking late develop some irregular sounds like /w/ instead of /r/,  which is normal for their age and goes away as they grow up. However, this can also last until they are 9 or 10 years old.

In essence, a speech disorder is when a child develops language abnormally or unexpectedly. Children with speech disorders make mistakes while pronouncing sounds like an s (with a lisp). They might also manifest delayed speech and suddenly start speaking in complete sentences that make no sense.

How do I know if my child needs speech therapy?

Like childhood development, language also goes through similar stages. A newborn only cries for several months, which turns into cooing and then babbling, and right after that, they utter their first words between 10 to 15 months of age.

These stages indicate healthy brain growth and that a child is undergoing the expected developmental process. It further helps them to master their language abilities within a certain age, thus clearly communicating their thoughts and ideas.

Still, development varies from child to child. Every child develops at their own rate and might deviate a bit from the expected pattern. This difference can make it difficult for parents to identify the seriousness of the problem, leading them to think their child is a late bloomer. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs that might indicate the need for therapeutic intervention.

Only a licensed speech therapist should be consulted as they can provide you with the best and most appropriate guidance. However, you can ask your doctor if there is a need for a formal speech evaluation before you take any concrete steps.

Sometimes parents are seriously concerned about their child’s speech development. If no improvements are observed, book an appointment directly with your therapist.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Legally, speech and language disorders are recognised as disabilities. A speech language pathologist can also help after assessing your child’s ability to hold books, follow directions, name basic things, and know the correct use of toys. Your child might also be tested for hearing. If the results are normal, other tests might be carried out to see if the problem is short or long-term.

You can make a difference

Children with delayed speech and language disorders might carry the problem throughout their childhood. Sometimes it goes away as the child develops, and sometimes children carry it into adulthood if they have this by the end of pre-school years. Early intervention can make a significant difference. Thus, it’s important to look for the signs and get an accurate diagnosis early.

Parents can contribute greatly and help their children overcome this disorder by planning out activities and speech exercises at home. Encourage your children and tell them that they can overcome this issue. Helping them improve will have a positive impact on mental health and well-being.

The more you talk, the more your child will learn. Apart from seeking help from the therapist, communicate with your children, as children are imitators as well. All they want is someone who can understand and help them through their problems.

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