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What is a Speech Delay?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

Speech delay is the term used to describe any condition where children take too long to start talking. It’s actually a symptom of a wide variety of different disorders, including everything from motor problems to deafness and even brain damage. Depending on the cause, these slowdowns can potentially occur at any stage in the development cycle, so a child may initially learn at a normal pace and then seem to hit a roadblock. Some forms of speech delay can be treatable, and even in the worst cases, there are usually steps that can at least improve the situation.

Some of the problems that cause speech delay are directly related to the simple function of the mouth itself. This can be a mechanical problem in the joints of the jaw or the muscles in the throat and tongue. There are also some children who have problems with motor function in the muscles of their face due to nerve damage.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Hearing loss is another thing that can slow down a child when learning to talk. In many cases, hearing loss is detected because of other symptoms, but sometimes parents don’t recognize anything unusual until the child has trouble learning to talk. Some kinds of hearing loss are treatable, and some aren’t. Early detection is important because it lets parents quickly get whatever treatment is available and adjust their parenting approach to compensate for their child's disability.

Many dreaded cognitive disabilities can lead to speech delay. For example, children with mental retardation and autism frequently have this problem, and parents often immediately begin worrying about these possibilities when they discover their child has speech delay. Experts suggest that children with major cognitive disabilities will usually have other noticeable issues related to learning in addition to speech delay.

Sometimes parents may not realize their children are learning slower than they should be, and this can delay the process of getting a child help for his or her speech problem. Doctors generally encourage parents to keep an eye on the developmental progress of their children and educate themselves about the normal pace of maturation in regards to things like learning to talk and walk. Parents who’ve had previous children may sometimes have an advantage in recognizing a speech delay problem. They will generally be more aware of the typical progression pattern, and they can quickly notice that something is wrong. On the other hand, previous experience can also make parents expect too much from their new children if their older children where fast talkers.

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