Speech delay, or alalia, is a delay in the development or use of speech. It refers to the actual sounds that come out of our mouths, and should not be confused with language, which involves meanings rather than sounds. Because children develop at their own pace, it is often difficult to assess whether a delay in speech is cause for concern, or if the child is simply a “late bloomer.” When in doubt, it’s best to seek the advice of a speech language pathologist, who can evaluate your child and determine whether there is a true delay.
Signs & Symptoms
Despite variances, there are general developmental age-related speech milestones used to indicate where a majority of children fall. These can be used as a guide to determine whether your child is progressing at a normal rate, and may serve as an early warning sign of a possible speech delay. As a rule of thumb, your child should be doing the following:
- Babble consistently
- String together several different consonants
- Say “mama” or “dada” without understanding the meaning
- Recognize his/her own name
- Understand simple instructions
- Have a vocabulary of 15-20 words, including names
- Respond to “no,” “hello,” and “bye”
- Follow simple directions (“give me your toy”)
- Imitate familiar sounds
- Identify body parts
- Have a vocabulary of 50+ words
- Combine 2 or more words to form simple sentences
- Identify common objects in person and by picture
- Follow two-step commands (“Pick up your cup and give it to me”)
Remember, while the stages of speech development are pretty consistent, the age at which each child hits these benchmarks varies. If a speech delay is the diagnosis, there are many possible causes ranging from autism, auditory processing disorder, cleft palate, prematurity, and hearing loss.
Treatment & Therapy
There are a wide variety of treatments available for speech delay, depending on the underlying cause. Speech therapy is most common, but other forms of therapy – including physical and occupational – may be employed when the speech delay is due to a physical malformation, or the result of autism or a language processing delay.