Singapore Women's & Children's Medical Group

How to Tell If Your Child Has a Speech Delay, and How Can You Help? 

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Speech delay in children refers to a delay in the development of speech and language skills compared to what is considered typical for a child of the same age. It is a common developmental issue and affects approximately 5-10% of preschool-aged children.

Common Signs of Speech Delay in Children

  • Limited vocabulary: Children with speech disorders or delays may have a limited vocabulary for their age and may struggle to find the right words to express themselves.
  • Difficulty with pronunciation: Children with speech disorders may struggle with pronouncing sounds or words correctly. They may also leave out sounds or syllables or add extra sounds to words.
  • Difficulty with comprehension: Children with speech disorders may have trouble understanding and following instructions or answering questions.
  • Difficulty with social interaction: Children with speech disorders may struggle with social interaction and may have difficulty making friends or engaging in play with others.
  • Frustration: Children with speech disorders or delays may become frustrated when they are not understood, or when they struggle to express themselves.

Causes of Speech Delay in Children

  • Hearing problems: If a child is unable to hear or process sounds correctly, it can affect their speech and language development.
  • Developmental disorders: Certain developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disability, can cause speech and language delays or difficulties.
  • Environmental factors: Limited or poor-quality exposure to language, or a lack of social interaction, can affect a child’s speech development.
  • Neurological conditions: Certain neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, can cause speech and language delays.
  • Genetics: Some speech and language disorders are inherited and may be passed down from parents to their children.
  • Premature birth: Children who are born prematurely or with other health issues may be at a higher risk for speech and language delays.
  • Bilingualism: Children who are learning more than one language may experience a temporary delay in speech and language development as they learn to navigate multiple language systems.

It is important to identify the cause of a child’s speech delay to develop an appropriate plan for intervention. It may be helpful for parents to visit a paediatrician who can check if there are any underlying issues and refer them to a speech pathologist if necessary.

Questions to Ask a Paediatrician During the Appointment

If you suspect that your child has a speech delay, it is important to schedule an appointment with a paediatrician to discuss your concerns. Here are some questions you may want to ask during the appointment:

  • What is the typical age range for when children start speaking, and when should I be concerned if my child hasn’t started speaking yet?
  • What kind of assessment or evaluation is necessary to determine the cause of my child’s speech delay?
  • Can you refer me to a speech-language pathologist for further evaluation and therapy?
  • How can I help support my child’s speech and language development at home?
  • Are there any lifestyle changes or modifications that could improve my child’s speech and language development?
  • How frequently will my child need to attend therapy, and for how long?
  • What can I do to help ensure that my child stays motivated and engaged in their therapy sessions?
  • What kind of resources are available to help me learn more about speech and language development and how I can support my child?

By asking these questions, you can gain a better understanding of your child’s speech delay and what steps you can take to help support their speech and language development. A paediatrician can provide guidance and support and can refer you to additional resources as needed.

Tips to Help Your Child with Speech Delay

In addition to seeking professional help, there are things that parents can also help their child improve their speech and language skills at home. Here are some tips:

  • Engage in conversation with your child: Talk to your child frequently, even if they are not yet speaking in full sentences.
  • Encourage them to respond with gestures or sounds and respond to their attempts at communication.
  • Read books together: Reading books can help improve your child’s language skills and expose them to new words and concepts.
  • Use simple and clear language: Use simple and clear language when talking to your child and avoid using baby talk or talking down to them.
  • Encourage play and social interaction: Encourage your child to play with others and participate in social activities that promote communication and interaction with others.

It is important to remember that every child is unique, and the signs and symptoms of speech and language difficulties may vary from child to child. By providing a rich language environment and seeking professional help as needed, you can help support your child’s speech and language development.

Reviewed by Dr Janice Wong on 23 March 2023. 
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Dr Janice Wong Tzen Yuen
Paediatric Neurologist 

Dr Janice Paediatric Centre
A wholly owned subsidiary of   Singapore Women’s & Children’s Medical Group
101 Irrawaddy Road
#14-07 Royal Square
Singapore 329565
Tel: +65 65138633

Dr Janice Wong is experienced in the management of new born and children disease, paediatric neurology, childhood behavioural and developmental disorders such as global developmental delay, speech delay, autistic spectrum disorder and ADHD. She is also trained to manage children with cerebral palsy and other neuro-disabilities. Dr Wong is also one of the few trained paediatricians who performs botulinum toxin therapy for spasticity.

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