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Understanding speech and language delay in children

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

Speech and language are a key development area that affects a child’s social interactions, behaviour and academic skills. Many parents get anxious when their children are not communicating as well as peers of the same age.

Even though different children hit their speech and language milestones at different paces and at different times, there are essential speech and language milestones that parents may refer to as a guide.

Important speech and language milestones for different age groups:

 Should you wait it out?

A child’s brain develops at a profound rate during the foundational years. Hence, time is of the essence when it comes to intervention.

Early detection and intervention provide the potential to rewire the child’s brain to make positive changes and maximise outcome.

Parents should get their children assessed by a Speech and Language Therapist as soon as they suspect that their children are not hitting the mark, as early detection can help prevent or reduce some of the problems associated with speech and language delay.

Some of the potential problems that may emerge from speech and language delay:

  • Difficulties with social interaction in school

  • Delay in reading and literacy (as reading requires knowledge of speech sounds)

  • Inferior complex, low self-esteem and confidence, leading to behavioural issues

  • Sometimes, speech and language delay could be signs of other developmental disorders. It is, therefore, crucial to detect early and provide the necessary intervention as soon as possible.

To be on the safe side, when in doubt, parents should consult a Speech and Language Therapist for peace of mind. There is no harm in helping children who may grow out of it, but there are detrimental risks in waiting for a child who may not.

How can speech and language therapy help your child?

Speech and language therapy can help in the following areas:

  • Receptive language (i.e. understanding what you say or questions you ask)

  • Expressive language (i.e. verbally communicating their wants and needs)

  • Pronunciation and articulation of sounds, letters and words

Parental involvement will also make a big difference in the progressive development of communication in children involved in speech or language therapy.

Here’s what parents can do to help their child who is struggling with speech and language delay:

Keep talking to your child

Expand your child’s vocabulary by conversing with your child as much as you can and reduce baby talk. Describe to your child what you are doing, where you are going, what you are going to do, what you have just done.

Use books

Read age-appropriate books that are of interest to your child. Point and talk about the pictures or illustrations in the books.


Sing songs and nursery rhymes to your child. Music and movement are a great way to engage and bond with your child at the same time.

Learn and practise gestures and sign language

Children begin communicating by using gestures before they verbalise. For instance, they point at objects, raise their hands when they want to be carried, clap when they are happy, and wave to say goodbye.

Children with expressive language delays can benefit from learning simple gestures or sign language for a start. Some common sign languages include “eat”, “drink”, “more”, “all done” and “thank you”.

However, signs and signals should always be used together with speech and language development – and not a substitute for it.

Limit screen time

One of the causes of comprehension delay is psychosocial deprivation, which means the child doesn’t spend enough time talking with adults. Research has shown that screen time may not only impair and delay a child’s speech and language development, but also affect overall intellectual performance.

So, as much as possible, do replace screen time with face-to-face communication.

Got a concern about your child’s speech and language development?

Article contributed by the team at MindChamps Allied Care @ East Coast.

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