Speech Delay in Children

speech therapist and child working on the letter A

Wondering if your child has a speech delay? It never crossed my mind that my daughter may have a speech impediment until after her 3rd birthday. Now, she’s in speech therapy. While the age of 3 isn’t too late to get help, the earlier a speech delay is addressed, the better. That’s why I’m sharing some milestones you can look for, and if you do suspect a speech delay, what to do, and how you can help at home.

speech therapist and child working on the letter A

~I received a sample to help facilitate this post. This post also contains referral links, in which I will receive a small commission of sorts for your purchase, at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are still 100% my own.~

My Speech Delay Story

I want to start out by giving you a little background on my personal involvement with speech delay. To get right to the point, my middle child is currently in speech therapy. She goes twice a week, for 1 hour each day.

With the understanding that children develop different milestones at different times, I was never really concerned that my daughter had a problem. At her 3 year annual checkup, I remember the doctor asking if I had any concerns with her speech. And at the time, I didn’t.

Over the next few months, I listened more closely when my daughter spoke. Mom and dad would oftentimes have to interpret what she was saying. No one else, even family members, could understand her when she talked. There were even times we couldn’t quite decipher what she was trying to say, which was a little frustrating for both sides.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The girl talks all the time. I just noticed that, not only was she difficult to understand most of the time, but she was replacing a lot of letters/sounds with an h. She would completely leave off letters at the end of words and sometimes in the middle of words. There were many letters that she just had trouble articulating their sounds, like c, k, s, z and l, just to name a few. On top of that, she’s a fast talker.

It wasn’t until shortly after that 3 year checkup at the doctor when I was asked if I had concerns with my daughter’s speech, that it really dawned on me, “I think my daughter has a speech delay.”

About 4 months after that checkup we went back to the doctor with my concerns and the doctor referred her for a speech evaluation. Four months later and we started attending speech therapy, and still go today.

In a nutshell, that’s my story. I’ve learned a lot since we started this journey and I guarantee there’s still more to learn. But since a speech impediment has affected my daughter and family, I can offer a more relatable touch to a speech delay speed bump.

Now that you have that background on my story, let’s dive in and figure this out.

Early Signs of Speech Delay

While children reach various milestones at different times, when it comes to speech and language development, there are some basic guidelines to follow. At the specified age, your child should be doing the corresponding things listed.

mom and baby eye contact

  • Age 12-18 months
    • Babbling.
    • Responds to noises (turning head towards a sound).
    • Has good eye contact.
    • Points towards objects.
    • Says and understands “bye bye.”
    • Responds to their environment.
  • By Age 2
    • Speaks roughly 50 words.
    • Combines 2 words together when speaking like, “Thank you.”
    • Follows simple directions like, “Roll the ball.”
    • Understands simple actions like, “Eat.”
    • Tries to imitate new words.
  • By Age 3
    • Speaks in a manner that at least half of those listening can understand.
    • Uses 2-3 word phrases when asking for something.
    • Can comfortably name various objects they’re talking about.
  • By Age 4
    • Speaks in a manner that everyone listening can understand.
    • Uses sentences with 4+ words.
    • Answers simple who, what, when, where, why questions.
    • Retells simple stories or tells you about their day.

Again, it’s important to remember that all children develop different skills at different times. My 1st born wasn’t meeting all of his 12 month and 18 month speech milestones, but over time he progressed without any type of therapy. Now, he won’t shut up. I contribute his mild delay to the fact that he was an only child and wasn’t around other kids his age, enough to pick up speech cues more quickly.

My 2nd born, I thought for sure since she had an older sibling, would develop with no problems. As I just shared, she’s now attending speech therapy twice a week.

And my youngest is now 18 months old. His speech seems to be developing normally at this point, but only time will tell.

If your child meets all of these milestones, then they are probably developing their speech and language just fine. But, if at any point, you think something may be wrong, here’s what you need to do.

When to Talk to a Doctor

The decision when to talk to a doctor about your child’s speech, depends on how you feel as their parent. Simply put, if at any point you think their may be something wrong, speak to your child’s doctor. You know your child better than anyone else, so you have to be your child’s advocate.

The doctor will likely ask you a series of questions and determine if it may be worth getting a speech evaluation. The worst that could happen is you spend time on a speech evaluation and it turns out everything is just fine. But don’t be afraid to ask!

kid at doctors office

I think it’s also good to note, that between the ages of 18-24 months, children have a big developmental jump in their speech. This was explained to me by my daughter’s speech therapist because I was a little concerned that her little brother may be on the road to a speech impediment. He has actually made great progress in the past few months and seems to be right on track now.

I’m not sharing this little tidbit to discourage you from talking to your child’s doctor sooner. The fact of the matter, is early intervention is best, no matter what kind of developmental delay. At the same time, if your child has missed just one speech/language milestone by age 18 months and you feel like they’re on the right track, then it may not be necessary to rush to the doctor. But if you do think it’s necessary, by all means, go.

And from one parent to another, do not feel embarrassed if you think your child may have a speech delay. We all want to believe that our kids are invincible and can’t be phased by anything, but life happens and sometimes we all need a little help. Don’t let your embarrassment prevent your child from succeeding.

Getting your child help for their speech delay is not something to be embarrassed about. The fact of the matter, is you’re not alone. In fact, there are so many children in need of therapies, that there aren’t enough trained therapists to meet everyone’s needs.

little boy struggling with speech

Experts estimate that 1 in 4 children need some sort of speech therapy, yet wait times to see a therapist can be up to two years, which for kids with speech delays is an eternity. Even the speech evaluation process can be long, as I’m about to explain, so it’s not something to put off addressing. This is part of the reason why I say, if at any point you think their may be something wrong, speak to your child’s doctor. Don’t wait!

The Speech Evaluation Process

If your child’s doctor agrees it would be a good idea to get a speech evaluation, here’s what you can expect.

Step 1 – Hearing Test

The first step in the speech evaluation process is a hearing test. Many speech impediments can stem from hearing loss. Most speech therapists will not even do a speech evaluation until your child has had a hearing test.

Step 2 – Speech Evaluation

After the hearing test, is the actual speech evaluation. Some healthcare insurances require pre-approval of a speech evaluation before it can actually take place. So you may want to check with your insurance provider. If you’re not sure, the speech therapy location doing the evaluation, will also be able to tell you.

little boy getting a speech evaluation

The actual evaluation takes about an hour. Mom and dad will sit and wait patiently, as a licensed speech therapist interacts one-on-one with the child. During that time, the therapist will pay close attention to the child’s speech and language. At the end of the evaluation, the therapist will go over the results with you, and make a recommendation for speech therapy. (Example: My daughter was recommended for 2 sessions/week, 1 hour/session, over a 6 month period.)

Step 3 – Find a Speech Therapist

If the result of the speech evaluation is a recommendation for speech therapy, the next step is finding the right therapy location and therapist. This may be the same place where the evaluation was done, or may be a different practice altogether.

Step 4 – Insurance Approval

Wherever you decide to take your child for speech therapy, you’ll likely have to complete some type of intake information, including your child’s medical insurance. Before speech therapy sessions begin, your insurance must approve, or deny, your child’s sessions.

Once insurance approves the therapy sessions, you should be able to start right away.

From the time of referral, to the point my daughter actually started speech therapy, was a 4 month period. She was just 4 months shy of her 4th birthday. So aside from availability of speech therapists, the speech evaluation process itself just adds to the delay in getting your child help.

Step 5 – Re-evaluation

Once the originally recommended duration of speech therapy sessions has been completed, your child’s speech therapist will do a re-evaluation to determine if there’s been enough improvement to graduate from the program, or if your child needs to continue with additional speech therapy.

speech therapist playing with little boy (speech therapy)

The speech therapist may also recommend additional programs that will help your child. Most states have an Early Steps program of some sort that helps younger children (up to age 2) with developmental delays.

Once your child is too old for Early Steps, there are other options as well. In Florida, one such option is FDLRS (Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System). The more exposure a child gets, the better the outcome will be.

Before you know it, your child will be thriving in VPK and Kindergarten!

How You Can Help at Home

One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when I found out my daughter really did need speech therapy was, “Why didn’t I notice this earlier?,” and “How can I help her?” Throughout this process, I’ve learned that it wasn’t a matter of something I did wrong, but just that my daughter needed more one-on-one support.

If you ever doubt yourself, just remember some of these tips for helping your child with their speech at home.

  • Talk with, read to and play with your child. When reading, slow down and let your child repeat words, act out scenes from the story, and ask questions.

woman reading to a little boy (speech delay)

  • Listen to your child and respond as best you can.
  • When your child asks a question, answer them and also repeat the question.
    • For example, my daughter often asks, “Does Terrell have a soccer game today?” Because she has a problem with speech articulation, her question usually sounds like, “Duh Terrell ha a hohher gay today?” So when I respond, I say “Yes, Terrell has a soccer game today,” ensuring I get every letter and sound in its place. That way I’m answering her question, but also repeating the correct way to say it.
  • Make sure when talking, you articulate all words and sounds appropriately.
    • For example, when you say the word “teeth,” do not say “teef.” Your child is listening and will try to imitate the words you say, exactly how you say them. For your child to understand and interpret words/sounds correctly, you must portray them correctly.

little boy practicing facial movements (speech therapy)

  • If possible, get your child around other children. Many times children respond better to peers their own age versus mom and dad.
  • Don’t get frustrated. I personally know how hard it is when you can’t understand what your child is saying. It’s frustrating for them too, but don’t ever make your child feel inferior or put their spirits down.

Speech Blubs

To help at home you may also look for easy-to-use speech therapy tools. Speech Blubs is one that my daughter has been using. Kids are already on our phones and some children even have their own tablets, so why not add an app that’s fun, but is also specially designed to improve their speech abilities? That describes Speech Blubs, perfectly.

Why learn with Speech Blubs?

  • Designed to boost kid’s speech development, utilizing videos of real kids and teachers, voice activations and fun games to increase overall confidence and skills in an interactive way.
  • Uses scientifically proven video modeling for effective speech development.
  • Builds kids’ vocabulary and understanding of concepts.
  • Teaches noises, syllables, words, and sounds, through songs, riddles, puzzles and more.
  • Features over 1,500 exercises, mini-games, videos and activities for every interest (animals, transportation, dinosaurs, school, outer space and more).
  • Engages kids with fun role playing filters such as funny hats and masks they can add to their photos, using the device’s front-cam.
  • Awards virtual stickers as they progress.
  • Set practice reminders for certain days of the week so your child never misses a day of practice.

speech blubs reminder settings

Taking the whole experience to the next level and helping parents better understand their child’s needs, Speech Blubs goes as far as providing a speech assessment and free personalized evaluation report sent directly to your email. So if you’re not quite sure whether your child has a speech or language delay, answer the questions in the assessment and Speech Blubs will provide you feedback based on your responses.

The assessment and evaluation cover the areas of hearing, pragmatics, play, comprehension and talking. After identifying your child’s problem areas, the evaluation then offers tips and tricks to implement at home, in addition to practice inside the app itself. This assessment is no substitution for one completed by a licensed speech therapist, but it’s a great start when you suspect a speech impediment.

When we first started using Speech Blubs, I did the assessment and as expected, it identified my daughter had minor problems with comprehension and most of her problems were in the area of talking. Articulation is where she needs the most help, as identified by the speech therapist, and the Speech Blubs evaluation identified the same.

Want to try Speech Blubs? Get your 1st month FREE! Thereafter, a subscription starts at just $4.99/month.

My daughter loves Speech Blubs and asks to play her “sound game” a lot when we’re in the car. At first she was a little shy about practicing with the app. But after some encouragement and seeing how I interacted with the activities, she’s become a big fan. I think being able to see other children in the videos enunciating words and then her trying to repeat them, has helped with her articulation. She still has a long way to go, but I know the more she practices, the better she’ll get.

photos of little girl using funny photo filters

And I’m pretty sure her favorite part of the Speech Blubs app, are the fun photo filters. During each activity, a cute filter related to the word or sound being practiced, pops up and she can be a part of the photo. My phone’s camera roll is jam packed with funny photos of her!

My last piece of advice for how to help at home, is to celebrate small victories. It doesn’t matter if it’s a single word that your child has difficulty with, or the entire alphabet. As soon as your child master’s something they’ve been struggling with, let them know how proud you are. No victory is too small to celebrate and high fives go a long way.

mom and daughter high five after speech victory

I know I’ve covered a lot in this post on the topic of speech delay in children and would love to hear from you. Do you have a question? I may be able to help, so ask away. I do answer comments when warranted, so feel free to ask. My daughter’s speech delay journey may help shed some light on your situation.

Has one of your children been through, or is currently going through, a speech impediment? I’d love to hear your story! I want this post to be an open forum for anyone who needs help with speech delay or wants to provide help, so I’d love to hear from you! You may not realize it, but there are many parents in the same position as you and we can all be a support to each other.

*Please see this blog’s full policies and disclosure here.

speech therapist and child working on the letter A  speech therapist and child working on sounds in a book