One of the most eagerly awaited milestones for parents is hearing their child say his first words. Every mumbled and uttered word can mean so much to you and your family because your child can finally express himself verbally and engage in conversations.
All children have the ability to learn a language although it takes years to master it. While some kids have trouble with language, this seems like a pathway to effective oral communication, and there’s a time when this is considered normal. For instance, it’s acceptable for a child who is less than a year old to experience some language issues. However, you should consider talking to your doctor if your kid still has difficulties expressing himself verbally at the age of 2.
When speech issues persist, there’s the possibility of a speech disorder, and you should promptly give them your attention. They tend to go unnoticed because as a parent, you might think that it’s all part of your child’s development, and he will outgrow it. However, it’s crucial to know as much as possible about speech impediment in children so you can address any issues sooner rather than later.
What is a speech disorder?
A speech disorder is present when a person can’t communicate effectively because of issues involved in creating or forming speech sounds. This makes it difficult for you and other people to understand your child’s speech.
Around 5% of children aged 3-17 in the US had a noticeable speech disorder that lasted for a week or longer during the past 12 months. Stuttering affects children between the ages of 2 and 6.
When a child has a speech impediment, the people around him may find it difficult to understand what he’s trying to say; thus, frustration can arise in both the child and the person he is communicating with.
Speech disorder vs. language disorder
You might think that speech and language disorders are the same because the focus is on your child’s communication skills. However, it’s essential to know that a speech disorder is different from a language disorder, and they should be addressed differently.
A speech disorder involves trouble producing or saying a sound, stuttering when speaking, or issues with the voice. In contrast, a language disorder is when a child has difficulty expressing himself to others (expressive language) and/or understanding the message from the people around him (receptive language). A medical professional is the best person to evaluate and diagnose the condition so that you can plan how to manage your child’s difficulties.
What are the types and causes of speech disorders in children?
There are different types of speech disorders in children, the most common being:
- Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS)-Apraxia in kids is also referred to as developmental apraxia. If your child has been diagnosed with CAS, he has difficulty with his speech because his brain finds it hard to process his speech movements, but his muscles are perfectly fine. CAS can be associated with delayed speech, a limited number of spoken words, and words only consisting of only a few consonants or vowels.
- Dysarthria-When this condition is present, your child has trouble forming and pronouncing words, which makes it hard for people around him to understand him. Dysarthria in kids is caused by muscle weakness that affects the tongue, the larynx, and surrounding muscles.
- Orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMD)-Children can be diagnosed with OMD just like teenagers and adults. This condition can affect the development of the facial muscles and bones, which include the mouth. Aside from the speech, OMD also affects the ability to swallow and breathe through the nose. Among the signs and symptoms are limited tongue movements, breathing through the mouth instead of the nose, drooling beyond the age of 2, and difficulty in saying sounds such as “s,” “sh,” and “j.”
- Speech sound disorders-This involves trouble in pronouncing sounds such as “sh” and “ch” (articulation disorder) or the inability to pronounce a certain letter or syllable in words, such as saying “cher” instead of “teacher” (phonological disorder). Although there is no known cause, speech sound disorders can be linked to brain injury, developmental delays, hearing problems, physiological issues like cleft palate, and disorders in the nerves affecting speech.
- Stuttering-This condition is characterized by the repetition of words, syllables, and sounds, prolongation of sounds, and “blocks” or interruptions in speech. When your child stutters, there are some issues with the natural flow of speech although he knows exactly what to say. This speech disorder may be accompanied by behavioral issues such as rapid eye movement and lip tremors. Obviously, stuttering makes it difficult for your child to be understood, so it can also affect his relationships with the people around him.
- Autism-related speech disorder-Some children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may not communicate verbally, while some may have the minimal speaking ability. A child on the spectrum and with speech problems may constantly repeat words or phrases that he’s heard (echolalia), speak like a robot, speak very little to not at all, or use gestures as his form of communication.
Diagnosing and managing speech disorders
If you notice that your child has difficulty with speech, it’s best to seek the opinion of a medical professional. You can see a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Your SLP will need to evaluate your child’s condition based on symptoms, family history, and other medical conditions. These professionals also use methods and tools to rule out other speech disorders.
Once there is a diagnosis, you and your SLP will have to work hand in hand on managing your child’s speech impediment. The treatment depends on the severity of your child’s condition and its underlying cause.
Among the treatment plans that you can agree on are:
- Speech therapy, which focuses on building your child’s familiarity with words and sounds
- Physical exercises that focus on strengthening the muscles of the body part responsible for speech
Our speech disorder journey
When my son was 4 years old, we noticed he had difficulty pronouncing many words. Except for me, the people around him often couldn’t understand him. I knew that he could hear very well, so I didn’t find it alarming.
The speech issue was raised by our pediatrician, who suggested that we should see a developmental pediatrician so my son could get an evaluation. We immediately went for a consultation, and it confirmed that my son did have CAS. The doctor advised us to see an SLP so we could start our intervention.
It was a journey that required lots of time, money, and effort. An important part of it was working together with our SLP and making sure that the speech therapy wasn’t limited to that specialist and those therapy sessions. As parents, we can ensure consistency and continuity of the treatment plan at home so that our children progress quickly. After 5 years of continuous speech therapy, my son can now speak clearly and confidently.