Why Toddlers Can Have Speech Delays

There is a wide range of issues that can disrupt your toddler's speech development. There may be a physical impairment that prevents your child from correctly forming words or there may be a processing problem, which means that your child's internal communication system isn't able to effectively carry a message between the brain the body parts that are used to speak.

If you are concerned about possible delays in your child's verbal skills or understanding of language, consider these factors, all of which can play a role in speech and language delays.


Physical Impairments

Close-up of a father face to face with his daughter

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A cleft palate is one extreme example of an oral impairment that can affect speech. Another problem that can affect speech production is having an unusually short frenulum, which is the fold that holds the tongue to the lower mouth. Physical problems like this are most often caught by your pediatrician before your child begins to start taking, but in some cases, they may be missed until our child starts to see a dentist or begins to show signs of delayed speech.


Oral-Motor Problems

Many kids with speech delays have a problem with communication in the areas of the brain responsible for speech production due to problems such as childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). In this case, your child may have problems controlling the muscles and parts of her body that she uses to speak. Her lips, tongue, or jaw, for instance, may not do what they "should" do to produce certain words. These types of speech problems may exist on their own or may exist along with other oral-motor difficulties such as problems eating.


General Developmental Delay

A speech delay may be related to other developmental delays. Of course, every child hits milestones at his own pace, but you might want to speak with your pediatrician about having an assessment of your child done if you begin to notice that other skills and abilities are also developing more slowly than usual. Specifically, pay attention to whether a motor, verbal and cognitive skills are on target for your child's age level.

Speech problems related to developmental delays may include speaking very little (or not at all), seems not to understand what is being said by others, repeating what others say, or having no emotion or inflection and intonation when speaking.


Hearing Problems

Hearing problems are also commonly related to delayed speech, which is why a child's hearing should be tested by an audiologist whenever there's a speech concern. A child who has hearing loss may have trouble understanding speech around her as well as her own vocalizations. This makes it hard to understand and master what specific words are and then prevents her from imitating words and using language fluently or correctly.


Ear Infections

Unfortunately, it's all too common for children to have more than one ear infection before their third birthday. That doesn't mean, though, that a child who has had an infection is automatically at risk for hearing problems and speech delays. A common ear infection that clears up after treatment without a problem won't increase your child's risk of speech problems. Chronic infections, on the other hand, can impact speech.

These types of infections are characterized by inflammation and infection in your child's middle ear. The infection may not clear up with typical treatments and may keep coming back within short periods of time. If your child falls into that category, your pediatrician may want you to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist or may recommend that your child gets ear tubes.

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