The causes of most speech disorders in children aren’t sufficiently scientifically clarified. Treatment, rehabilitation and correction mainly focus on symptoms, not causes.
Incorrect sound pronunciation (dyslalia)
We can notice an incorrect pronunciation in basically all children. At the beginning of speech development, it’s a normal occurrence. It most often starts when a child replaces a sound with one that is more easily pronounced (bath = baf), or he leaves a sound out entirely (broken=boken). Up until the fight year of age, or sometimes later, an incorrect pronunciation of “heavy” sounds is acceptable (like l, r and sibilants).
We talk about an incorrect pronunciation (dyslalia), which is an articulation disorder, if wrong pronunciation lasts longer, when a child creates a sound in the wrong place (like a French “r”) or in other situations (like lisping – letting the air out from the sides of the tongue).
An Incorrect pronunciation should be removed by following expert advice from a speech therapist, preferably before the child enters first grade. Proper pronunciation is needed in order to master the basics of reading and writing in school.
If a child who is older then three keeps pronouncing incorrectly, if he has a problem with repeating long words, if he always repeats them differently and always incorrectly, if his speech isn’t really understandable to strangers, or if it seems like he is straining himself when talking – then it’s probably not just incorrect pronunciation that he will grow out of; it could be a more serious speech disorder (like verbal dyspraxia) and you should contact a speech therapist.
Seek a speech therapist, when:
- a three-year-old creates a sound at a wrong place (like the French “r”) or in other situations (lisping);
- a three-year-old has difficulties repeating long words, always repeats them differently and always incorrectly and his speech is overall not understandable;
- a four-year-old has an incorrect pronunciation of many sounds
- a five-year-old has an incorrect pronunciation of some sounds (like l, r)
Delayed speech development
From everyday life we know, that each child develops according to his own “timetable”. Even though there are well known “table values”, many children within a natural variability achieve these milestones a bit sooner or later.
The same goes for speech development. Here the variability is even bigger, because the quality of the stimulation and the influence of the environment play a crucial role. Variability is also influenced by inside factors like heredity and the maturity of the nervous system.
The question is, do the speech abilities further develop in a child with a delayed speech development? The answer to this question is complicated: from a delayed speech development a proper development may or may not start. Some children speed up when they are three and soon catch up with their peers in all speech abilities. In others, their development may become more complicated and the delay may result in an impaired speech development. That’s why a delayed development should be considered a risk factor and stimulation should begin as soon as possible.
Seek a speech therapist, when:
- a two-year-old doesn’t feel the need to express his feelings, he doesn’t comment on what he sees and doesn’t ask his mom to repeat activities or to hand him an item or a toy;
- he uses less than ten understandable words at two years;
- as a two-year-old, he doesn’t create any two word combinations (“grandma there”, “father give”, etc. );
- when a three-year-old doesn’t create simple sentences
Stuttering or speech disfluency?
Because of the rapid speed of speech development that allows a child to say much more than before – and children would love to articulate all their thoughts at once – a child may suddenly:
- repeat one word or syllable without effort, like: “My my my mom is coming“ or “This this this this car is mine!” or “Gi-gi-give me ball!”
- change his speech so that he replaces a word or a phrase, but the meaning of what he wants to say stays the same. For example, he wants to say “We moved into a new house,” but he says “My are have new house…,” because it’s easier for him this way.
- slip sounds or words into his sentences that don’t have anything to do with the content, but they make continuing in the sentence easier, like: “It’s a hm car.”
- interrupt his speech often, make obvious pauses, which are longer then needed to take a breath, like “I have——-nice car.”
All of these difficulties are called speech disfluency, and even though they may remind us of stuttering, they are associated with speech development. Just remember how you child started walking:
sometimes he tripped, fell, jumped. And it’s similar with speech. Sometimes he repeats something, he corrects something and he makes a pause or slips in a sound or a word. A significant difference between disfluency and real stuttering is the length of time it lasts. Disfluency can last between a few weeks to six months. If it doesn’t naturally disappear, it may lock in and turn into stuttering.
Certain rules exist that adults should follow when their child is experiencing speech disfluency. The “ten commandments“ are:
1. Don’t point out the less-than-perfect fluency in your child’s speech and don’t ask him to repeat the sentence.
2. Don’t tell you child to speak slower, to take a breath or to calm down.
3. Don’t ask your child, especially during this critical time, to talk loud or to recite in front of relatives, guests, etc.
4. (You) Talk in simpler and shorter sentences.
5. (You) Talk slower.
6. Eliminate situations that your child is afraid of. For example, leave the night light on).
7. Don’t have unreasonable expectations (like “boys don’t cry” or “Peter can do it better than you”, etc.)
8. Important conversation should never take place in front of a child.
9. Don’t make sudden lifestyle changes, and prepare you child for necessary changes such as moving or changing school.
10. If your child still doesn’t speak fluent for more than several months, talk to a speech therapist.
Seek a speech therapist’s help when:
- the disfluency lasts longer than 6 months;
- a child speaks with difficulties, straining speech organs and neck muscles during speech;
- there is a family member who stutters;
- a child starts realizing the disfluency n his speech and is upset by it.
The causes of most speech disorders in children aren’t sufficiently scientifically clarified. Treatment, rehabilitation and correction mainly focus on symptoms, not causes. Speech is an ability that is mostly developed though communication from the closest people and the environment that parents create for their children. This is especially true for parents who have a child with a speech disorder. Traditional approaches of speech therapists defined the roles of parents as only observers and helpers. Today we know that when parents are led by experts, they can significantly help develop and guide their child. Unlike experts, they can do so everyday at home – in the child’s natural environment. The role of a family is also gradually changing even here: different parental groups and training programs are formed, where parents – under the guidance of experts – get educated in effective communication strategies. It helps them discover their child, his needs, development possibilities and ways to help develop his speech skills. This gives them greater peace and freedom in making decisions.
So if you or someone you know have any doubspeechts about your child’s speech development, or you already know that your child has an inborn speech disorder, seek out an expert as soon as possible and consult the possibilities of early stimulation and intervention.