Red Flags For Speech Development


For many parents and caregivers, it’s difficult to tell if a child’s speech is simply delayed or is a problem to be addressed. So if you are working with a child who is younger and not putting language together as quickly as an older sibling or child of a similar age did, you may just think he’ll catch up. You may consider that he’s just slower than others but every child is different and so you avoid seeking advice.

Warning Signs to Look For

If you really think that your child may be having a problem with speech development, here are some signs provided by speech therapists that you can look for to gauge more accurately if you should be concerned:

  • Your child can only imitate speech or actions but doesn’t produce words or phrases spontaneously
  • He/she say only certain sounds or words repeatedly and can’t use oral language to communicate more than his or her immediate needs
  • He/she can’t follow simple directions
  • He/she has an unusual tone of voice (such as raspy or nasal sounding)
  • He/she is more difficult to understand than expected for his or her age.

Language Development is a Critical Indicator

Language development is one of the critical indicators of overall intellectual development in a child. It was the principal differentiating factor in the first set of intelligence tests introduced into the Paris School system by Alfred Binet. Today, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence test has been used with millions of children around the world. Language is gauged through speech. Speech delay precludes the ability of psychologists to administer intelligence tests to determine the intellectual capacity of a child.

Children vary at the speed they pick up certain skills and tasks. Knowing what’s ‘normal’ and what’s not in speech and language development will help you to determine if you should be concerned that your child is on schedule for their age.

Children vary widely in the age at which they begin to speak and at the rate at which they learn language. I find that parents are often concerned when their child is not speaking as well as other children of their age.

Be Careful About Seeking Help

There are suggested indicators of speech and language delay, many of which are promulgated by speech and language therapists. However, their concern and reliance on early intervention may lead parents to be more anxious than is necessary if they look for signs of speech impediments in a worst-case view. It has been found that needless early intervention has a number of negative outcomes that include, expense, disruption of normal routines, unnecessary travel, etc.
The first step should be to your local doctor or clinic to have the child’s hearing checked. If your doctor has any concerns, s/he will refer you to the appropriate specialist, possibly an audiologist for further examination. Many children with blocked Eustachian tubes have hearing problems which then affects their speech development. Usually if the parent has not already done so, the speech pathologist will make this recommendation as a first step.

If your child’s development in speech is slow, an initial assessment might be warranted, but not if it automatically means signing into a program. So if you feel the need to become involved in speech and/or language therapy, you need to be able to discern the effects of the treatment. Before you take any steps, you’ll want to ask a few answers from the therapist such as:

  • What can I expect?
  • When will I begin to see results?
  • What are you measuring to determining the effectiveness of the treatment?
  • How do I learn to understand and evaluate your measures?
  • What guarantees do you provide?
  • May I have some references with which I can discuss your treatments and their effects?

Do your homework. Ask the hard questions. Good therapists will answer them readily.

However, before seeking treatment, try to engage more with your child when it comes to language. Try talking through all your actions like baking, grocery shopping, etc. to help them see and understand what you are doing. Point out objects, name things like trees, food, flowers, etc. Sing and talk while you play and most importantly? Read! You may find that with some one on one work, your child may surprise you.

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