Delayed Speech in Children: When to Be Concerned

Delayed Speech in Children: When to Be Concerned

Is your child a late talker? Do you suspect they could be experiencing a speech delay or a disorder? Through early childhood intervention and ECI speech therapy, communication does not have to be an obstacle for your child. 


The first word is monumental in both a child's and parent’s life. Your child had been blowing bubbles and repeating syllables for a while, but that first word is the first step into conscious awareness. Language names what we are experiencing. Verbal communication allows you and your child to connect, which helps them feel secure and explain what they need. But what does it mean when you aren’t connecting, or it seems like your child isn’t making the same progress that other children you’ve known made?


Rest assured, all children grow and develop at different rates. It is when there is consistent regression, setbacks in engagement, or disconnection in understanding verbal language that there is reason to suspect a speech delay. Around the age of 1.5 to 2 years, it is recommended that a diagnosis of delays and disorders is made and intervention is begun. Here is a helpful checklist from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to keep track of your child’s developmental milestones through age 5. 


Typical Speech Milestones


  • 0-3 months: smiling when you appear; making sounds; recognizing when spoken to; crying differently for various needs.
  • 0-6 months: making a variety of sounds, including gurgling and babbling when with you or alone; using their voice to express pleasure and displeasure; moving their eyes toward the source of sounds; reacting to changes in the tone of your voice; paying attention to music and sounds from toys.
  • 6-12 months: attempts to imitate speech sounds; the ability to form a few words, such as "dada," "mama" and "uh-oh"; acknowledging basic instructions, such as "Come here";  correctly associating words for common items.

  • 12-18 monthsfamiliarity with names of people, objects, and body parts; following along to simple instructions accompanied by gestures; a vocabulary as large as 10 words.
  • 18-24 months: forming simple phrases; asking one- or two-word questions, such as "Go bye-bye?"; understanding simple commands and questions; speaking coherently enough to be understood at least the majority of the time.

Understanding “late talkers” vs. Autism Spectrum Disorders


A “late talker” is a child who may experience a learning disability or delay in language but does not have other symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). As the age for a “late talker” technically begins around 18 months (1.5 years), parents may notice an issue at some point before their child’s first birthday. 


By age 1, many children can say simple words such as “mama” and “dada” and understand a basic command or two. But by 24 months (2 years), it may become more obvious that there’s a larger issue if your child is still having trouble with these first steps. According to the CDC, 80-90% of parents with a child diagnosed with an ASD noticed communication issues within the first two years. 


If, in addition to speech delays and lack of verbal comprehension, your child is disconnecting from the world around them, reciting dialogue from televisions shows or movies unrelated to what they’re doing, repeating unusual behaviors, or is extra sensitive to sensory stimuli, you may want to get them tested for an ASD.


Early childhood intervention: strategies and goals


The goals of early childhood intervention (ECI) is to identify and treat physical, developmental or intellectual delays or disabilities as early in the child’s development as possible. It is usually begun around or before the age of 3, or shortly after diagnosis in older toddlers. 


There are 5 areas of development that ECI can target: 

  • Physical skills - reaching, crawling, walking, drawing, rolling 
  • Cognitive skills - thinking, learning, problem-solving
  • Communication skills - talking, listening, comprehension
  • Self-help/adaptive skills - eating, dressing
  • Social/emotional skills - playing, interacting with others. 

ECI speech therapy

Early childhood intervention speech therapy is a method of correcting and helping your child work through speech delays and communication issues. When these issues are corrected early, they can allow your child to build stronger communication and language skills, have more positive interactions with others and support brain development. 


During ECI speech therapy, a child practices physical and mental speech exercises meant to support and work on their specific issue. The practices may address stuttering, forming words, using language, or comprehension. Despite the seriousness of the goals, many exercises are led as games so that children are more wholly engaged. There will also likely be exercises for the parents to “take-home” and practice actively with their child.

Early childhood intervention at ECCM


The Early Intervention program at ECCM is family-centered and available for children up to age 5. A service coordinator will hear out your child’s needs and coordinate early intervention services. Eligibility for early intervention is determined either through a qualifying diagnosis or through a multi-disciplinary evaluation, which evaluates the following five areas of early childhood development: cognitive, communication, social/emotional, physical, or adaptive. If there is a 25% delay or more in at least one of those areas, a service coordinator can: 


  • connect you and your child with a qualified provider to develop a therapy plan, 
  • monitor the services to ensure the best outcomes and practices, 
  • connect you to other valuable resources, 
  • answer your questions about your child's needs. 


If you notice setbacks or delays in your child’s development, get assistance early. This allows for your child to overcome their obstacles sooner and maximize learning potential at this crucial time in their development. Nearly 1 in 12 children in the United States are diagnosed with a disorder relating to speech or voice, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Speech delays should not be viewed as bad or embarrassing — it just means that your child has specific learning needs, and we can help you figure out what they are.