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The Speech Therapy Blog

Known Causes of Speech Delay in Children

Last updated Feb. 28, 2019

Speech development is critical in the life of every child. Speech skills are relevant for communication and determine how the child interact with his/her environment as other developments occur.

As with other skills, children develop differently when it comes to speech skills. There are milestones, however, that children are expected to reach during speech and language development.

Knowing what is normal and what is not can help parents determine when their children are seriously lagging behind in speech and language development.

When a child is unable to meet several milestones for speech development, he/she could be experiencing speech disorders.

Speech delays have several ways it affects children. If the problem persists until the child is of school-age and enrolls in school, it may constitute a learning problem and prevent the child from competing with his/her peers.

Speech delay can also affect the confidence of children, especially if they are bullied by their peers for their difficulties.

These are some of the reasons parents dread the problem and seek to address it as early as possible. But what are the causes of speech delay in children?

There are several factors that can cause speech delay. Knowing about them and addressing the ones that can be addressed is important.

Here, we will discuss some of the known causes of speech delay in children:


1. General Speech-Language Delay

This is a situation where speech delay is related to other developmental delays.

In most instances, there is no serious issue aside from the fact that the child is just learning slowly and will take can’t meet up with the expected milestones for children of his/her age.

Children that experience this issue develop at their own pace but some sort of intervention can help speed things up a bit.

Intervention is not really necessary as the issue is a temporary problem that will pass with time.

When intervention is provided, however, it is always easy to help the child. Therapy sessions and home practice can always help to address the problem.

2. Physical Impairment

Physical impairments are often spotted by pediatricians when children are still very little and not yet talking. There is an instance, however, where they are missed until the child starts seeing a dentist or show sign of speech delay.

Examples of speech delays include cleft palate, which is actually a very serious issue.

An unusually small frenulum is also considered physical impairment and can affect the speech of the child. Procedures are often needed to correct physical impairment.

3. Oral Motor Problems

Oral motor problems are issues that relate to communication in the area of the brain that is responsible for speech production. This is a very common issue in children that are having a real problem of speech delay.

The child with such problem have difficulties controlling the muscles and parts of the body needed to make certain sounds like the tongue, jaw, and lips.

This makes speaking very difficult: even when the child knows what to say, the sound will not form. Sometimes, the problem is associated with other oral-motor problems like problems easting.


4. Hearing Problems

Hearing problems are closely related to speech problems too. A child that suffers hearing loss is normally unable to process sound and this also makes it almost impossible to speak too.

A child learns words and speech by listening to others and vocalizing to imitate familiar words. When the child doesn’t hear, there is no way the child will understand what is being said.

This also means there is no way the child will learn words and speak them. Whenever speech delay is noticed in a child, the hearing of the child needs to be tested by an audiologist to rule out the chances of a hearing problem.

When the issue is caused by hearing problems, taking care of the hearing issue makes taking care of the speech delay easier.

5. Ear Infections

Asides from regular hearing issues, ear infections can also impact the speech development of a child. This does not mean that a child that has ear infection is at great risk of ear infection.

While simple ear infections that clear u after few days will not cause any serious damage to the ability of the child to hear, chronic ear infections can affect hearing and consequently cause speech delay.

It is always better to prevent this sort of problem than to start finding a solution for them in the future.

If your child has an ear infection, the pediatrician can take care of it, but when the problem is reoccurring, it may be necessary to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist.

6. Autism

There are a variety of disorders along the autism spectrum that influences the speech development of a child.

Children that suffer these diseases are often unable to communicate effectively and may be caught up in repetitive activity most times. This is one of the issues that are difficult to manage.

Professional evaluation is needed to diagnose the condition and proper treatment, including intensive language training and behavioral modification, may be needed to on the long run.


7. Cerebral Palsy

This is another major problem that can affect speech development significantly. The problem may affect the tongue area, making physical vocal coordination very hard.

Hearing difficulties and lots of other developmental problems are also associated with cerebral palsy. This problem is a little difficult to treat.

Children often have to undergo intensive symbol recognition therapy as an alternative to vocal therapy. With the right care, however, they learn to communicate.

8. Childhood Apraxia of Speech

This is another problem that affects the child’s ability to make the right sound even when he/she knows what to say.

It makes the speech of the child impaired and very difficult for others to understand.

In most cases, children affected by this issue often try to compensate for their speech with gestures. A comprehensive assessment is required to diagnose this and several approaches are taken as intervention measures.

9. Intellectual Limitations

There are also some children whose speech delays are simply caused by cognitive limitations.

Such children often need long-term support and training to deal with speech delays or whatever difficulties they may experience in their developmental process.

Professional full examination is necessary to diagnose this and treatment is often conducted under the guidance of related professionals.