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Everything You Need to Know About Your Child’s Speech Development

children speech development

‘Is my child’s speech on track?,’ ‘My kid is harder to understand than her peers,’ ‘Will my child always have a lisp or problem with his /r/?,’ ‘After my second child I stopped worrying about things like speech!’

 This is a nice sampling of speech-related comments from parents that I’ve heard over the years and each comment has value. Read on to understand when speech errors matter and when to relax.

 What is considered ‘normal’?

Unlike some other skills, speech skills (the pronunciation of words/clarity of words - NOT language skills such as sentence length, grammar, or vocabulary) have a wide range of what professionals consider to be ‘normal.’ So, one kid may have crystal clear speech by 2 1/2, while another still makes a few errors at 5, and both may have ‘normal’ speech skills.

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 The easiest way for you to do a quick screening of your child’s speech is to look at a chart such as this one, start to listen to your child’s speech, and compare. Each bar represents the ‘normal’ range in which a child masters that sound to an adult-like standard. 

chart speech intelligence.png

 Another important consideration is‘intelligibility’- how easy or difficult is it to understand your child? If a child makes age-appropriate errors but makes lots of them, or makes unusual types of errors, then that may be considered abnormal too.

Will my child outgrow speech challenges or should I seek help? 

Adults with otherwise typical development don’t go around saying ‘tat’ for ‘cat’ (and I often remind worrying parents about this). So, some parents wonder why they need to think about a child’s speech at all.

 Sometimes, a speech difficulty might mean there is a language difficulty too. In those cases, there is a risk of literacy/reading difficulties down the road. Studies also have linked the risk if the types of errors are unusual of if errors persist to school-entry age. For some kids, this risk is not present.

 Some parents notice that their child’s speech difficulties impact their self-esteem with peers. Other children feel a lot of frustration by their not being understood - communication becomes a frustrating experience. On the other hand, some children don’t seem to notice at all.

Certain sound errors can be very difficult to ‘fix’ without help from a speech-language pathologist. Depending on the age of the child and the type of error as well as cause for the error these children may have errors that do persist into adulthood if not addressed. Most notably, this includes certain lisps and the /r/ sound.

There are a few other, less common, circumstances where help may be warranted, such as when a child has an anatomical/physiological differencethat impacts speech (hearing loss, cleft lip/palate, a lisp due to mouth breathing or oral habit like thumb-sucking, etc.) Or, when a child has significant difficulties with speech such as with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS).

A child with a developmental or learning difference or disorder may also acquire speech at a different rate. Their speech skills may be on par with their other developmental milestones (and therefore be considered ‘normal’ for them). However, they may have speech difficulties that are not commensurate with expectations, in which case help is advised. 

What can an SLP do?

An SLP can quickly and easily assess your child’s speech during an initial evaluation and give recommendations about what kind of support, if any, your child may need (most health insurance plans cover the cost of SLP services up to a monetary limit per year). 

 If extra help is recommended, this may be in the form of simple strategies you use at home with your child, therapy sessions in the clinic or at home, or development of a home program where the parent is taught to facilitate treatment at home. Connection to public services is also typically a part of the plan. In all cases the family is central to decision making and planning support! 

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Megan MacLeod, Speech-Language Pathologist

M.Sc. SLP (C)

Megan received her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Dalhousie University and is certified by SAC (Speech-Language and Audiology Canada).

Her clinical experience includes serving children and adults with various speech and/or language disorders across both public and private service settings.

Heather Stone