Speech Delay

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What is a speech or language delay? A speech delay refers to a delay in the development or use of the mechanisms that produce speech. Speech refers to the actual process of making sounds. Language delay refers to a delay in the development or use of the knowledge of language.

In 2016, The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that 8-9 percent of young children are diagnosed a speech sound disorder. Between 6 and 8 million people in the United States have some form of language impairment.

How can I help when a child that I work with has a speech or language delay?

1. Be Patient and recognize that it may be frustrating for this child to communicate to you and they may need extra help in communicating. The child may resort to screaming or other behaviors to get their needs met if they do not feel understood.

2. Give prompts. Ask the child to use their words or to show you. For some children you may be able to start a sentence and they can fill in the blanks. (Example: Ben, please use your words. I want ______.”)

3. Make eye contact. When giving directions, be sure that the child heard you and is processing your request. If yelling from across the room, a request can be lost especially for those with processing issues. Get on their level.

4. Firm but kind direction. It is OK when a child is not listening, not sharing, screaming, or exhibiting an unwanted behavior to be firm. (Example: “Please do not scream, we need you to sit down during story time.”)

5. Redirection. If a child isn’t listening or screaming it’s ok to give them kind words and a kind tone to use. (Example: You can say “no thank you” or “I would like a turn”.)

6. Give choices. When possible, give other options. (Example: You cannot take a friends book, but you can read another a book or take a turn.)

7. Follow up with parents. Most parents want to know how their child behaves to better support you.

If serious acting out occurs, let parents/staff know. Ask for more information on specific delays. Develop a plan with the parents to help the child.

What behaviors/disabilities are associated with a speech and language delay?

1. Frustration and anger related to the inability to communicate. This could look like screaming, tantrums, pushing other kids, or acting out in a way to get their needs met. Patience, staying calm, and redirection can help with anger.

2. This child could be deaf or have some type of hearing impairment. The inability to be able to process and decode certain sounds. This makes it important to repeat directions and make certain that the child heard you.

3. Emotional outbursts, tantrums, and reactions could be a result of frustration. Not only are children prone to these reactions, the extra stress of not being understood can make it difficult to regulate so many emotions. Staying calm, being kind yet firm can be helpful. Distraction or providing comfort can also help.

4. Social impairments or difficulty interacting with other children and adults due to a lack of the child’s ability to be understood. Children may be lacking in self- esteem and may need extra support in interacting with other children and adults.

5. Speech delay and language can be a result of autism, neurological disorders, cerebral palsy, apraxia, and more. It is not your job to diagnose, but it can be helpful to look up more information if you help a child who struggles with one of these disabilities.

You can:

  • Love the child unconditionally and be a support to both child and parents.
  • Ask for help if you are confused or concerned about what to do with a certain behavior.
  • Model appropriate and calm communication with your words.
  • Help the child to find the words either by showing you, using pictures, or gestures.

Remember: It’s not your job to diagnose a delay.


Article Written by: Meagan Walkley, LPC, NCC

Blog Post by: Sarah Warner, MS