What does it mean if my child’s speech is delayed?

If your child has been slow to start forming sounds and words, you may wonder what it means.

All children develop at different rates – some are early talkers, some start speaking a little later. But a delay can also be an indicator that your child needs extra support.

It can help to understand how to spot delays, and what the different causes might be.

Speech delay boy looking down

How to spot if your child's speech is delayed

As a guide, most children have about 50 words by the time they are two. By two-and-a-half years, they may have started to use two-word phrases. At age three, children can have about 200 words or more. You child may have a speech delay if, at three:

  • They’re hard to understand.
  • They don’t ask for things by name.
  • They learn words but don’t remember them.
  • They have fewer words than you might expect.

Development milestones can give you a rough idea of what usually happens when.

Possible causes of late speech in children

Some possible causes of delay include:

  • Problems with the mouth. Your child may have tongue-tie or issues with their mouth, tongue or palate. This could affect their ability to make certain sounds, like d, l, r, s, t, z and ‘th’.
  • Lack of stimulation and interaction. This is when a child hasn’t been around a lot of conversation or no one has talked to them. Missing out on this can affect their own skills in this area.
  • A speech or language disorder. This could be developmental delay. Or apraxia of speech, which makes it hard to form sounds in the right order.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Autism. Speech delay or no speech are common early indicators. This will usually show alongside other signs like difficulty with social interaction.
  • A neurological disorder. This could include muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or trauma to the brain.

A delay in speech won’t always mean your child has one of the above conditions. You can take some steps to help your child’s language skills at home. If you have concerns, there is also support available.

What to do if you're worried

If you’re worried or need more information, you can:

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