Why do some children have a speech delay?

(45 Posts)
YoungJoseph Wed 12-Sep-12 14:22:32

Ds (3yrs 3months) is about to start speech therapy in a small group. I've never been given a reason why his speech is delayed from the ST although others (friends, colleagues etc) have suggested that because he is our 3rd child the others in the family are speaking for him. I've not noticed this but have just accepted that some children develop skills at different paces.

So if all children do develop at different paces why does his group have a disproportionate number of children in care? Everything being equal in the development of the child's brain surely there should be the same proportion of children receiving speech therapy from all walks of life shouldn't there?

So is speech delayed because of a difficult early start, genetic factors, place in the family or some other reason such as diet in pregnancy? Would like to hear from anyone who knows the reason even if it has never been properly researched.

The reasons are vaired YJ and dependent on what type of difficulty you are referring to. Am I right in thinking your lad has difficulties with his pronuncation of speech rather than his use of language (this range of words he is able to use and ability to put them in phrases?)

Bonsoir Wed 12-Sep-12 14:41:54

I know a family where child (and daughter) no 3, of 5, had speech delay due to others talking so much that she could never get a word in edgeways. A very chatty family/mother. They had to do family therapy - not SALT.

Goldenjubilee10 Wed 12-Sep-12 14:44:07

Dummies, special needs, lack of parental involvement, bilingual and I'm sure many other things cause speech delays. Children in care are more likely to have had most of theese issues so are more likely to need speech therapy. Why don't you see if his speech therapist has any ideas.

firawla Wed 12-Sep-12 14:49:57

Surely there is not just one reason for this.
People in the family and random people may give you all kinds of reasons and lines about '3rd child, other children speaking for him' etc etc but does not necessarily mean there is any truth in it.
There are children receiving speech therapy from all walks of life. I don't know about proportions but I know of loads, from rich, poor, different backgrounds and whatever else.
It can be related to other conditions the child has, or just on its own, sometimes they just catch up and grow out of it, sometimes they don't.. so you can't just put a one size fits all label onto it.
Obviously the more speech they are exposed to and the more interaction that they have the better, and perhaps some children in care have not got that as much as they should have (i dont know?) but speech issues are not as simple as 'if you talk and interact with them then they should have learned to speak' - for every child.
Does it not pee you off when people say to you oh its cos he is your 3rd child, because that has a slight hint that 'oh hes your 3rd, havent put as much effort into his development' - unless thats me reading too much into things, but i have a child with very little speech (my 2nd one, middle child - i have had some 'its cos he is middle child, so he must be ignored at home' type comments too!) and these kind of comments annoy me, cos it always seems to have some kind of judgement underneath
My ds is also waiting assessment for delays overall and possible autism - have heard some ridiculous 'reasons' about that one too, eg oh make sure you always give him fresh food (as if to say: you must have fed him crap and thats why he is like this - i havent, he eats a normal diet same as my others..)
We don't always know the reason, the way they are is the way they are - its just life, cant always say why

Longdistance Wed 12-Sep-12 14:50:44

My dd1 regressed her speech when dd2 arrived. She had about 10 words up until 6 months ago. She was doing really well, and then dd2 arrived she went back to being a baby. So for us it was siblings.

YoungJoseph Wed 12-Sep-12 17:58:48

His speech is more more like that of a 2 year old so a few words / short phrases and a fair bit of babble still.

The ST never suggested a reason why his speech is delayed and I will ask next time I get a chance.

It's one of those things where lots of people have a theory about what's happened eg third child or a lazy boy but I was interested to see if there are any researched ideas out there.

Speech therapist has been a job for a good few years now and just like the dentist can tell you why your teeth have rotted; too much sugar and not enough cleaning (and yes there's some socioeconomic factors at play) I was hoping that there would be a physiological reason why speech is delayed.
Perhaps with the caveat that in a really good environment with plenty of attention given to the child the delay would be hardly noticed. Such an explantion would make sense to me rather than the random theories firawla also experiences.

lljkk Wed 12-Sep-12 18:11:39

I grit teeth when people spout popular ideas to try to explain or dismiss, which never fits our experience so just feels so annoying their little generalisations. It's a big bugbear (I know I should just ignore).

I can see genetic factors, increasingly, DH & my dad. The more I learn about APD I see that me & DS2 have a bit of it.

If the environment we provide is a factor, it's:
Me being a quiet person
Me not speaking slowly & very clearly in simple repetitive sentences, constantly narrating while making eye contact

Yet I know loads of parents like me, & their toddlers spoke fine. sad

I've been very shocked when MNers post about "Cute things they say wrong that you don't correct". I wish I felt like I had that liberty!

Rubirosa Wed 12-Sep-12 18:21:46

There are lots of different factors - the disproportionate number of children in care with speech delays is likely to be due to early neglect, or effects on the brain due to maternal drug/alcohol use during pregnancy.

Other reasons for speech delay could be learning difficulties or conditions such as Down's Syndrome or autism. Or hearing impairments, glue ear, even tongue tie.

Lots of environmental factors too, a language-poor home environment, overuse of dummies and bottles, TV or radio on constantly.

Sometimes children just have speech and language delays with no obvious cause, or they just need a little more input than other children.

NineCrimes Wed 12-Sep-12 18:27:34

I think the reasons are varied. My dd1 has ASD and I had PND the first year or so of her life, wasn't the best of mothers, yet her speech and vocabulary is excellent. My second DD is NT, I doted on her and whilst her vocabulary is good, she still sounds a bit babyish and lisps a bit. She does have a big gap in her front teeth. My ds1 he has a good vocabulary but struggles with some sounds, my ds 2 speaks very clearly and sounds older. All kids are different.

ReallyTired Wed 12-Sep-12 18:40:07

I think that delayed speech is often to glue ear, autism or dyspraxia or auditory processing disorder or learning difficulties. A lot of these things are genetic. If a parent has global learning difficulties then the chances of a baby having learning difficulties is higher.

There is no doult that extreme neglect can cause speech delay. However many children are in care because their parents couldn't cope rather than because of child abuse. Often babies are removed because the parents have severe learning difficulties and simply don't have the intelligence to bring up children. (Ie. IQ less than 50) Even if the parents don't have learning difficulties then children with fetal acholol syndrome are more likely to be taken into care.

lingle Wed 12-Sep-12 20:24:40

"child (and daughter) no 3, of 5, had speech delay due to others talking so much that she could never get a word in edgeways"

but Bonsoir I don't think there is any real evidence that that can be a cause is there? Isn't that an example of applying adult situations to child development? If I go to a party and stand next to a chatterbox then my own chitchat will be limited, sure. But children learning to talk aren't engaged in two-way conversation for a long time. Similarly, teenagers and adults can rightly be called "lazy" but how can a two-year old who isn't talking yet be called lazy? (not your example I know but it's another phrase that gets used).

Bonsoir Wed 12-Sep-12 20:27:12

The child was about 6 by the time of the diagnosis and the mother told me about it quite a while later and the child's speech delay had been entirely overcome by the family therapy... so the family clearly believed both the diagnosis and the treatment had been correct.

DilysPrice Wed 12-Sep-12 20:39:06

Undiagnosed hearing problems in quite a lot of cases. It's staggering how easy it is not to realise that your child can't hear, and any parent with a toddler with below average speech should always go for a full professional hearing assessment ASAP even if they "know" they can hear.

But my DM, while living abroad, babysat an expat English child with severe speech delay and, on listening to his "babbling" realised that he was actually speaking fragments of the local language. The mother literally didn't understand why it would be worth talking to a child who couldn't reply, but she did have the local tv on in the background shock.

YoungJoseph Wed 12-Sep-12 21:00:55

General consensus is then that if the reason isn't an obvious physical problem such as poor hearing then it's back to looking at the child's environment?

My family isn't big enough to know if ds's speech delay is genetic and I don't know much about previous generations. I do know that he's never had a dummy. Hearing has been tested and TV/radio? He wasn't interested in it until over 2yrs old.

So if the cause of the delay can't be nailed with any degree of certainty then are there some children that cannot be helped by ST?

Rubirosa Wed 12-Sep-12 21:05:35

TV/radio isn't about whether they are interested - it's the constant background noise.

I don't think that is the consensus at all - more that it can be one of a large number of environmental, genetic, psychological or physical issues (or a combination of them) or no obvious cause at all.

I am a speech and language therapist.

There are some children who will continue to have difficulty with communication in to their adulthood. But this usually when the underlying cause is something like a specific language impairment, autism, learning difficulties.

If the cause of the delay is not known, this does not necessarily make the difficulties more difficult to "treat". It is usual to look at strategies and therapy around the symptoms of the delay even when the cause is unclear.

As other posters have said, there are sometimes physical, environmental, genetic factors. Things like attention levels and learning potential will impact on language development too.

Some children who have none of these identifiable "reasons" for their difficulties. They may have differences in the way their brains process, store and formulate the building blocks of language.


DolomitesDonkey Thu 13-Sep-12 05:50:07

I wanted to post last night but felt embarrassed.

My 2.2 is bilingual and his speech is delayed although he is now talking (I like sausages), but I've asked myself over and over what was going wrong.

There's a constant nagging at the back of my mind saying "it's because you're a shit mum and you're hopeless/neglectful".

I know it's not the case and that actually he's doing fine, he's just a bit behind his peers. I imagine in a few years I'll have mostly forgotten.

I've questioned the hearing thing and figure if I ask him to fetch "the blue book in the kitchen" and he does then he must be hearing ok _ but now I'm worried again.

I wish there were 2 clear-cut reasons, but I suppose with the combination of physiological and psychological there's a myriad.

My mother said I never spoke until I was 4, and then it was sentences - no further learning difficulties diagnosed.

tootiredtothinkofanickname Thu 13-Sep-12 08:40:24

Dolomites, DS is 19 months and also bilingual. As far as I can see, he is behind his peers with his speech too and I do worry about it. He is otherwise fine, understands complex instructions in both our mother tongue and English and is very sociable. Lately I have noticed his babbling sounds have changed, but other than making animal sounds, saying mama and bye and brummmm for car he doesn't say anything. He communicates non-verbally very well, and makes himself understood (by me)

I am sometimes wondering too if I should do more to help him, although I talk to him a lot, and read lots of books to him. He is not forgotten in front of the TV, and is not interested in it anyway, but we sometimes have it in the background (not all day, I mostly put music on). I just wanted to say that you sound like a lovely mum, not neglectful at all, and I hope this has to do with our DSs being bilingual (not proven, I know, but it would make sense).

hazeyjane Thu 13-Sep-12 08:57:12

Ds has a severe speech delay, he is 2.2 and doesn't even really babble. He has one sound, which is 'unh'. In ds's case his delay is most likely due to the suspected genetic condition he may have, which affects all areas of his development, but I have had all the comments about it being because he is a boy (lazy apparently) and a 3rd child (sisters talk for him). I have also had lots of people say things like, 'well dd/ds spoke so early, but then we are a very booky family/talk all the time etc etc' It is frustrating because there are 2 things going on with ds - possible learning difficulties and very poor oro motor skills due to low muscle tone. We have been with a SALT since he was 10 months old, and have worked on understanding, signing, muscle strengthening exercises and have recently introduced picture cards as a way of ds communicating what he wants.

I don't think it is as black and white as you seem to think, there are lots of children at ds's sn nursery with speech delay, and a myriad of complex reasons why they might have that delay. The SALT works out programmes to help all of them.

lljkk Thu 13-Sep-12 09:27:44

I imagine that the only time SaLT can't help is when there are quite severe LDs underlying the speech problem, LDs that are very obvious & much bigger problems in themselves than the speech delay.

General consensus is then that if the reason isn't an obvious physical problem such as poor hearing then it's back to looking at the child's environment?

I am not part of such a consensus, I don't agree with that.

Rubirosa Thu 13-Sep-12 09:28:17

tootired - my ds is monolingual and wasn't speaking at 19 months, beyond a few animal noises and a few makaton signs. That doesn't sound like a significant speech delay to me and many children don't talk at all at that age. He's now 26 months and probably has 100+ words and uses sentences (what you doing? where is it? more milk please etc). His speech is still fairly indistinct though. He also doesn't have dummies or bottles, I don't have background noise on all the time at home, no apparent learning difficulties/disabilities, no hearing problems. Some children take a little longer to speak than others but most have no speech delay - that is especially true of bilingual children.

nailak Thu 13-Sep-12 09:41:06

Tootired I agree that sounds normal, I think the guide is 20 words between 18 and 23 months, you may find no words then all of a sudden loads.

Also for those parents of bilingual kids, they may be slowerto start but by 11 they overtake monolingual peers IN GENERAL due to the areas of brain needed to understand and process two languages.

3duracellbunnies Thu 13-Sep-12 10:04:53

Whether it is true or not I've heard that sometimes younger siblings especially say 3rd or more have more difficulty because many of their interactions are with their siblings. The siblings are not speaking as clearly or correctly as a parent, they don't reflect back as much, so if a toddler says 'dick de ball' a mother will say 'you want me to kick the ball' whereas a sibling might either just understand and kick it or tease them. They also don't always use motherese when they have a baby sibling. It is generally just noiser than with your pfb.

ds is the third and he does now at nearly 3 chatter endlessly, but he was later talking and is still not clear. He also has a tongue tie which doesn't help.

lingle Thu 13-Sep-12 11:35:15

"General consensus is then that if the reason isn't an obvious physical problem such as poor hearing then it's back to looking at the child's environment?"


The next thing the professionals would look at after that is a "genetic" cause - in other words, it may be that this is simply how this child is developing. Such a delay may be a minor problem or a big big problem. Extra attention may help such a child, but that doesn't mean there was anything wrong with the child's environment.

lingle Thu 13-Sep-12 11:36:25

sorry to keep ranting, I just think we need to be clear that when you take your child to a SALT and are sent home with lots of hints and tips for exercises to do, that is not because the SALT felt you were a crap mother.

hazeyjane Thu 13-Sep-12 11:44:19

That is very true Lingle. When we first saw a SALT with ds, she emphasised looking at books, singing, limiting a dummy to sleeptime, not too much background noise etc. These were all things that I did with the dds and with ds, dd1 was average with speech development, dd2 spoke really early and had a huge and varied vocab and had to see a SALT at 2, because she tried to speak so quickly that she had a very pronounced stammer. It is hard, when you have a child that has problems with development not to beat yourself up and feel that you have let the child down in some way.

lingle Thu 13-Sep-12 11:59:32


At 10.00 onwards Laura Mize points out that as a speech therapist she has spent a lot of time visiting children living "In really horrible environments... and not them but their brother and sisters and cousins - they're talking. There are babies growing up in some pretty pathetic living conditions and they still talk".

lingle Thu 13-Sep-12 12:02:45

hazey - you might find it interesting to listen to the programme. The broadcasters believe that:
(i) there is so little accessible information about strategies for children with underlying neurological issues (whether serious or minor) and
(ii) most parents just "want to get him talking"

that speech therapists can spend a lot of time doling out generic advice like "talk to your child" and miss the fact that there may be a neurological issue underneath.

lingle Thu 13-Sep-12 12:07:18

sorry hazy - not that I am suggesting any such thing about your own LO

<reminds self to stop posting>

achillea Thu 13-Sep-12 12:15:11

I think you will know why your child has a speech delay better than anyone else, but you need to be helped to find out. Sometimes we get into habits as parents that don't meet the needs of our children, so we may be over-protective/neglectful, or we may speak to fast/slow, or too quietly/loudly, but a SALT will be able to help you see if there is anything you can do differently.

The cause of the problem isn't particularly relevant, this will get treated if possible, it's how you communicate with your child from here on in that is important.

sheeplikessleep Thu 13-Sep-12 12:25:20

It's so hard and such an emotive issue isn't it.
DS1 had speech delay (he's now 4.11 and whilst he still has a few pronounciation issues, his SALT said he has now 'caught up' and within 'normal' range).
It's difficult to identify why - I spoke to him loads, went to singing playgroups etc when he was younger, no history of any speech delay in family, behaviourally no other differences to note of. He understood everything, but he just wasn't that interested in talking (interestingly, he is now very chatty). It just seemed that he took a bit longer to speak.
DS2 is also a bit behind speech wise. But he is catching up quicker and now chats away (thank god). Again at 2.6, most of his words are unrecognisable to anyone who doesn't know him. But his enthusiasm for speech and willingness to speak is encouraging. Slowly, his pronounciation is improving.
But blimey, to have two kids with speech delay and no physiological reason makes me feel like such a shit mum.

Startailoforangeandgold Thu 13-Sep-12 13:04:04

DD1 just avoid speech therapy, she'd learnt by the time we got the appointment.

As a toddler she was brilliant at pointing and sign language, but not words.

She's dyslexic, never stops talking, but even as a very bright 14yo, suddenly forgets the correct word for things.

Quirk of short term working memory I suspect, I do it too.

Vagaceratops Thu 13-Sep-12 13:14:38

DS has a speech delay of about 2.4 years for expressive language and 2 years for receptive language. He has ASD and lost all his words at about 18 months old.
The Hanen programme 'More Than Words' really helped his speech.

GoldPedanticPanda Thu 13-Sep-12 13:21:26

DS has a speech delay, he's really improved since starting SALT but is still behind 2.5 years later. His speech delay is down to his ASD though, but we only found out a year ago about ASD an only had his official dx a couple of weeks ago so he was in salt for about a year and a half with no explanation. Friends and family suggested it was because he was an only child, I'm sure if he was part of a large family the blame would be siblings talking for him though.

YoungJoseph Thu 13-Sep-12 18:30:21

I would include a 'genetic' problem as a physical one since a gene codes for a protein and a protein is a physical substance. Therefore if a child has a faulty gene/s then that might explain a speech delay.
However just knowing that someone in the family had a speech delay at some point doesn't prove a genetic link there has to be more research than that.

TheLightPassenger Thu 13-Sep-12 19:11:56

I agree with Lingle. IME SALT tends to be more geared towards needs than making diagnoses and looking for "reasons" - so just because SALT can't pinpoint an exact cause for language delay doesn't mean they are secretly blaming parents/environment etc. It's sad to see so many posters on here blaming themselves needlessly IMO.

Dolomites - I am a complete amateur, but it may well be relevant that you spoke so late, I understand that benign late talking (i.e. the sort that resolves spontaneously) can run in families, I know SALT asked me if I was a late talker for that reason.

TheLightPassenger Thu 13-Sep-12 19:12:34

PS. benign is just how I am describing it, not an actual medical term for language delay!

CrunchyFrog Thu 13-Sep-12 19:20:27

DS1 has Auditory Processing Disorder and HFA. His speech was 18m delayed at 3 years old, it's now disordered at 7. He's understandable now, but sounds odd and apparently always will.

DS2 has an unexplained phonology difficulty, but is within normal limits, SALT is keeping an eye on him due to DS1. He's 3.5, and progressing normally but with a delay. Never had a dummy! I think some is learned behaviour from DS1.
My eldest, DD, spoke very early and clearly. It's very strange!

jeee Thu 13-Sep-12 19:28:46

I have three dds with severe speech delays.

I have been told by a number of people that their children spoke early 'but of course they spoke to them all the time.'

From this I can deduce that I really shouldn't have locked my daughters in the cupboard under the stairs a la Harry Potter.

But seriously, in my daughters' case there is a strong familial element. I couldn't talk when I started school. My grandmother remembers being laughed at when she started school as her speech was so bad. I could write a long list of various cousins, uncles, aunts, who also have this delay. It doesn't take a genetic expert to work out that my family speech delay is hereditary.

Mama1980 Thu 13-Sep-12 21:24:37

In my ds s case his speech delay was due to being born at 26 weeks, it's very common with prem children. Now he's 4 and we have been discharged from salt as they said now his pronunciation is fine he just talks too fast grin and all the time. They assure me he will speak slower when he wants to and not before so their is a element of personality as well I think.

sheeplikessleep Thu 13-Sep-12 21:55:24

Interesting jeee.

Likewise, people have told me how their LOs have always been good speakers, as they've always spoken to them lots. I also hide the 'wish my LO would stop chattering away' threads on Mnet.

DolomitesDonkey Fri 14-Sep-12 07:38:29

Thank you everyone for your reassuring words and stories. Our creche are unworried and say he's always been able to make it very clear what he wants - he plays with the other children and bubbles to them in his second language and they all seem to understand each other. The doctor is also unconcerned and feels that right now he has enough not to be a concern for salt-like processes.

Yes, I was a late talker too, as I said 4, but I was reading at 3. They/we are ALl different.

I'm pretty sure he's got good hearing too - seems to have inherited that from his dad who had to leave a shop on Monday because they had that noise deterrent used for teens! ;)

Still sad to see there are some who insist it is because of our shoddy parenting. But the there are black and white views surrounding many facets of parenting.

goingtoofast Fri 14-Sep-12 08:33:09

This is interesting to me as my Ds has speech difficulties.

He was a delayed talker and now at 4.4 years he talk a lot but doesn't pronounce many of his sounds properly. The SLT has said some it it is due to his late talker but some it it runs deeper than that. He has only had one appointment so far and we are now waiting for a full assesment. His understanding and lanuage are fine.

He is the youngest of three. My oldest was an early talker, middle child was average despite having some hearing loss and DS is very late. I really don't think I have done anything differently with him, I feel it's just the way he is. Some people do say it's becasue he's my third or becasue he's a boy but I personally don't feel it is, if it was the case then why is just his speech sounds a problem and all his other aspects of development are fine? I am hoping his SLT will be able to help but the fact he is so stubborn will make it difficult!

Bet that was in France Bonsoir.

Many reasons for speech delay. I was blamed for ds1's speech delay (when he was 2). I was told that I was talking too much, then I was told I was talking too little. hmm Actually he's severely autistic. Now a teeenager he has been given a communication device and is finally learning to talk using it (not 'talk' using his voice, 'talk' using the communication device). Although speech delayed, his biggest problem is his language disorder.

DS2 was also delayed and his speech sounds (not language) were disordered- by that stage people began to think that hmm perhaps it was developmental. He fixed it himself (literally) overnight when he was 3. Now has performed professionally on stage and gets distinctions in LAMDA exams (not really a stealth boast, - just to show how what can appear to be a pretty severe problem in a young child can be completely fixed. (Or not in the case of ds1)

Even ds3's language development was a bit odd. (But speech was always fine).

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now