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Why do some children have a speech delay?

(46 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.

slothprincess Wed 12-Sep-12 14:39:35

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.

slothprincess Wed 12-Sep-12 21:17:48

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.

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