Speech delay in children

By on June 18, 2013

Q:  My little girl is 2 years old and hardly says a word.  She is very happy but most of the time instead of words, she just points and grunts.  Should I be concerned that she is not “talking” yet?

A. Although it is impossible to assess your child’s language level without seeing her, I can give you a brief overview of what type of vocabulary you should expect from a child her age.

By 10 to 12 months of age, your child should have said her first word.  It probably didn’t sound perfect, but it was a word none the less.  For example, some kids say “baba” for bottle.  By 1 ½ years of age, children can usually say approximately 20 words.  These words describe daily routines (e.g., “bath,” “car,” “bed,” etc.) or familiar people (e.g., “mommy,” daddy”).  Also by about 18 months old, children begin to use “jargon” accompanied by gestures.  Jargon sounds to many parents like a foreign language and usually consists of a connection of sounds that could almost be a sentence – you know the ones where people typically respond with a confused look and say, “Boy, you’re really trying to tell me something.”  By two years of age, children are typically starting to combine 2 words such as “mommy sock” or “Riley up” and typically have a vocabulary of about 50 words.

Every child is different and these milestones are only approximate ages, but if you are concerned, I would go with your gut feeling and have your child assessed by a certified speech-language pathologist.

Q:  I have a seven year old son and he loves to talk.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with his language, but he does have difficulty saying words that start with an “s”, like “soup,” “slide,” or “sun”.  They usually come out “doup,” “lide,” and “dun.”   What can I do to help him?

A. Many children have difficulty articulating speech sounds correctly, especially when they start saying longer and longer sentences.  They’re concentrating so hard on telling you the story, that their ability to articulate may drop off.  This is typical, but some children also have consistent problems with speech sounds and require a little extra help.  Remember, if you are very concerned; see a speech-language pathologist.  But, here is what the research has found with the development of the “s” sound.  Based on the work of Smit et al. (1990), about 50% of children can appropriately articulate the “s” sound by 2 ½ years of age, but it takes up until the age of 9 until 90% of children can accurately articulate this sound.  Thus, the “s” sound is one of the last sounds to develop and the extreme range of “normal” can be from 2 ½ to 9 years of age!

Here are a few ideas that you might want to try to help your child practice the “s” sound.

Make lots of fish out of construction paper and use a paper clip to attach pictures of “s” words (you can find in magazines, old books, clip art, the web, etc.) on the back.  Then, make a fishing rod with a stick, some string, and a magnet, and have your child “fish” for the fish.  The magnet will attach to the paper clip and as your child “catches” each fish, you can model the right way to say the sound such as “you caught a “sun” fish.”  You can place a little emphasis on the “s” sound, but don’t over-exaggerate it too much.  As you play the game together, make sure your child has fun so that he can practice the “s” sound over and over without feeling the pressure of “doing it right.”

Read a book together that has a lot of “s” words. Reading is always a fun way to introduce new language and speech sounds to a child.   The sentences in books stay the same every time you read them.  In contrast, when a child spontaneously talks s/he must concentrate not only on articulating correctly, but on what to say and how to say it (i.e., using the right grammar etc.).  As a result, articulation sometimes wavers.  Once your child is comfortable with the phrases used in a book, he can then concentrate on saying “s” words correctly in longer and longer sentences without having to think about the grammar.  Look for books about “snakes,” “spiders,” the “sun,” etc. that tell a story rather than simply labeling pictures.

About Dr. K. Bopp

Dr. Karen Bopp is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and a Post Doctoral Fellow in Special Education at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She has worked with children for over 16 years and is also the mother of preschool twin girls.
Her areas of expertise, (when she is not chasing after her twins), include early intervention for children with autism, speech and language development in the preschool years, positive behavior support, augmentative and alternative communication, and training for families and professionals.