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Speech and language delay means that a child is not able to use words or other forms of communication at the expected ages.
Language delays include problems understanding what is heard or read. There can also be problems putting words together to form meaning. Speech delays are problems making the sounds that become words. This is the physical act of talking. Some children have both speech and language delays.
Speech and language delays can have many different causes. These causes can include hearing problems, Down syndrome or other genetic conditions, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, or mental health conditions. Delays can also run in families. Sometimes the cause is not known.
If your child doesn't develop speech and language skills on schedule, it may not mean there is a problem. But if your child is having problems, talk with your doctor. He or she may suggest testing.
A child can overcome many speech and language problems with treatment such as speech therapy. It helps your child learn speech and language skills.
Speech and language problems include:
Other problems that affect your child's speech could include:
Diagnosis starts with your child's doctor. He or she will ask about your child's speech and language skills during regular routine checkups. In some areas, your child may see a public health nurse for routine checkups. The doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your child's past health and development.
The doctor will also ask you questions about whether your child has reached speech and language milestones for his or her age. If it looks like your child has a speech or language problem, the doctor will refer your child to a speech-language pathologist (SLP).
Your doctor or SLP may suggest tests to:
To test your child's speech, the SLP will listen to your child talk. He or she will ask your child to say certain sounds, words, and sentences.
Therapy depends on the cause and type of problem. To help your child communicate better, the speech-language pathologist may:
Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.
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Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & John Pope MD - Pediatrics
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