Know the Early Signs of Speech and Language Disorders in Children

As the nation recognizes Better Hearing and Speech Month this May, our Speech Therapy team encourages families to learn the signs of communication disorders. 

Eleven percent of children 3–6 years of age experience a voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorder. Yet, many families do not know the early signs to look for—a factor that can result in delayed care.

Among children and young adults 6–21 years of age, speech and language disorders are one of the most common disabilities for which students receive special education services in schools through the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Unaddressed, speech and language disorders can affect a child’s success academically and socially. 

If families are worried about their child’s communication skills, the speech-language pathologists at Unified Therapy Services can provide life-changing intervention that can help children develop and thrive in school and life. Speech-language pathologists work in early intervention programs, private practices, schools, and healthcare facilities. Families can reach out to them to have their child evaluated by contacting their local school system or a private practice or clinic.

New data from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) show that lack of awareness about the signs of communication disorders is the leading factor that prevents families from taking action on these disorders in young children, according to speech-language pathologists nationwide.

It’s so important that parents and caregivers know the warning signs and are aware of the benefits of timely intervention. While working with a speech-language pathologist can benefit a child at any age, intervention and treatment services often take less time and are most effective if they happen when the signs of a disorder first appear.

Here are some common signs of these disorders below:

Signs of a Speech Sound Disorder
⦁    Says p, b, m, h, and w incorrectly in words (2–3 years)
⦁    Says k, g, f, t, d, and n incorrectly in words (3–4 years)
⦁    Produces speech that is unclear, even to familiar people (2–3 years)

Signs of a Language Disorder
⦁    Does not smile or interact with others (birth and older)
⦁    Does not babble (4–6 months)
⦁    Makes only a few sounds or gestures, like reaching (7–9 months)
⦁    Does not understand what others say (10 months – 2 years)
⦁    Says only a few words (19 months – 2 years)
⦁    Does not put words together to make sentences (19 months – 3 years)
⦁    Speaks using words that are not easily understood by others (3–4 years)
⦁    Has trouble with early reading skills, like pretending to read or finding the front of a book (4–5 years)

Signs of Stuttering (Disfluency)
⦁    Repeats the first sounds of words—“b-b-b-ball” for “ball”
⦁    Stretches sounds out—“ffffff-farm” for “farm”
⦁    Shows frustration when trying to get words out

Signs of a Voice Disorder
⦁    Loss of voice
⦁    Uses a hoarse or breathy voice
⦁    Speaks with strain and effort

Please contact our office if you feel your child has a speech/language disorder. 563-583-4003, option 1.

Jennifer Kraft, M.S., CCC-SLP, is a Speech Therapist and Head of Department at Unified Therapy Services. She treats children with speech and language disorders at our 4121 Pennsylvania Ave. clinic.