What Causes Speech Delays in Toddlers?

October 13, 2022

Some of the most common developmental delays parents feel they could have contributed to are speech and language delays. If you find yourself thinking, "Did I cause my child's speech delay?" know that you are not alone. 

In reality, there are many causes of developmental problems in young children. To put your mind at ease, we’ll dive into what causes speech delays in toddlers and what you can do to help. 

Did I Cause My Child’s Speech Delay?

When a child is having language problems, parents can jump to the conclusion that it's their fault or that they could have done something different to prevent it from occurring. If you've ever thought about this or are experiencing it right now, you must understand that your child's speech delay is not your fault. 

One out of five children will have delayed speech and language development. The good news is that there are steps you can take to get your child moving along the right path. 

What You Need to Know About Delayed Speech and Language Development in Toddlers

The early childhood years are filled with critical developmental milestones. One of the most exciting moments is when your child starts speaking for the first time. If you’re worried that they have a speech or language delay, we’re here to help. 

First, let’s break down the difference between speech and language. 

Speech is the verbal expression of language and includes articulation – the way we form sounds and words. 

Language is the way we give and get information. It's understanding and being understood through verbal, nonverbal, and written communication.

Speech and language problems are different, but they can overlap sometimes. 

For example, a child with a language delay might be able to say words but can only put two words together at a time. Or, a child with a speech delay might know how to use words and phrases to express ideas, but it's difficult to understand what they’re actually saying. 

The Signs of a Speech or Language Delay in Toddlers

If you’re wondering how you’ll know if your child is experiencing a delay, here are some key warning signs to keep an eye out for:

By 12 months: 

  • Child isn’t using gestures, such as pointing or waving.  

By 18 months: 

  • Child prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate.
  • Child has trouble imitating sounds
  • Child does not understand simple verbal commands.

By 2 years: 

  • Child can imitate speech or actions, but they don’t produce words or phrases spontaneously on their own. 
  • Child says some sounds or words repeatedly but can’t use oral language to communicate more than their immediate needs. 
  • Child can’t follow simple directions. 
  • Chid has an unusual tone of voice, such as raspy or nasal sounding.

What Causes Speech Delays in Toddlers?

Many factors could cause a language or speech delay in toddlers – some mental and others physical. Here are some examples:

  • Hearing problems - Children who have trouble hearing may have difficulty saying, understanding, and imitating language sounds. 
  • Ear infections - In some cases, chronic ear infections can result in hearing problems and language delays. 
  • Short frenulum - The frenulum is the fleshly fold that connects the tongue to the lower mouth. A short frenulum can negatively impact language development. 
  • Deviations in the sinus cavity -Deviations in the sinus cavity can cause severe sinus infections, making it hard for children to speak and enunciate clearly. 
  • Oral-motor problems - Toddlers may have problems controlling the muscles used for speech. This could include issues with the lips, tongue, or jaw. In some cases, childhood apraxia of speech will also show up in other oral issues, such as difficulty eating.
  • Developmental Delay of Expressive or Receptive Language - Trouble with language processing is usually caused by one of four issues – delayed expressive or receptive language, autism spectrum disorder, hearing loss, or global developmental delay.
  • Cleft Palate - Cleft palate is an abnormality in the formation of the roof of the mouth that can affect the upper lip and gum line. 
  • Autism - Autism spectrum disorder can affect language development in various ways.
  • Intellectual disability - Children with an intellectual disability often have widespread developmental delays that can affect their speech, language, and learning, as well as social, emotional, and physical development. 

How Can I Help My Child if I Suspect They Have a Speech Delay?

A delay in a child's ability to communicate is a cause for concern for many parents. It's important to remember that every child develops at their own pace in their own way. However, if you do feel that action needs to be taken, there are several things you can do:

  • Early Intervention - Take your child to see an SLP (Speech Language Pathologist). If they diagnose your child with a speech or language delay, they will implement early intervention, such as speech therapy. 
  • Focus on communication - Talk to your child as often as you can. Encourage them to imitate your sounds and gestures.
  • Reading - Begin reading to your child during infancy. Use age-appropriate soft or board books or picture books that encourage kids to look while you name the pictures. 
  • Continuously talk your way through the day - For example, you can name foods at the grocery store, explain what you're doing as you cook a meal or clean a room, and point out objects around the house. Keep things clear and straightforward, and avoid "baby talk."

Speech Services at About Play

No matter the cause, the best remedy for a child's speech delay is early intervention. The experienced professionals at About Play are here to help. Give us a call and get high-quality support from the experts at About Play as soon as possible. We’re here for you and your child. 


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