Are You Concerned About Your Child’s Speech?

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Children learn to communicate early in infancy, and any challenge with speech or language can have a significant effect on social, emotional and academic development. That’s why it’s so important to identify the difference between speech and language disorders and to intervene early so that children can be more likely to be successful academically and socially.

Unlike Language Disorders that are problems with age-appropriate reading, spelling and/or writing, or understanding language, Speech Disorders occur when a child cannot produce sounds correctly or fluently, or has a problem with his or her voice.

How to tell if your child may have a speech disorder called apraxia

  • Was your child a late talker?
    Deborah Tesler, MD

    Deborah Tesler, MD, FAAP

  • Does he/she only make a few vowel or consonant sounds, or simplify words by deleting sounds?
  • Does he/she have difficulty eating?
  • If your child is older, does he/she have difficulty imitating speech or coordinating his/her lips, tongue or jaw?
  • Is he/she difficult to understand, sound choppy or have word confusion?

These are some examples of APRAXIA, an oral-a motor speech disorder in which the brain and body parts are not coordinating to produce speech. Children who may have apraxia should be screened for hearing loss by an audiologist (trained healthcare professional who diagnoses and treats hearing problems) and referred to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for therapy.

How to tell if your child may have a speech disorder called dysarthria

  • Does your child have slurred, mumbled speech or abnormal pitch, rhythm or voice quality?

DYSARTHRIA is a motor speech disorder which involves impaired muscles in the lips, tongue, vocal cords or diaphragm. If your child has dysarthria, an SLP can work with him/her to strengthen these weakened muscles and retrain them to improve speech quality.

If your child stutters

One of the most common motor speech disorders is STUTTERING which affects the fluency of speech. Stuttering is often seen in preschool age children, when it can come and go as they learn new language skills.

Stuttering can involve repetition (“Wh-Wh-Wh-What time is it?”), prolongation (“SSSSit next to me”) or blocking (when no sounds will appear for several seconds). Over 75% of preschoolers who begin to stutter will eventually stop within several months. But for the ones who don’t, stuttering can impact daily activities, especially when they are so dysfluent that it impedes communication. For example, sometimes younger children will avoid certain words due to a fear of stuttering, or older children may limit their activities in or outside the classroom as a means of hiding their dysfluency.

It is critical that stuttering children get help early

If your child stutters, it’s very important for you to get him/her started with a skilled SLP who will work with your child to help control their rate of speech and breathing and give them tools to make speaking physically easier. An SLP can also help your child with his/her feelings about their speech, and give him/her confidence about speaking.

Another important benefit to having your child work with a trained SLP is that they can give your child conversational tools to empower him/her when addressing listeners (the “audience”). For example, your child can learn to ask listeners to not interrupt, to give him/her time to say what he/she wants to say, and to not finish his/her words or sentences. An SLP can also teach your child ways to ask listeners to not tell him/her to “slow down and take a breath,” a commonly-used phrase which is not helpful for stutterers.

The more you know about speech disorders, the more you can help your child

For more information on speech disorders, visit:

By Deborah V. Tesler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics

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About the Author: ML Ball