Speech & Language Disorders

Delayed Speech and Language

During early development, toddlers have a massive amount of information and skills to master before the age of 3. They need to learn to walk, jump, talk, play, think, listen and much more. Some toddlers develop later than others and find it difficult to understand and/or use language and to pronounce words correctly.

A speech delay is defined as pronunciation errors that a child uses. These errors follow the normal pattern of development but the child continues to make the errors when they should have them mastered. For example, a typical normal speech error is substituting ‘t’ for ‘ k/c’ whereby a child would say ‘tar’ for ‘car’. This is normal but it should be resolving by the age of 40 months. If a child of 4 years uses this substitution, he/she would be said to have a speech delay and would need to be assessed by a Speech and Language Therapist.

Similarly a language delay is when a child does not learn enough grammar or vocabulary for his/her age. Language delay can involve receptive language (understanding) and expressive language (speaking). If a parent feels their child is not using enough words for his/her age, or not understanding enough they should be referred to a Speech and Language Therapist.

Speech and Language delay can be independent of each other but can also co-occur. For example a child may have lots of language but that language is difficult to understand, or a child may say everything perfectly but not say enough. Some children have difficulty with both of these.

The causes of speech or language delay can be unknown, although there can be contributing factors such as ‘glue ear’, premature births, family history of delay and lack of exposure to language.

A speech therapist can determine the level of your child’s language through the assessment process.


A delay in development for a pre-school/school aged child ranges from mild (3-6 month delay) to severe (12 months + delayed). The aim of therapy would be to decrease the amount of delay and to help the child reach their linguistic potential.

Disordered Speech and Language

In a normal pattern of development children go through a series of errors and confusion in their speech and language while they learn. For some children, the errors they make in their speech and language are not the usual types and this would be described as a disorder.

A speech disorder occurs when a child does not pronounce words in normal developmental pattern. For example, a three year old child may say ‘tar’ for ‘car’. This is a normal error to make at this age. However if a child says ‘har’/‘ar’ for ‘car’, this is more unusual. Unusual errors, which persist are deemed ‘Speech Disorder’.

Similarly a language disorder presents when a child makes unusual substitutions for words or forms sentences in a way that would not be expected. For example, when learning past tense, a child may say ‘I falled down’ but it would be very unusual to say ‘fall mine’. Children with a Language Disorder will also have difficulty learning language easily, answering questions and following instructions. Language Disorder encompasses both receptive (understanding) language and expressive (spoken) language.

If you feel your child presents with a speech and/or language profile, which is atypical, you should contact your Speech and Language Therapist. Your therapist can help in a number of ways such as teaching to:

  • pronounce words correctly
  • use more vocabulary and use it appropriately
  • understand language
  • follow instruction
  • learn grammar
  • explain
  • take part in conversation

Developmental Language Disorder

DLD is a developmental language disorder that can affect both receptive (understanding) language and/or expressive (speaking) language. DLD is defined as an impairment specific to language despite cognitive abilities being in the average range. The most recent research has attributed a single part gene mutation to the cause of DLD. DLD is diagnosed by two assessments: one from a Speech and Language Therapist who will assess a child’s receptive and expressive language and one from an Educational Psychologist who will administer a cognitive assessment.

Providing a child has average non-verbal cognitive ability and moderate-severely impaired language abilities, he/she will receive a diagnosis of DLD. It is thought that a Developmental Language Disorder can be rectified if a child has average cognitive abilities. Hence many children with DLD are eligible for extra Resource help in school and some children may attend a Language Class (where they have access to intensive speech and language therapy and follow the normal school curriculum in a smaller class setting).

Speech and Language intervention has been shown to be extremely beneficial to children with DLD. The therapist will devise a programme, which targets specific areas of weakness within the language system. Therapists usually work closely with resource teachers to help children with DLD improve their language skills by working on areas such as:

  • listening to information and understanding complex information
  • following instructions
  • increasing vocabulary
  • accessing vocabulary to form sentences
  • learning grammar
  • explaining and story telling
  • improving literacy skills (50% of children with DLD present with literacy difficulties).