Identifying Speech Disorder in Children

How to identify speech disorder?

When do I consider speech intervention for my child?

Children are a heritage and blessing into our homes. They are born with an innate ability to learn language and communicate.  However, some have difficulty in understanding spoken language and to be able to speak fluently. While it is important, to allow them space and time to catch up with their typically developing peers, one must not miss out on the critical age of a child. By the time they reach five years of age, their brain development is close to that of an adult and the neural connections are already made. Therefore, if your child is not able to communicate for his age level, it is important to seek professional help instead of waiting and watching while we are missing out on theirs critical years.

You need professional help if your child does not complete these skills by the appropriate age listed here below.

Checklist for speech disorder

0 – 12 Months: Firstly, is the child able to take turns in vocalizing

1 – 2 years: Secondly, the child uses 200 – 300 words in his vocabulary and is able communicate in two-word phrases

2 – 3 years: Thirdly, the child combines 3 – 4 words to make a sentence

3 – 4 years: Fourthly, is the child able to use approximately 1500 words in his vocabulary and can tell the functions of objects.

4 – 5 years: Finally, can the child form complex sentences and narrate a story with appropriate grammatical structures such as irregular plurals and tenses.

In order for the children to be able to achieve the above-mentioned skills by age, they must have acquired the pre-requisite skills for language acquisition which are sitting tolerance, attention span, eye contact and compliance.

Sitting Tolerance

It is the ability to sit independently and engage in simple meaningful tasks such as painting, playing with a toy truck or dolls. By the time the children are one year of age they must have a sitting tolerance of at least 5 minutes.

Eye contact

Response to name call, visually tracking an object in the environment, locating the speaker, sustaining eye contact during play or when the caregiver speaks to the infant are critical skills that essential for language learning. If children are unable to make eye contact in response to name call it is a clear sign that they need speech and language intervention.


The ability to imitate and follow instructions is a vital part of a child’s learning. An inability to imitate gestures, sounds, and words in addition to not following instructions consistently, have to be taken seriously and dealt with at the earliest.

Attention or focus

This is another skill that is essential for children to acquire speech and language. As an infant they must be able to look into the speaker’s mouth keenly, in order to imitate their lip and mouth movements, a skill that emerges as early as six months of age in typically developing age matched infants. They also should have the ability to listen, follow moving objects and attend to simple activities without being easily distracted.

Some children may be excellent with the above listed pre-requisites and have elaborate vocabulary; yet have difficulty being understood! Moreover, they may have challenges in speaking with clarity. If that’s the case, the child may be having either of the following speech disorder.

  • Stammering: Difficulty is making words or sentences flow smoothly
  • Articulation errors: Difficulty in producing or pronouncing sounds and words correctly

It is extremely important that speech disorder and language delays in children are identified and treated early as they are core to effective communication. Remember, when left untreated children may face the following difficulties because of speech disorder but not limited to:

  • Disinterest in classroom activities
  • Reading difficulties
  • Inability to follow rules of a game
  • Reduced attention while engaging in a conversation with communication partners
  • Poor social skills
  • Inability to make and sustain friends

Who can help in Speech disorder?

A speech language pathologist/ Speech Therapist is a qualified professional in the field of speech, language and communication who can help identify children with communication and speech disorder and plan a treatment protocol to bridge any gap between the child’s chronological or biological age versus the present functioning levels.

When is the right time to seek professional help for speech disorder?

In conclusion, children as early as 6 months of age can be identified at risk for speech disorder by a qualified speech language pathologist. However, often they are brought for intervention over three years of age waiting for the child to progress on her own and trying home remedies. Wait and watch will only delay any progress that can be made with intervention. Therefore, it is crucial that the child is given immediate speech and language therapy by a qualified speech-language pathologist at the earliest.

Chitra Thadathil

Speech Language Pathologist

Dimensions Centre for Child Development, Bangalore

Visit our Sunday School for children with speech difficulty on Sunday at 9 am at City Harvest AG Church Bangalore.

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