speech regression

Does speech regression always mean autism?

Posted on
February 22, 2023
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Speech and language regression can be explained as stagnation or loss of previously acquired speech and communication abilities. Get all your questions answered in this blog about what is speech regression in toddlers.

What is speech regression? 

Speech regression in toddlers occurs when there is a decline in existing communication abilities. For example, if your toddler once expressed one-word phrases, but only uses babbling now to communicate their needs and wants. Research has shown that if a speech regression occurs, it may indicate that there may be cognitive or underlying developmental concerns.

What causes speech regression in toddlers?

Speech regression can occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes big life events that are anxiety provoking can trigger a child to revert back to an earlier stage of speech development and exhibit this regression. This can be a family situation that is putting stress on the family, the loss of a loved one, moving to another place, or even simply changing schools.

Additionally, speech regression can occur when trying to master a milestone in another area - including physical development. For example, a child is focusing on learning how to walk, and may in the process lose an earlier speech skill. In these situations. It is important to remember that these skills can be regained and the child can move out of a speech regression.

Is it normal to have speech regression? How to help my child

First, it’s important to understand if your child is indeed experiencing speech regression. And developmental regression is a loss of skills that were once held by someone but no longer are part of the child’s skills/abilities. This is different from not achieving developmental milestones or having delays. When focusing on speech and language, this would mean not reaching at least one speech and language milestone by age expectancy.

Now that we have a better understanding of speech regression we can dive deep into signs of speech regression.

Is it normal to have speech regression
How to support your child if a speech regression is present

In our blog, we share tips on how to encourage a toddler to talk. Read further for parent-led at home tips, clinically backed.

Symptoms that your child is experiencing a Speech Regression

As discussed, speech and language skills that a child once had will stop to show themselves. For example, a toddler who was once saying their first words such as “mama” and “papa” will now be unable to produce those earlier developing words and may babble instead (an earlier stage of speech development).

Other examples include a child who was once able to communicate their needs through gesturing to the item that they want, but now don’t know how to use these gestures to communicate wants and needs, and may revert to crying instead. A child may also stop being able to produce prior speech sounds that they were capable of producing.

Does regression always mean autism (ASD)?

While there are many toddlers and children who experience speech regression as a symptom of ASD, this isn’t always the case. As discussed earlier, other milestones and big life events may lead to a speech regression. However, if there is a significant and persistent regression in speech skills that is noticeably impacting the everyday life of the child, including general functioning, routines, and communication. Then it is important to consult a doctor who may first refer you to a neuropsychologist who can rule out ASD.

Typically age 2 is when there will be a cause for concern as the first year is a critical developmental year, so it is hard to determine regression. If the toddler does have ASD, professionals and parents alike will also likely find that in addition to the regression, the following thing is present:

  1. Your toddler or child is ALSO repeating phrases or words (often known as echolalia).
  2. Your toddler or child is displaying difficulty communicating verbally/and or non-verbally, with little interest in social interactions.

A speech professional will be a part of the team to help work with the child to regain these skills while maximizing on meeting them where they are due to the speech regression.

What is the reason for speech regression, and what do I do about it?

While there is no clear reason other than potential life changes and other milestone achievements, ASD does often go hand in hand with the regession. No direct reason can be assigned in this case, so early intervention is crucial in order to avoid a more global developmental regression. This entails working with the toddler experiencing this speech regression on strategies to access communication in ways that are achievable for them.

Speech regression references
Sharon Baum
Clinical Director, United States and M.A. CCC-SLP
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How to explain a speech regression in toddlers?
Speech regression is the loss or stagnation of speech and language abilities.
What's the cause for a speech regression in children?
Life changes, which impact the child, result in falling back to earlier developmental stages. Alternatively, it can occur when your child is learning a new milestone, like walking.
Is a speech regression connected to autism?
Speech regression can occur when a child has experienced a big life change or learning a new milestone. Even though speech regression is a distinctive feature of autism, autism is not always the case.