speech delay

What is Speech Delay and how is it connected to Autism?

Posted on
February 24, 2023
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Every child works at their own pace. It’s important for families to be aware of communication skills and milestones, which are expected to develop at certain ages. Knowing your child’s speech and language development can help you track if there may be a speech delay for concern.

You can read more about children’s development and expected milestones in our blog. In this blog, we’ll unpack what a speech delay is and the connection between speech delay vs autism.

What is a speech delay

A speech delay is commonly recognized as your child not being able to use words and/or other forms of communication at their expected ages. A speech and language delay includes difficulties in understanding what is being heard or read, and putting words together to form a specific meaning or sentence.

What can cause a speech delay?

A speech delay can occur when areas of the brain have difficulty controlling the muscles responsible for speech. Which results in your child having difficulty coordinating their tongue, lips, and jaw. Alternatively, speech delay can be a symptom of many other disorders. These can include hearing loss, expressive language disorder, autism, selective mutism, and receptive aphasia.

Common causes include:

Late talkers & Slow Development

Late bloomers or late talkers are hard to distinguish between those who are language delayed, as their profile could look similar in terms of not producing language according to developmental expectations. Researchers have mentioned differences that can alert parents to a child potentially being a late bloomer (in which case parents can use a wait-and-see approach). Oftentimes late bloomers will have increasingly more communicative gestures than their language-delayed counterparts.

Delayed language development

Many parents worry about the development of their child’s speech and language development. Often, parents will seek out an SLP/SLT assessment to determine if their child needs speech and language therapy due to a language delay.

When dealing with an infant or toddler, it is very common for parents to talk to their pediatrician when concerns emerge regarding language development, to advise them if a speech and language assessment is warranted. This should be viewed with caution as the parent’s gut and knowledge of their child should help guide their final decision regarding an assessment after this conversation.

Getting a full audiological assessment is necessary prior to a speech and language assessment, as hearing challenges that may not have revealed themselves yet could be impacting the ability of children to pick up speech and language. There are times that a child is not language delayed, but rather a late talker.

speech delay
Understanding speech delay in toddlers

What age is it considered delayed speech?

Common symptoms of speech delay include not babbling 15 months, not speaking by the age of 2 years, difficulty producing a simple sentence by age 3, and difficulty following directions, poor intelligibility/difficulty to be understood due to poor pronunciation of sounds.

These days, it is important to pay special attention to screen time in the context of a speech and language delay, as reducing screen time can help a child increase communication opportunities and develop language skills.

Early detection and intervention is crucial to helping children with language delay develop their language skills, as later language and literacy difficulties can persist in school.

Speech Delay vs Autism

A question on all our families’ minds. Is speech delay autism? “Early language and verbal ability are strong predictors of later language among children with ASD (Smith, Mirenda, & Zaidman-Zait, 2007).” It is important to not assume that language development will look linear as it would with the development of language development in their neurotypical peers - it may take longer to acquire words, and sometimes a child may look like they’re “stagnant on a few words.”

Researchers report that personal characteristics of children, infants, toddlers, etc. with ASD as well as external factors - including intervention from a professional and communication with parents - will help determine language outcomes.

Just as with any child, joint attention, imitation of speech, and play are integral to the development of language with peers. Parents can help with this by engaging in play with their children and adding to it while following the guide of their child’s attention focus to foster joint attention. Ultimately, it is important to get an early diagnosis and start intervention.

Parent education is critical during the assessment process to help inform the SLP of specific routines at home and specific responses of their child to their environment. This will help be a driving force towards setting up goals during the intervention that should consistently be collaborated on between the parents and speech and language professionals.

If you would like your child’s speech development assessed or ask for advice, speak to one of our speech professionals. With no waiting list, you can get your answer right away. Making speech practice fit in with life. For more on noala assessments, read here. We’re here to support you.

Speech delay resources: 

Language Delay: Types, Symptoms, and Causes

Language Outcomes for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Late Language Emergence

Sharon Baum
Clinical Director, United States and M.A. CCC-SLP
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Can speech delay be fixed?
Some speech delays can be temporary. It may be suggested that they can resolve in their own time, and with a extra support from family. It’s important to continuously encourage your child to talk both verbally and non-verbally i.e. gestures and sounds. Play will be key to this.
Is it normal for 2 year old not talking?
According to child communication milestones, your toddler is expected to talk by the age of 2 years. If they’re not yet, it may be recommended to talk to your healthcare advisor or speech professional to determine if a speech delay is present. Every child works at their own pace.