Speech and language development isn’t always straightforward. Some children stutter.  Others have trouble making certain sounds. Other children struggle because their brain and the muscles needed for speech can’t seem to get in sync, a condition called childhood apraxia of speech.

Why the Trouble Talking?
“We don’t always know what causes speech and language disorders,” says Julie Weaver, MA, CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Some speech disorders run in families. It is also common for a history of ear infections to affect speech and language development.”

Premature birth, hearing loss, and birth defects, such as cleft palate, can hinder children’s ability to produce speech or develop language.

What to Look and Listen For
The presence or absence of certain symptoms and milestones can raise red flags for a speech disorder. Weaver recommends keeping your eyes and ears open for the following signs in each age group:

  • Birth to 6 months—Look for signs of social development that will be key to speech, such as smiles and eye contact. Babies will begin babbling between 4 and 6 months.
  • 6 months to 1 year—Babbling will continue, and you should hear your child’s first word around 12 months of age. Children will also begin to use gestures, such as waving and clapping.
  • 1 to 2 years—If your child hasn’t spoken his first word by 18 months of age, it’s a red flag. By age 2, he should have about 50 words in his vocabulary. He should also start to combine two or three words at a time into sentences.
  • Preschool age—Does your child seem to understand what you say better than you understand his speech? Does he have difficulty imitating speech or joining in rhyming games at school? If so, a speech or language disorder may be present.

Parents with concerns about a child’s speech or language development should speak with their child’s pediatrician.

Speech-language pathologists are trained to help children overcome and manage speech and language disorders. To schedule an appointment with a speech-language pathologist, call St. Louis Children’s Hospital at 314.454.KIDS (5437).


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