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The first signs of a speech delay or disorder in a child may be very mild. As a result, sometimes it is difficult for a parent or caregiver to feel that something is amiss with a child’s speech and language development. Parent may only become alarmed after the delay becomes more apparent (as the child gets older), or once the disorder becomes more obvious because the symptoms are more prevalent.

Having a child receive a speech, language, and hearing screening is the very first step a concerned parent should take. Such a screening can help determine if a more extensive speech and language evaluation is warranted. For a child’s social, academic, and even emotional health, it is critically important to identify speech disorders and delays sooner than later.

Speech disorders have several types: voice disorders, articulation deficiency, non-fluency and communication disorders can all call for speech therapy. Here are some signs to look for if you think your child may need speech therapy. Many of the traits listed below are mostly behavioral signs, and they are relatively easy to observe:

  1. It is not unusual for a very young child to repeat certain words during speaking. If such repetition is a consistent pattern lasting for several months, however, this may be a sign the child needs a speech evaluation by a licensed speech-language pathologist (i.e., speech therapist). Look for instances when the child constantly repeats a word or a phrase over an extended period of time.
  2. Many children put in fillers (“and,” “ah,” “um,” “like,” etc.) while talking. They may also choose some words that are out of context or insert expressions that have no related meaning to what they intend to speak. This isn’t unusual per se, but if it continues over the course of several months, again it is a good idea to consult a speech therapist.
  3. “Stretching” words is common among children who need speech therapy. In such instances, children may greatly exaggerate sounds in certain words, or put added stress on certain sounds.
  4. The child may struggle to speak fluently. Incessant pausing, struggling to speak, getting embarrassed while speaking, moving and swaying while talking, looking here and there and trying to figure out what to say are all signs that indicate the child may need to be evaluated by a speech therapist.
  5. Voice disorders have many symptoms, from hoarseness of the voice to very unusual pronunciation of certain sounds. If any of these symptoms are present, consulting a speech therapist is recommended.
  6. Apart from the above signs, also be on the lookout for any abnormality or irregularity in normal speaking that is unexpected.

As a general rule, if you have the slightest concerns about your child’s speech and language, don’t hesitate to consult a speech therapist. Again, a licensed speech-language pathologist will need to evaluate the child to inform you if speech therapy is needed, based on the results of the evaluation.