When to Speak Up About a Speech Delay

Speech delays in children are not at all uncommon; 20 percent of kids will experience a delay in speech or language, according to healthychildren.org. While, in some cases, the cause of a child’s speech delay may not be known, speech delays can often be connected to an oral myofunctional disorder or OMD.

What Is a Speech Delay?

A speech delay is when your child has trouble saying what they want to say. This could mean that your child doesn’t speak clearly enough for others to understand them, or it could also mean that they don’t have much control over the muscles of their mouth needed to make sounds.

Speech delays can happen at any age, but most commonly occur between ages 2 and 4. Children this age are often labeled as “late talkers,” but it’s often more than that.

Remember that speech delays are common — and you’re not alone.

It’s also important to remember that there are many reasons why your child might struggle with speaking or language development. Some of these include oral myofunctional disorders such as:

  • Oral-motor problems like tongue thrusting (when the tongue sticks out too far during eating) or excessive drooling
  • Problems with mouth coordination
  • Improper tongue posture

Other OMDs include prolonged pacifier use, extended thumb sucking and lip biting.

A child may not say anything until they’re about 24 months old. If your child doesn’t start speaking clearly before then, it could be a sign of a speech delay, especially if they don’t respond verbally when spoken to.

A speech delay can occur at any age, but it usually happens between 12 and 30 months. Some signs of a speech delay in children aged 2 to 3 years are:

  • Doesn’t use at least 25 different words
  • Doesn’t use two-word sentences
  • Doesn’t use specific names for objects
  • Doesn’t answer questions directly
  • Doesn’t respond to familiar voices
  • Doesn’t point out what he wants
  • Doesn’t follow directions
  • Doesn’t point to pictures or toys
  • Doesn’t play independently
  • Doesn’t imitate others
  • Doesn’t speak up for himself

What Is a Language Delay?

Language delays are about more than just having trouble communicating. They’re when your child struggles to learn how to communicate effectively through words and symbols. A language delay can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • Difficulty understanding spoken language
  • Difficulty using words correctly
  • Trouble learning new vocabulary

Things to Remember About Speech Delays

If you think your child has a speech delay, here are some things you should know about this condition:

  • A speech delay does not necessarily indicate intellectual disabilities or other developmental issues. In fact, studies show that children who have speech delays tend to do just fine once they reach school age and reach other developmental milestones.
  • If your child has a speech problem, early intervention is best.
  • Your child may need extra help from someone else, like a speech therapist, to learn how to talk properly.
  • You may feel frustrated if your child struggles with speech. But, keep in mind that this development disorder isn’t unusual. Most parents report feeling frustrated by their child’s speech difficulties.
  • Myofunctional therapy may be able to help.

What Is Myofunctional Therapy?

Myofunctional therapy is a specialized form of occupational therapy designed specifically to treat speech and language disorders. The goal of myofunctional therapy is to improve the way your child uses her or his body to produce sound.

This type of therapy focuses on improving muscle tone and movement patterns in the face, lips, jaw and tongue. These areas are responsible for making speech sounds. When these areas aren’t working properly, it makes it difficult for your child to produce clear speech.

The good news is that myofunctional therapy can usually correct these problems. It’s especially helpful for children who have difficulty producing sounds because of a physical issue, like a cleft palate or tongue tie.

Signs of OMDs

Are you wondering if your child has an oral myofunctional disorder? Take this test:

  • Does your child have trouble opening his/her mouth wide enough to eat solid foods?
  • Do you notice your child’s teeth touching each other while he/she eats?
  • Does your child chew food before swallowing it?
  • Does your child put objects into his/her mouth without being asked?
  • Does your child suck his/her thumbs?
  • Does your child bite his/her nails excessively?
  • Does your child have a hard time keeping his/her hands still while speaking?
  • Does your child dribble saliva while talking?
  • Does your child have problems pronouncing certain sounds?
  • Does your child have difficulty controlling his/her tongue?
  • Does your child have frequent ear infections?
  • Does your child drool frequently?
  • Does your child have excessive tooth decay?

If you can answer yes to some of these questions, let’s talk about your child and how they could benefit from myofunctional therapy.

When Is Myofunctional Therapy Most Effective?

Research shows that myofunctional treatment is most effective when used at the earliest possible stage of a speech or language disorder. This means that myofunctional therapists will work directly with your child to identify any underlying causes of the disorder. They’ll also look for signs of potential myofunctional problems in relation to your child’s language skills.

Preschool-aged children with language delay are great candidates for myofunctional therapy, but if you’re starting later than that, don’t despair. Children with speech delays often catch up quickly after beginning myofunctional therapy to overcome speech developmental delays or language disorders.

Is Myofunctional Therapy Just for Kids?

No. You can start anytime — even in adulthood. Many adults benefit from myofunctional therapy. It’s particularly useful for people who experience symptoms related to their speech, including:

  • Difficulty chewing, biting or sucking
  • Drooling
  • Tongue thrusting
  • Thumb sucking
  • Biting fingernails
  • Teeth grinding
  • Problems with pronunciation
  • Inability to control tongue movements
  • Coughing during meals
  • Choking

Many adults who receive myofunctional therapy report improvements in their ability to speak clearly and comfortably.

We can develop a treatment plan for you or your child after doing a physical examination to identify factors such as tongue placement problems, tongue tie or other things that can interrupt the normal pattern of speech.