Even before they start talking, your baby is actively communicating with you with their cries, smiles, and other responses. As they grow, children also learn to communicate and express themselves with words. While the age at which every child starts talking can vary, as parents, you need to pay attention to your child’s language development. Some children might experience a delay in language development and as a result, face challenges in communicating with others. To help you learn more about the process, here’s a guide on language delay or delayed speech in children.

delayed speech in children, hand flapping

Unable to vocalize and communicate as per age-appropriate milestones are some signs of delayed speech in children.

What Is Language Delay Or Delayed Speech?

Language delay or delayed speech in children means a gap in communication. As parents, you need to understand that there’s a difference between language delay and speech delay. Some children might be experiencing only a language delay. This means that they are able to say words well but can only put two words together. On the other hand, some children might be experiencing a speech delay where they aren’t able to express phrases and ideas correctly.

Both language delay and speech delay often overlap. If your child doesn’t meet the language development milestones for their age, then it’s best to consult your doctor once. It’s possible your child’s language abilities are developing at a slower rate. However, there are certain signs that can help you understand if there’s a problem or a cause of concern.

Signs And Symptoms Of Language Delay In Children

You’ll know whether or not your child is experiencing a language delay if they don’t reach the language milestones at the typical age. Here are a few signs and symptoms to watch out for to understand language delay or delayed speech in children:

  • Not using gestures such as pointing or waving by 12 months of age
  • Not babbling by around 15 months of age
  • Prefers using gestures over vocalizations to communicate even around 18 months of age
  • Has trouble imitating sounds or understanding simple verbal requests
  • Not talking by 2 years of age
  • Is only able to imitate speech or actions and not produce words or phrases spontaneously by 2 years of age
  • Can’t use oral language to communicate more than their immediate needs
  • Poor pronunciation or articulation
  • Has difficulty following directions
  • Has an unusual tone of voice that is raspy or nasal sounding

Apart from these, if your child has difficulty putting words together or leaves out phrases while forming sentences, it could be a sign of language delay or delayed speech. You might also have to reach out to your doctor if your child’s speech is harder to understand than expected for their age. As parents, you need to be on the lookout for these signs as they could also be related to other developmental issues.

Causes Of Delayed Speech In Children

There could be multiple factors at play that cause delayed speech in children. In some cases, your child’s poor emotional and mental health could be the cause of language delay. There are a few risk factors such as having a low birth weight or being born prematurely that could increase the risk of language delay in children. Additionally, having a family history of speech or language problems could also contribute to delayed speech in children. A few other causes include:

Oral-Motor Problems: Many children with language or speech delays could have an oral impairment. They could have problems with the tongue or palate, or a short frenulum that can limit tongue movement. Additionally, if there are problems in the areas of the brain responsible for speech, then it could also be difficult for kids to coordinate their lips, tongue, and jaw to make speech sounds.

Hearing Impairment: More often than not, children who have hearing problems also have a language impairment. If they aren’t able to hear properly, then they are likely to have trouble saying, understanding, and using language. If your child has any ear infections then that could also cause language delays.

Intellectual Disability: There are a few intellectual disabilities that could also be responsible for language delays. In some cases, dyslexia and other learning disabilities could cause delayed speech in children.

Autism: Children having an autism spectrum disorder could also be facing a language delay. Although autism does frequently affect communication, do keep in mind that not all autistic children will experience a language or speech delay.

Psychosocial Issues: Traumatic experiences, severe neglect, or lack of love and support could also cause language delay in some cases. Not just delayed speech, but such issues could also give rise to anxiety or other mental health issues in children.

Treatment For Delayed Speech In Children

If you notice signs of language delay or delayed speech in children, it’s best to reach out to a speech therapist or a speech-language pathologist (SLP). The SLP will do standardized tests and look for milestones in speech and language development. They will check your child’s speech and language skills by focusing on various forms of verbal and nonverbal communication.

The SLP will check your child’s receptive language, or what your child understands, as well as expressive language, or what your child can say. They are also likely to check your child’s sound development, clarity of speech, and oral-motor status for a complete diagnosis. After a complete evaluation of the problems your child is facing, the SLP is likely to recommend a treatment plan that involves speech and language therapy.

Apart from therapy, the SLP will also recommend a few ways and exercises that you can follow at home to help your child with language development. Most cases of language delay or delayed speech in children are temporary and can improve with treatment.

Tips For Encouraging Language Development In Children

Communication can be challenging for children experiencing a language delay. This could also have effects on their overall development. As parents, you’ll be playing an important role in helping your kids with language development. A few things that you can do are:

  • Communicate and talk to your child from the time they are born.
  • Sing and encourage imitation of sounds and gestures.
  • Respond to your child even when they are babbling as a baby.
  • Read aloud to your child and make use of age-appropriate books.
  • Look for sensory toys that can help in your child’s development.
  • Answer your child’s questions and talk your way through the day.
delayed speech in children, language delay in children

Encouraging your child to communicate and engaging them in sensory books and toys can help deal with delayed speech in children.


Parenting becomes a truly rewarding journey when you see your child cross different milestones as they grow. Your baby’s first step, first word, and all their other firsts are joyous moments worth celebrating. This is why recognizing language delay or delayed speech in children as early as possible is important; it will help make communication easy for them. Remember that language delays are common among many children, but by using interventions at the right time, it’s also easily treatable. If your child is experiencing a language delay, make sure to be supportive and encouraging in the ways they are trying to communicate.

Being able to express their feelings and emotions, and communicating with others using words is an important part of your child’s development. Along with that, you also need to pay attention to your child’s immunization for their overall growth. You can make use of apps like ImmunifyMe that help you keep digitized records of your child’s vaccinations as well as keep a tab on their important milestones.

FAQs On Language Delay Or Delayed Speech In Children

What Is The Difference Between A Language Delay And A Language Disorder?

When a child lags behind their peers in acquiring language skills as per their age, it could be a cause of language delay. On the other hand, a language disorder is characterized by atypical language acquisition. A language disorder could significantly disrupt communication across different settings for your child.

How Common Is Language Delay?

Speech and language delays are common among many preschool children. While these delays are treatable with the right interventions, it’s important to first recognize the signs and reach out to a speech therapist.

When Is A Child’s Communication Considered Delayed?

There are age-appropriate milestones that determine the course of your child’s development. If your child doesn’t reach the language milestones at the typical age then they could be experiencing a language or speech delay.

What Causes Speech And Language Delay?

There are various reasons that could cause language delay or delayed speech in children. Some of these are:

  • Oral-motor issues or oral impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Autism
  • Psychosocial issues