DELAYED AND FAULTY SPEECHA child usually has a vocabulary of 1 word by 10 months and 2 or 3 words by a year. Boys are generally slower than girls. At 18 months the average vocabulary is about 18 words, which the child is beginning to put into phrases. A 2-year-old can speak in simple sentences, but sometimes they are difficult to understand. A child's speech should be intelligible to strangers by 3 years of age. If the child is a year behind normal speech development, then it may be time to evaluate the child's intellectual development and hearing and finally to start training in verbal sound production.
CAUSES OF DELAYED SPEECH Personality. The cautious, sensitive child who decides it is safer not to walk early in life may also decide to delay speaking.
Environment. The child who is surrounded by adults or older children who monopolize the conversation or who anticipate needs before the child has to speak may be helped by going to nursery school.
The parent who uses complicated words, talks too fast, and does not repeat simple words may be causing the delay.
Medical handicaps can cause speech disorders: congenital malformations, abnormal hearing and vision, injuries, infection, cerebral palsy and other central nervous system disorders, brain damage, and mental retardation. In these situations, other signs are present. The speech deficiency is only one of the signs.
CAUSES OF FAULTY SPEECH Use of baby talk, lisping, and immature speech to win points in child-parent controversies. It may be prolonged by parents who think it is "cute." Baby talk characterizes 80% of the speech defects in school-age children and clears up without extensive speech training.
A bilingual home or foreign-born parents. Do not discourage the child from learning both languages; minor speech faults are not significant.
CHECKLIST OF SPEECH DEFECTS NEEDING INVESTIGATION No intelligible speech after 3 years old.
Missing consonants after 3 years old.
No sentences after 3 years old.
Verbalization decreasing after having been normal.
Word endings still dropped after 5 years old.
Faulty sentence structure after 5 years old.
Stuttering after 5 years old.
A loud, monotone voice.
Pitch that is inappropriate for age and sex.
Hypernasality or lack of nasal resonance (abnormal nasal sound).
Abnormal rhythm, rate, or inflection after 5 years old.
Just as stumbling and falling are part of learning to walk, speaking imperfectly, repeating words, or stammering in the first few years of talking is perfectly normal.
Parents with close relatives who stutter are often particularly concerned about early signs in their child. However, many children go through a stuttering stage. In most it lasts only a few days, but in the more sensitive it may last longer. The age for these episodes is 3 to 4 years. Following are some suggestions to relieve the strain and anxiety that may be the cause of a child's stuttering:
Ignore the stuttering and request others to do the same. Make no remarks like "speak slowly" or "take a deep breath and start again."
Do not deal with the child's hesitation by "shushing" everyone else, scolding other children who tease your child, or fearing to interrupt your child's talking.
Do not seek advice about stuttering from friends, relatives, teachers, magazines, or nonprofessional books.
Avoid parental arguments about how to deal with the problem, particularly in the presence of the child.
Make your child feel adequate and acceptable by giving the child as much love, affection and security as you can.
Build the child's ego by concentrating on abilities.
Do not be afraid to say to the child: "It upsets me when you have difficulty in speaking, but when you are older and more relaxed it will get better."
If the problem persists and becomes progressively worse, consultation with a speech therapist may be necessary.