Coping with a speech delay in your child can be a major challenge. It’s hard when all your friends tell you about how their baby was speaking in complete sentences by age two, but your toddler has yet to even call you “mama.” Experts suggest that, while speech development varies, most babies should be able to speak around 50 words by their second birthday. My son, however, couldn’t even say one word by age two. While I wasn’t terribly concerned at 18 months, by age two, I really began to wonder if I should be worried about his lack of vocabulary skills. I had extensive experience in coping with a speech delay, and I’d like to pass on what I learned to other parents who are dealing with this.
Tips for Coping with a Speech Delay
- Recognize and accept that you didn’t cause the speech delay. This was a hard one for me, as I worried that I didn’t engage with my son enough, or that I didn’t use the right words to encourage him to speak. I was pretty anti-baby-speak, so I talked to my son in complete sentences from birth. Was that the cause of his delay? Did I do something wrong? No, I didn’t. My son simply was behind in speaking due to circumstances beyond my control. It didn’t make me a bad mom.
- Recognize and accept that your child’s lack of speech development does not define him or her. My son was way ahead of the game in other areas. His motor skills were off the chart, and his ability to understand what was being said to him was way ahead of his age. His expressive language skills just weren’t there. It didn’t make him a less intelligent child that his counterparts who could recite War and Peace by age three, it was just something we needed to work on to help him improve.
- Use the free services available. The Easter Seals runs the Early Intervention Program that provides free services to families with children who need extra help in certain areas of development. This program is typically free regardless of how much income you have, and in my experience, they do a terrific job working with children. Check with your pediatrician to find out what services are available in your area. You’ll not only be helping your child, but you’ll ease your own mind because you’re being proactive.
- Learn other ways to communicate with your child. While you are working on resolving the speech delay, you’ll need a way to communicate with your child. Sign language is a great tool. You don’t have to teach your toddler the entire dictionary, just the basic words to express when he is hungry, thirsty, or tired. I was amazed at how quickly my son caught on to sign language!
- Follow your instincts and trust your own parenting skills. Somewhere in the middle of my son’s therapy, we discovered that he was tongue tied. I don’t know how everyone, including myself, missed that for over two years, but we did. Once it was discovered, the therapist and everyone I talked to told me to clip his tongue. By then, he was making great progress in speaking, and I didn’t feel comfortable putting him through the tongue clipping. I took a lot of flak for this, but ultimately, my son ended up speaking just fine, despite the tongue tie issue. Don’t let anyone push you into anything that you don’t feel comfortable with.
- Accept that resolving a speech delay is a work in progress and doesn’t happen overnight. I got pretty lucky, once my son learned how to talk he caught up quickly. In some cases, though, children may need speech therapy for many years to “catch up.” Acknowledge the progress made and be proud of that.
- Don’t compare your child to others. This goes for everything, not just speech delays. We, as parents, tend to compare our children to others in so many little ways. Is he as tall as his friend? Does she read as well as your niece? You will drive yourself- and your child- nuts if you keep comparing him to other kids. Every child is different; every child has their own strengths and weaknesses. Recognize that and you’ll be able to cope with a speech delay or any other issue that comes up a lot easier.
Do you have any tips for coping with a speech delay or any other developmental delays? We’d love to hear them.