How to Cope with a Speech Delay

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.

22 thoughts on “How to Cope with a Speech Delay”

  1. Plz help me &my sister to teach my nephew to speak as he will turn 6 in March and still he cannot speak a single word he has autism as well as G6PD defficency .he is having special classes for autism too but nothing is working any advise & guidance will be appreciated…Thank u.

  2. I needed this. My son is 2.5 and is now using around 100 words- mostly labeling/ repeating… but at 2 he said absolutely nothing. To some people it doesn’t seem like a”big deal” to have a late talker. But it has been so hard on me. I’m so thankful for the progress we’ve made, but it is still hard to not be upset when I see his cousin who’s 4 months older have a 10 minute conversation with his mom about Santa and I’m doing flash cards trying to get him to say “duck.” Itshopeful to read about others who have been in our shoes and have progressed ! Thank you!

  3. i just came across your post and I’m so glad I did. My little girl is almost 2 and just barely in the beginning stages of her speech. She has had a lot of ear issues so we know one factor of the delay. But it’s very hard at times, especially since she has tested almost 2 years higher in everything else. Having her in speech therapy has helped but I know she’ll get it when she wants. But comparing to others is my biggest downfall.

  4. Thank you for the great info. I do feel a lillte better. My son is now 4 1/2 and we have been dealing with speech delay since 2 when his pediatrician was concerned he didnt have any words. So, he has been is speech therapy since and is now in preschool and gets speech therapy at his school, which is great. He, like many of the other children mentioned, excels when it comes to his motor skills and his school work. He is speaking in full sentences and can carry on a conversation. He does have a little stutter when he has trouble with a word, it comes and goes, but it almost seems like his mouth is trying to catch up with his brain. We were told to leave it alone so we have. We do practice a lot of words that he has trouble pranounciating, BUT, hes now over 4 and just the other day he told my husband “daddy sometimes I have trouble with my words” and it broke both of our hearts. And this is why I’m on this blog. HE’S old enough now to start noticing that his speech is a little different that the other kids around his age. We praise his as much as we can, and have never pointed out anything about his speech, other than repeating words that he has trouble saying.. Has anyone else dealt with this? Any suggestions? I dont want his self esteem to suffer because of his speech delay. Any advice is appreciated.

  5. Phew! Thank you so much for this info and the comments too. My son just turned 2 and I have been freaking out about his lack of speaking. He understands and follows directions but only says a few choice words. He is a smart kid, but is delayed with expressive communication. He has had several ear infections and is now scheduled for tubes. I don’t know if tubes will help or not, but comparing him to other kids has had me crying more than once. In other advice, hope, and suggestions would be welcome. Thanks again!

  6. I met a group of moms at Gymboree when our kids were between 6 and 9 months old. The kids in the group consist of 5 boys and 1 girl. Three of the boys are in speech therapy (including my son) and 2 others have had evaluation recommended by a pediatrician. Sometimes, I wonder if we are the problem – maybe these kids are actually developing normally, but our expectations have changed. Or, maybe the world has changed (things are much more immediate – we can get what we need so easily without even having to speak to another person… maybe that is impacting kids, too.)

    Who knows – I don’t regret putting my son in speech. We were on the fence -as were the experts. His receptive language skills were very high – at 2, he could easily follow multi-step instructions – he understood everything. That helped me to be a bit less worried. We did use sign language.

    I do agree that, as a parent, you need to follow your gut instinct. Oh – and speech therapy is actually fun for the kids, so don’t worry that they will consider it a punishment or something negative. My son will actually be sad when we stop going!

  7. Great post. My youngest is 21 months and he too has a speech delay. We’ve been concerned for several months and have been on waiting lists for speech therapy and developmental services for some time now. We finally got into speech therapy for an assessment last week and he ranked in the second percentile for language skills. My hubby is really struggling to accept that our son needs any intervention. He doesn’t want our son to be ‘different’ and is convinced that the speech therapists think it’s our fault our son is delayed. He hasn’t even met them yet.. I should really get him to read #1 and #2 on your post.

    1. Definitely tell him to read the first two tips! Also, tell him that it seems like it’s increasingly common for children to have speech delays. I mean, you wouldn’t be on a waiting list if it wasn’t a common thing! It’s certainly no one’s fault. You can do EVERYTHING exactly right, and some children just aren’t ready to speak for whatever reason until a little later.

  8. Both of my sons have speech problems. My 4 year old does not pronounce the beginning letter of each word, my two year old does not speak at all. Overall they are at where they are suppose to be at developmentally for their age. I am not worried since I was in speech until I was 11 on the other hand I skipped a grade and was awarded full scholarships to college. I now have a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. My parents are super engaging and only one of the four spoke well for our age level. I am a teacher, my brother a computer engineer, another brother runs a business, and my youngest brother is a licensed carpenter.

    1. That’s awesome that you’re all so successful! Speech delays run in my ex’s family. His brother’s four kids all had delays. Three of them are speaking perfectly now. One still needs therapy at age 8, but he’s improving significantly.

  9. My daughter has Expressive Speech Disorder among other things. I remember worrying as each month passed when she didn’t say anything. Now, she is almost 3.5 and still has a speech age of that of a 1 yr old… but we are progressing. We simply work with her and the speech therapist knowing she will catch up in her time.

    1. She will catch up! It’s amazing, once they hit that moment where it all just clicks. One day, you’re still struggling to understand them, and then all of the sudden, it seems like they go from single words here and there to complete sentences over night. Of course, it’s not really over night, but it seemed that way.

  10. I love the “Follow your own Instincts” when I comes to speech. My daughter had what I thought was a speech impediment. I took her to the school speech therapist and got her checked out. It turned out to be nothing but some simple exercises that we needed to do. Wow, so glad I got that relief.

    1. That’s great! Sometimes all it takes is a few speech exercises. Once my son was speaking, we did speech therapy once a week for a year, and it was basically all just exercises. Parents have great instincts. Its ingrained in us from way back in the early days! We just need to learn to trust them rather than always assume that a book or a stranger knows better.

  11. I think the best advice is to keep an open line of communication with your pediatrician and accept all help that presents itself. We started speech therapy with my son at 18 months and realized that his reactions weren’t improving – he was eventually diagnosed with Autism at 27 months. My second piece of advice is don’t ignore your own intuition – if you know something is not right, speak up!

  12. We have been dealing with this as well and our doctor told us to just relax and know that all children develop at different times. Our son understands what we say to him – he just doesn’t talk back. It’s hard but in the grand scheme of things, there could be problems that are so much worse.

    1. My doctor has a very relaxed approach too. He had twins born around the same time as my son, and almost as early, so he really understands delays. He was the one person who didn’t push for me to clip my son’s tongue. I agree, there could be so many worse things to deal with. My son was 8 weeks early, and the ONLY ongoing issue he had was his speech delay, which resolved itself. In the grand scheme, I feel like I lucked out. It was really frustrating at times, but now he talks constantly and very well!

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