Dealing with a Speech Delay in a Tongue-Tied Toddler

tongue-tied-toddler-speech-delay

Dealing with a speech delay in a tongue-tied toddler is a little trickier than coping with your average toddler speech delay. Trust me, I know. My son is tongue-tied. He was also quite delayed in speaking. I want to share my experiences with you because I took a different route than many parents do. I opted not to clip his tongue.

How to Cope with a Speech Delay

Tips for Dealing with Tongue-Tied Toddler Speech Delays

What does tongue-tied really mean?

Long ago, before I had my very own tongue-tied child, I thought the term just meant someone who couldn’t quite get their words out right. Kind of a mental roadblock. I am a horrible public speaker. I write. I don’t speak. I stumble over words when I order a pizza! So that’s what I thought it meant.

That’s not the medical type of tongue-tied, though. The medical, by the way, is ankyloglossia, but even I just call it “tongue-tie.” It’s easier to say. So, you know that little skin-like ligament thing that you see when you lift your tongue? Go look in the mirror, I’ll wait. Okay, so you see how in your mouth, it’s way back there at the base of your tongue? Well, Jacob’s isn’t.

In tongue-tied children, that lingual frenulum is attached more towards the front. Some people have it attached maybe halfway up. Jacob’s is attached almost all the way at the front of his tongue. Basically, when he sticks his tongue out, it looks like a “W.” He also can’t stick the tip out further than just past his teeth, nor can he touch the roof of his mouth with his tongue.

Jake doesn’t really stick his tongue out much, and the few examples I do have aside from this one, well, do you want to play “See Food” with my son? Probably not!

With Jacob, I didn’t know he was tongue-tied until he was 2 and a half. He was already in speech therapy. Everyone just kind of missed it. He was a preemie and wasn’t breathing when he was born. Plus they broke his arm getting him out. In the midst of dealing with all that, I guess checking for a minor genetic trait wasn’t a priority. I totally understand.

I actually discovered the tongue-tie myself. We learned about it in biology. The picture looked familiar. I went home and checked Jacob’s tongue. He was definitely tongue-tied!

Does being tongue-tied guarantee a toddler speech delay?

Now, you would think that being tongue tied pretty much meant “toddler speech delay” for sure. Well, yes, Jacob had a speech delay. BUT, he was also a preemie. And a boy. Being a premature boy already increased his risk of developing a toddler speech delay. So did the tongue-tie cause it or was it due to other factors? Maybe all the factors played a role.

My Toddler doesn’t have very Many Words yet—should I be worried?

I did a ton of research and honestly, every study had a contradictory study. Some said yes it causes speech problems. Others said it really doesn’t.

How do you handle toddler speech delays when your child is tongue-tied

As with anything, methods handling toddler speech delays with a tongue-tied child depend entirely on your child. If you discover the tongue-tie very early (newborn and young infants), a frenotomy (also called frenectomy) may be a good option. Basically, the doctor just clips the frenulum. It’s supposed to be relatively quick and painless. Your child may need to do tongue exercises after to prevent it from growing back. Jacob’s dentist told me that the only way to keep it from growing back is to have it done with laser surgery. Talk to your doctor about that.

How do you handle toddler speech delays when your child is tongue-tied

Since Jacob was older when I discovered it, his only option would have been to get it done under anesthesia. My son would NEVER sit still for them to cut part of his mouth with a scalpel. If your child is more easy-going about that sort of thing, you can still go with this option when they’re older.

I did not want to put my toddler under anesthesia for something that I thought could be overcome with speech therapy. As a former nursing student, I am well aware that the risks of anesthesia are pretty low. I didn’t care. That was my baby and no one was knocking him out for something that wasn’t life-threatening.

Jacob’s speech therapist- wonderful as she was- pushed like crazy for me to get his tongue clipped. She told me he’d never speak properly if I didn’t. A lot of people pressured me. I held my ground. I said “let’s keep trying traditional speech therapy.”

By the time he was three, he was doing pretty well but still behind other kids his age. By four, Jacob’s toddler speech delay was a thing of the past. We overcame the tongue-tied toddler speech delay through therapy alone.

This is basically how I did it:

  • Easter Seals Early Intervention Program from age 2-3, a free program for all.
  • IU (intermediate unit) therapy from 3-4. This is free and I believe most states have some version of it. The Easter Seals put me in touch with them when Jacob graduated out of their program.
  • A good preschool program. Never underestimate the power of peers. Jacob barely spoke a single word before I started him in daycare (which was also his preschool). He learned a lot not only from the teachers but also from other kids his age.
  • NO baby talk. I’ve never talked down to my son. No goo-goo-ga-gas, no “who’s a whoozy shmoozy kissy face?”  Use your big person words. Use them often. Jacob had a toddler speech delay, but he had crazy-amazing receptive language skills. At three, he understood words at a 7-year-old level.  I believe that helped catch up easier.

Jacob graduated out of speech therapy much earlier than even the therapist thought he would. Sometimes, with a toddler speech delay, all your child really needs is time.

As for Jacob’s tongue, I’m leaving the decision up to him. If he wants it clipped, I’ll take him to get it done. It no longer affects his speech in any way, so I feel like my decision to hold off was validated. If you have a tongue-tied child with a speech delay and everyone is pressuring you to clip, at least you can point to this and say “here’s a success story.” Not that you EVER need anything else but your own instincts to back up a parenting decision.

I hope this helped you better understand what it’s like to deal with a speech delay in a tongue-tied child. If you have any questions, ask in the comments. I’m happy to answer them if I can!

30 thoughts on “Dealing with a Speech Delay in a Tongue-Tied Toddler”

  1. Tough-tie is riddled though my family as it is genetic. I had to have mine done at 3 due to speech delays. I wasn’t able to raise my tongue above my bottom teeth. My son is also speech delayed and had a tounge-tie. He had to have his cut twice. 1st was by pedi at 1wk old, 2nd was done by laser at 3wks. Zero bleeding and quick recovery with minimal scarring. Things I’ve ready is as he’s not practiced tounge motions in utero like other children it can defiantly add to any kind of speech delay learning and strengthening tounge movements. I like the exposure that this site brings to the attention of tounge-tie especially as 1 in 10 kids are born with it.

  2. Thank you for this article! I was wondering whether to get my three year old son’s tongue tie clipped, since he has a speech delay and trouble with quite a few sounds. I wasn’t looking forward to the 3-4 hour trip to see the dentist who clipped his little brother’s tie (twice) and like you, I cannot imagine my toddler sitting still for the operation. I was so glad to see that the speech issues could possibly resolve without revising the tie. I have hope now and feel much better about waiting to see if his therapy will do the trick. Thank you for writing your story!

  3. I’ve heard the term before but never quite understood what it meant. I’m grateful for your detailed explanation and glad that you made a decision that was best for your child.

  4. My youngest was born with this and also lip tied. She had her tongue lasered when she was 3 months old so that is taken care of. We didn’t discover her lip tie until just a few years ago (she is 8.5 yo now). She doesn’t have any speech problems but her 2 front teeth are very spaced out because of being lip tied.

  5. I definitely just learned something new! I had no idea there was such a thing, but am really glad that it’s easily repaired.

  6. What a great post indeed! I have never known any kids with this issue. This post will definitely help and give awareness to handle kids with such problems. You are really doing great with your son & he looks so cute. Thanks a lot for sharing such a great information.

  7. Wow, Nicole – it’s amazing how you discovered this – I didn’t know anything about it. So nice that you have the knowledge and helping your little cutie…I know there seems to be so many issues that our little ones can have and we sometimes just don’t catch on – it sounds like you’re doing brilliantly!

  8. Getting the word out about it is so wonderful. I think it’s wonderful to have a great resource to go to like his when you are dealing with the same or something similar.

  9. My girl was born tongue tied. And my dr. wasn’t totally convinced until I asked him to look again and watch as she tried to latch. It kinda runs in the family. I had it taken care of before we left the hospital. Her speech was still slightly delayed, but sure enough, the second we pay attention to her delayed speech, she caught up to where she should be and now she doesn’t stop talking lol.

    I also have a friend who’s 4 yr old has a serious speech issue, and just now has been told about his tongue being tied.

  10. I am glad the therapy helped your son. Kudos to you for not giving into the pressure and doing what you thought was best for your son. My mother in-law is a speech language pathologist and I have heard her talk about this before.

  11. My son is not tongue tied but he has speech problems too. Apparently he has fluid in his ears for awhile and since he cannot hear well from it has effected his speech. I have been taking him to the chiropractor and his ears are draining. Now he need to go to speech classes .

  12. I was like you and thought tongue tied meant they just couldn’t get their words out. I have called myself tongue tied before. Well I have learned something new today.

  13. Robin (Masshole Mommy)

    I have never known anyone personally who has dealt with this, but it is great to know that there are options out there to help these kids.

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