Speech Language Delay in Teenagers

By Frances Evesham
Reading can challenge a teen with speech-language delay.
Reading can challenge a teen with speech-language delay.

Your teenager with a speech-language delay lives in an increasingly complex world as she learns to make decisions, study for tests and widen her circle of friends. Many teens, especially those who struggle with speech and language skills, find it hard to communicate with parents and teachers. The onset of puberty, with its hormones, mood swings and impulsiveness, affects the way your child behaves. Her teenage desire to become independent can reduce her interaction with you and may mask the signs of her difficulty with speech-language.


Your teen with a speech-language delay may find it hard to understand longer sentences containing more than two or three words. He may confuse pronouns like “I” and “you” or use incorrect word endings, perhaps still saying “I wented.” He may find it difficult to make certain speech sounds, like “s” or “l” or perhaps runs his words together so fast that you find it hard to understand his speech. He may stutter, repeating sounds or getting stuck on the first sounds of a word.


Your teen may find it difficult and tiring to communicate in words. Reading and writing can prove challenging, especially as literacy skills become more important during her teen years. Much of her school work depends on the written word. She may find it hard to use nonverbal language appropriately and could misunderstand other people’s facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures or body language. A speech delay may put her at risk for teasing or bullying by other teens who are struggling with their own identities.


Some speech-language delays arise from general slow development, caused by a disorder such as Down syndrome, while some teens have specific delays that affect only speech or language. A hearing loss may delay speech-language development or a muscular weakness may affect the development of complex speech sounds, such as the sound combinations in the word ice cream. Sometimes, the cause of speech-language delay may be impossible to detect.


Your teen's speech-language skills can continue to improve with practice. His vocabulary grows by up to 2,000 new words between the ages of 7 and 16 and can expand throughout his life. Some areas of the brain, such as the pre-frontal cortex, which governs his ability to think abstractly, maintain development throughout the teen years and reach maturity as late as the age of 24, according to HealthyChildren.org.


Encourage your teen to develop her speech-language further. Identify the level of her skills, which may differ from her other abilities. Take a note of words or sentences that confuse her and explain their meaning. Simplify your own language, so that she can decode it easily. Encourage her to read, through books or comics she enjoys. Pictures and videos may help you undertake the sensitive but necessary discussions about puberty and the changes in her body. Discuss her communication difficulties honestly with her, enlist the help of her teachers and seek advise from a speech-language pathologist, therapist or psychologist.

About the Author

Frances Evesham has been writing on communication, language and well-being topics for over 20 years. The author of "Help Your Child To Talk," she has a diploma in speech pathology, is an NLP premier practitioner and is a registered witness intermediary working in the justice system in the U.K.