Infant & Toddler Late Speech Child Development Causes

Warning signs of late speech development include an infant who doesn't respond to or vocalize sound, a 12-month-old who isn't pointing or waving goodbye, or an 18-month-old who has trouble imitating sounds, according to 2. While most late bloomers eventually catch up to their fast-talking peers, delayed speech may also indicate a greater problem. Talk to your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s language development.

Hearing Problems

Even a minor hearing problem can hinder a child's ability to understand and use language. Newborns undergo an assessment for hearing problems before they leave the hospital. However, medical problems -- especially chronic ear infections -- can cause hearing loss in infants and toddlers. An audiologist can easily evaluate your child’s hearing with a few simple tests, so it’s usually one of the first things a doctor will check when your child displays signs of a speech delay.

Oral-Motor Problems

Many kids with speech delays have problems with oral-motor development 2. Oral-motor problems occur when the areas of the brain responsible for speech production do not communicate properly. Children with oral-motor problems have trouble using their mouths to produce speech sounds. In younger infants and toddlers, these problems may manifest as feeding problems. Apraxia of speech, one example of an oral-motor problem, occurs when a child has difficulty in executing speech movements even though she may know what she wants to say 3.

Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory processing disorder, also referred to as central auditory processing disorder, involves a problem with processing and understanding speech sounds in the central nervous system 4. Children with APD display normal hearing but have trouble decoding the sounds. They may experience difficulty differentiating between similar-sounding words (like “bat” and “cat”), following directions or understanding speech in noisy environments.

Developmental Speech and Language Disorder

Developmental speech and language disorder is a learning disability in which the brain functions differently, resulting in trouble producing speech sounds, using speech to communicate and understanding what other people say. Many language-based learning disorders can be treated with behavioral therapy and speech pathology, but should be addressed early to avoid further complications 5.

Other Reasons

Various factors can cause late speech development in infants and toddlers. The child’s temperament, as well as a parent’s anticipating a child's every need, may be attributed to delayed talking. Slow speech development may also be hereditary. Boys often lag behind girls in terms of speech. In addition, babies born early (preemies), multiples, and children raised in a bilingual home all may develop speech later than peers. Lastly, children who are intently focused on other skills, like walking or fine motor development, may be trying to perfect that skill at the expense of speaking. These children typically catch up to their peers by the time they’re about 2 years old.

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