Those first steps, the first word—these milestones can give parents some of their most cherished memories. But they can also be a source of worry if your child isn’t hitting those milestones while other children are.
As a parent, it’s completely normal to be worried if your child isn’t reaching developmental milestones as they “should.” Many parents feel like they have failed in some way if their child isn’t walking or talking by the time they’re expected to.
It can be hard to take a step back and realize that everything is going to be okay. You’re not a bad parent if your child is struggling with skills like speaking. Here’s what you need to know about speech development and when to intervene.
What Happens in the First Eight Years of Childhood Development
Our early years are critical for development. When a child is born, they don’t know how to do anything and must grow and learn rapidly. Experts agree that the first eight years are the most crucial to development.
During these years, your child will learn a huge range of skills. They’ll learn to walk, run, jump, throw, interact with others, tie their shoelaces, and of course, talk. Kids also start to develop their own views, values, and expectations for the world during this time.
Essentially, this is the critical period when kids learn how to function within society and start to develop their own unique personalities. Language acquisition is a big part of that, so it’s no surprise that parents worry when their kids are slow to talk.
What Is a Speech Impediment & How Are They Treated?
Children who have difficulty speaking may have a “speech impediment.” Speech disorders can present in many different ways, from a “stutter” (adding or repeating extra sounds) to substituted sounds or an inappropriate pitch. Anything that causes difficulty in speaking or being understood could be considered a speech impediment.
About 7.7% of children in the United States have a speech disorder. Speech impediments can cause long-term confidence issues and make it very difficult for children to communicate with others. Treatment can be helpful for reducing speech issues and building a child’s confidence.
Speech disorders can be treated in a number of ways. Some have physical causes, such as a swallowing issue, while others are linked to mental health, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The first step for parents is to seek a diagnosis so a custom treatment plan can be developed.
Early Identification of Speech Disorders
The best thing you can do for your child in promoting healthy development is to keep an eye out for early signs of speech disorders. Early intervention can make a huge difference for children who have difficulty speaking. That doesn’t mean you need to rush to a speech therapist if your child is a little slow to talk, but it is a good idea to know the signs of a speech disorder.
Different speech impediments and disorders have different symptoms. But signs that your child might have difficulty speaking can pop up almost from the beginning. A baby who doesn’t smile and interact by three months or begin babbling by 7 months might struggle to talk in the future.
It’s important not to panic if your child isn’t reaching these milestones. They may just need a little extra time to develop. Talk to them as much as you can and expose them to language, sounds, and as much communication as possible. You should also take care to listen and respond when they communicate with you.
When Children Need Speech Therapy
So, how do you know when it’s time to consider speech therapy? It can vary from child to child, so it’s difficult to give parents a timeline for when to be concerned. The best approach is to communicate with your child’s healthcare providers on a regular basis so they can provide recommendations on when to consider speech therapy.
Relax—It’s Going to Be Okay!
Even if your child does end up needing speech therapy, try not to worry about it too much. As long as you’re aware of what’s going on and giving your child the tools to succeed by working with a professional, you’re doing everything you can.
It’s important to remember that not every child develops at the same rate and it’s not your fault if your child is experiencing delays or struggling with key skills. Every child is different and there are so many factors that go into development.
Try to relax and realize it’s going to be okay! You’ve got this.