Patient Care

Speech and Language Difficulties (Children)

What are Speech & Language Difficulties in children?

Language is a beautiful gift. It allows us to share our needs, wants, thoughts, feelings and everything that makes us human. When you spend time with your child, you have the power to give and nurture this gift of communication.

Many factors affect the rate at which a child develops language skills. Speech and language development can be thought of as a natural progression of stages in which a child passes through. However, the pace or exact age at which a child achieves his or her milestones may vary. Some factors that may contribute to how fast or slow a child learns speech and language include:

  • Inborn ability to learn language
  • Hearing loss or impairment
  • Motor skills such as walking, jumping, writing, self-feeding
  • Frequency and quality of language that a child is exposed to

If a child is slow in speech and language acquisition, he or she may have a speech or language difficulty.

What are the signs & symptoms of Speech & Language Difficulties in children?

By 18 months

  • Says less than 3 to 20 single words (e.g. papa, mama, ball)
  • Does not point to indicate wants, needs or interests
  • Does not follow simple 1-step instructions (e.g. “take bottle,” “give papa”)

By 2 to 3 years

  • Does not name body parts/familiar items
  • Does not combine words to say 2 to 4-word phrases (e.g. “kick ball,” “I eat biscuit,” “mummy, push blue car”)
  • Does not answer simple questions about objects and events around child presently (e.g. “what… doing?” or “where is the ball?”)
  • Does not follow 2-step related instructions (e.g. “take your towel and go shower”)

By 4 to 5 years

  • Speaks in shorter sentences of less than 5 to 8 words as compared to peers
  • Does not tell simple stories or retell the sequence of simple procedures in dayto- day life (e.g. how to make a sandwich, going to toilet)
  • Does not use a wide range of vocabulary related to common objects, actions, shapes, colours, animals, prepositions (e.g. under/ in front), and concepts (e.g. long/short)
  • Does not use pronouns (e.g. I, you, he, she)
  • Does not answer and ask ‘WH’ questions (i.e. who, what, where, when, why)

All ages

  • Loss of previously acquired language skills
How is Speech & Languagage Difficulties in children diagnosed?

If you sense that your child's language development is slow, you may wish to consult your paediatrician for an assessment or seek the advice of a speech therapist.

A speech therapist can work collaboratively with caregivers to:

  • Assess your child's level of understanding and use of language through formal or informal tests
  • Analyse your child's speech in various situations
  • Determine factors that may be slowing language development
  • Discuss next steps (e.g. strategies for stimulating language at home and/or enrolling your child into an early intervention programme)

Your child's progress will be closely monitored.

What are some tips for taking care of children with Speech & Language Difficulties?

Speech and language delays in children can be prevented by stimulating your child's language at his or her specific stage of language acquisition.

Here are some tips:

  • Talk and read to your child often. Reading books and describing pictures to your child as early as six weeks can put him/her on the road to better speech and language development.
  • Your child learns from daily interactions with adults. Use everyday situations and talk to your child about what he or she is presently doing or seeing (e.g. “You are eating an apple, and Mummy is eating a banana!”). Minimise the time your child spends on television or mobile and electronic devices. This provides more opportunities for play and interaction with your child.

Useful Links

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Click here to access our Find A Doctor directory for a list of doctors treating this condition across our NUHS institutions.

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