Did you know that as much as ten percent of children suffer from some kind of communication disorder? That includes speech problems, language problems, or hearing problems. Many of these problems are quite common, and can normalize with time. There are a few of these disorders, however, that may require speech pathology to normalize. The important thing is knowing how to tell the difference between what is fine and healthy, and what should be a red flag for parents. Here are five common speech problems in children and how to tell if you should see a speech pathologist:
1) Stuttering/ Fluency Disorders – These are disruptions in the rhythm and flow of the child’s speech, such as pauses, hesitations, interjections, as well as elongating or repeating syllables. Stuttering is the most common manifestation of this type of disorder, and is completely normal in children 2 to 4 years of age. However, if the disorder becomes more severe around age 5, you may want to see a specialist.
2) Speech Delay/Language Development Disorders – While all children develop at different speeds, there are some times where a delay in speech or language development may be cause to seek the advice of a specialist. Many parents worry if their child is 18 or 24 months and is still not speaking. Around 9 months, a child will start to string sounds together, and recognize one-word names. By 12 to 15 months most children will be able to make a wide variety of sounds, and may have a few words they can say that are similar to how adults say them (“mama”, “dada”, etc.) The development from 18 months to 2 years varies greatly per child. Typically a 2 year old should be able to speak in small phrases of 1 to 3 words, name familiar objects, and follow two-step instructions. If you have any worries about your child’s speech and language development, you should talk with your doctor. Also, if your baby watches intently but does not react to nearby sounds, they may be showing signs of hearing loss.
3) Auditory Processing Disorder – Also known as A.P.D. or C.A.P.D., this disorder only affects about 5% of children who are school-aged. Essentially, it means that the child cannot process auditory information normally because their brain and ears do not coordinate completely, specifically with the sounds of speech. Children with this disorder have trouble recognizing subtle differences between words, especially when there is a lot of competing background noise. If caught early enough, this disorder can be managed, which can prevent speech, language and academic problems as they grow. Signs to look for: Your child is distracted or greatly bothered by loud noises, or sudden noises; upset by noisy environments; behavior and understanding increases in quiet settings; difficulty following directions no matter how simple or complex; conversations are hard to follow for your child.
4) Articulation Disorders – Articulation disorders actually make up about 75 percent of all communication disorders with children. This usually means that the child substitutes sounds for one another, such as lisping (“thith” instead of “this”), or omitting sounds (“ca” instead of “cat”). Articulation variance is normal, but should go away by age 7.
5) Voice Disorders – This is one disorder that is not quite age specific. It has to do with the pitch, volume, and quality of the child’s voice being altered to the point of being obvious to the listener. There are several manifestations of this disorder that include hoarseness or harshness of the voice, general breathiness, having a shrill quality, or speaking to loud or high than is normal. This may require treatment if it continues past age 4, as hoarseness in particular can be a symptom of a medical problem.