10 Signs Your Child May Have a Speech or Language Delay

10 Signs Your Child May Have a Speech or Language Delay


I want to touch on a topic that is close to home and part of my reality: speech and language delays. What are speech and language delays?

  • A speech delay is described as having the ability to use words and phrases to express ideas but be hard to understand.
  • A language delay is saying words well but having difficulty putting two words together to communicate understanding.

Basically speech is the verbal expression and articulation of language while language is understanding and being understood through the use of verbal, nonverbal, and written communication.



How is this topic related to my life? Well my son who is the oldest of four, he is 5 years old, was diagnosed with a speech and language delay at age 3. Me and his father suspected something was wrong way before that age. We both would notice things that were particularly odd or that he was not doing that other children were doing. For example he wasn’t waving or calling us mama or dada, he was mostly just babbling. He had a tough time learning to crawl and had an odd and what I consider bad fear of people and social settings. I mean he would scream his head off anytime any one other than me or his dad came close to him. This went on for almost 2 years.



By age 2 he was saying less than 10 words, the rest was unintelligible. He had a hard time copying us and that is the way we learn, by mimicking others’ words, sounds, and actions. A lot of the time he would shut down and cry when he didn’t understand. He also has trouble following simple commands and directions so this can make learning frustrating on both ends, his and ours as the parents. We just wanted the best for him and to be on point like other children his age and we could not understand why he was not speaking and understanding communication. That is when I made the hard decision to have him tested for speech and language and autism.


We first had to have his hearing tested to rule that out as a reason why he may not be speaking. Luckily, that came back fine. Then we had an appointment at a local center with a speech pathologist and a behavioral psychologist. They did a variety of activities with him which were how they were able to collect data to come up with a prognosis. They spoke to me as well to gauge my concerns and to get a better understanding of his behavior at home. The appointment took about 3 hours. After meeting with a pediatrician and psychologist and speech therapist they all diagnosed him with a speech/language delay. At age 3 he had the language and understanding of a 1.5 year old. It was very disheartening to find out MY child had a delay. It made me think what did I do wrong? I did nothing wrong; his brain just doesn’t make the necessary connections when it comes to language. He is smart in other areas and sometimes excels other children his age. We as his parents will not let this define him in all areas. He will still be a successful, responsible, respectable black man.




This is a run down of things to look out for if you suspect your child has a speech or language delay. Visit kidshealth.org for more information.

*I will note that every child is different and develops at different paces, some quicker than others. This is a general guide and not meant to serve as a medical advice or diagnosis.


  • by 12 months: isn't using gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye
  • by 18 months: prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate
  • by 18 months: has trouble imitating sounds
  • has trouble understanding simple verbal requests
  • by 2 years: can only imitate speech or actions and doesn't produce words or phrases spontaneously
  • by 2 years: says only some sounds or words repeatedly and can't use oral language to communicate more than their immediate needs
  • by 2 years: can't follow simple directions
  • by 2 years: has an unusual tone of voice (such as raspy or nasal sounding)

Also call the doctor if your child’s speech is harder to understand than expected for their age:

  • Parents and regular caregivers should understand about 50% of a child's speech at 2 years and 75% of it at 3 years.
  • By 4 years old, a child should be mostly understood, even by people who don't know the child.

What Causes Speech or Language Delays?

A speech delay might be due to:

  • an oral impairment, like problems with the tongue or palate (the roof of the mouth)
  • a short frenulum (the fold beneath the tongue), which can limit tongue movement

Many kids with speech delays have oral–motor problems. These happen when there's a problem in the areas of the brain responsible for speech. This makes it hard to coordinate the lips, tongue, and jaw to make speech sounds. These kids also might have other oral-motor problems, such as feeding problems.

Hearing problems also can affect speech. So an audiologist should test a child's hearing whenever there's a speech concern. Kids who have trouble hearing may have trouble saying, understanding, imitating, and using language.

Ear infections, especially chronic infections, can affect hearing. But as long as there is normal hearing in one ear, speech and language will develop normally.


I just want parents to be aware because I see this question a lot among parents. Your child’s pediatrician’s job is to be there for your child’s well-being; utilize them. You are your child’s advocate. Having the strength to advocate for your child is a sign of confidence as a parent. You will know if it is slow development or something more because in this system some will be quick to label black children with some sort of disability, but that is a whole other social issue. Trust your intuition.



Would you like ideas on activities that will help a child with a speech and language delay learn? Let me know in the comments.


As always Be You Confidently



  • You are a strong and wonderful mother. All kids are amazing in their own way.



  • Hello there! This is a great post! I have been a teacher for nearly 30 years and understand how hard it is for parents to think there may be something wrong with there child. I loved that you acknowledged you did nothing wrong as a parent. Every child is wired differently and it’s our job as parents to help them grow and develop.

  • Really complete and information article! It is easy to learn and contains a lot of pertinent information!


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