The Reasons for Speech Delay in Toddlers

What is speech delay?

Speech delay refers to a delay with the ability to form and make sounds, and use known and acquired vocabulary to communicate through speech. Speech delay means issues with mispronunciations and unclear speech, making someone with speech delay difficult to understand. 

In a lot of cases, speech delay may simply be a temporary condition, and with time and support, a child will soon reach age-appropriate speech developmental milestones. However in some instances speech delay may develop into a permanent, speech disability, and in some cases children may develop very limited, or zero speech development at all. 

For many toddlers and children, early intervention is crucial when it comes to supporting their speech and language development. This might include sessions and therapies with a speech therapist and other professionals. This early intervention can sometimes make all the difference in ensuring a child is able to gain the necessary speech skills for their age. 

Reasons for speech delay in toddlers

The causes of speech delay

Limited opportunities for speech development in their primary care environment

Toddlers need to hear speech, in order to be able to process and learn to imitate it as part of their own speech development. For toddlers who are in caregiving environments where they are not spoken to, or do not hear others speaking, speech delay may be a consequence of this limited exposure. 

Rare disease or genetic syndrome

In some instances speech delay, especially severe delay a disability, may be caused by a rare disease. Examples of genetic syndromes which present with limited-zero speech development include Pitt-Hopkins and Russell-Silver

Physical or medical conditions

Sometimes a physical issue may be the cause of speech delay. This can include issues with the tongue and the palate or roof of the mouth. A short frenulum, the fold of skin found under the tongue, can sometimes contribute to unclear speech. 

Other medical issues that might cause speech delay in toddlers include hearing issues which can restrict a child’s ability to develop their speaking skills. 

Neurological Impairment

Sometimes speech delay is caused due to a problem in the area of the brain responsible for speech. This can affect an individual’s ability to coordinate their lips, tongue and jaw in order to be able to form words necessary for speech. This impairment will more often than not, also present with other issues related to oral development and functioning, including feeding. 

Identifying speech delay in toddlers can be tricky. This is a period of time when a child’s development is still progressing, and even within the established developmental milestones, there are ranges within which children are expected to meet certain milestones and master specific skills.

Speech delay, for some children, may be a temporary thing, but it is important to understand a child’s development, and any possible areas of delay, in order to understand if there is a more serious underlying cause, such as a rare disease; and if there is a need for intervention and support. 



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