May 5, 2017

Speech and Language Disorders in Children – How to Identify Them Early

By Regina Edwards
Speech Pathologist

The second most common reason for special education services in public schools is speech/language impairment. But in some cases, early intervention can reverse or even prevent these impairments. Early intervention helps children develop communication skills during periods of high neuroplasticity, when the brain is best able to form neural connections that lead to learning. Every dollar spent in the early years can save seven dollars in future education and services.

Caregivers often request speech therapy when children are not using words, are not combining words into sentences or are using speech that is difficult to understand. Caregivers may not always recognize challenges understanding spoken language.

The early stages of communication disorders are easier to identify when you know the signs:

  • Does not smile or interact with others from early infancy and older (birth and older)
  • Does not babble (4-7 months)
  • Makes only a few sounds or gestures, like pointing (7-12 months)
  • Does not understand what others say (7 months-2 years)
  • Says only a few words (12-18 months)
  • Words are not easily understood (18 months-2 years)
  • Does not put words together to make sentences (1.5-3 years)
  • Has trouble playing and talking with other children (2-3 years)

A trained speech-language pathologist can assess children for speech and language disorders, and recommend intervention services.

During a speech-language assessment, the speech-language pathologist assesses auditory comprehension and expressive communication by interviewing caregivers, interacting with the child and/or administering structured tests. If intervention is recommended, the speech-language pathologist works individually with caregivers and children to develop skills and strategies that promote learning.

You can help children with language and speech sound disorders by:

  • Listening and responding to your child
  • Talking, reading and playing with your child
  • Talking about what you are doing and what your child is doing
  • Using a lot of different words with your child
  • Using longer sentences as your child gets older
  • Having your child play with other children
  • Saying the sounds correctly when you talk — it is okay if your child makes some mistakes with sounds
  • Not correcting speech sounds — it is more important to let your child keep talking

Regina Edwards, MA, CCC-SLP, is a Speech Pathologist with Huff Center Therapies, Mission Children’s Hospital. 

For more information on speech therapy services available at Mission Children’s Hospital, please call 828-213-1725.

For more information about early identification of communication and hearing disorders, visit