By Rachel Hoeing and Emily Halsey

I have asked Emily to share with us some of her wisdom on Speech and Language problems most commonly occurring in children: I was trying to think of the three most common concerns with speech and language that my mom friends have. I’ve addressed each one briefly, but as I always tell my girlfriends, go with your gut! You know your child better than anyone, and if you have that nagging feeling in your head, it certainly can’t hurt to consult a professional.

North Carolina provides free screenings, evaluations, and if children qualify, therapy services, to children who are 3 years old and over through the school systems. You would need to talk to someone who handles preschool referrals if your child is under 3. If you call your school system’s information/help desk, they can steer you in the right direction. Qualifying guidelines do differ between the school system vs. private practices. Therefore, if a problem is mild, your child doesn’t qualify by school system guidelines, and you still want to address the problem, you can contact a private practice/therapist to see if they can provide treatment for your child. There is also a great deal of information on the Internet, and I did check some of my facts with a few Google searches! I hope this information is helpful to you!

Concern One: Is my child talking as much as he/she should at this age?

By age 1, a child will typically exhibit a vocabulary of between 3-20 words for labeling familiar objects/people. They will still use lots of gesturing at this point, often combined with a word or a vocalization (ex. Uh, uh). Using sign language with or without spoken language is also an acceptable form of object labeling, although you should definitely encourage spoken language.

By age 2, children are usually using up to 50 different words, mostly nouns, and are beginning to combine 2-3 words in a single utterance. They should be able to say their own name, produce animal sounds, and use “no” appropriately. (I think they are all masters at that!) Also, a child may have a “word” for an object or person that only you understand, but if he/she uses it consistently and appropriately, it is still considered a word in their vocabulary arsenal. When kiddos are this small, they are not expected to pronounce everything perfectly.

By age 3, children can be using up to 800 words, answering and asking various Wh-questions, and can answer simple how and problem-solving questions.

One thing I often see, even in my own family, is that parents, grandparents, and older siblings often anticipate a child’s wants and needs or speak for them. It is important to require children to verbalize for themselves, even if you say the word and ask them to repeat it. Something I still do with my son (Henry, who just turned 2) is to require him to at least say and/or sign “please” before receiving the object of his desire! It won’t kill them to do without that cracker until they ask for it instead of just grunting or pointing! Another thing I wanted to mention is that I often hear parents say that their children seem to understand a lot more than they are saying, which is completely normal, especially at these young ages. Lastly, remember that all children develop at different rates, and just because you know another child who is “talking up a storm” doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is “behind” in their development.

Concern Two: My child is not pronouncing certain sound(s) correctly. Does he/she need therapy?

By age 2, you should be hearing the sounds p,b,m,h, n, and w in your child’s speech production. By age 3, those sounds are typically mastered (b may take up to age 4) and you should be hearing k,g,d, t, f, and y in your child’s speech. By 3 ½ to 4, children should have these sounds mastered as well (t can take longer).

Sounds such as r,l,s,z,sh,ch, and v generally develop a bit later, and mastery may not be seen until age 6 or later. If there is a sound you think your child should be able to produce but doesn’t, one thing you can do is to see if he/she can repeat the sound after you show him/her how to produce it (just don’t drive it into the ground!). This is called being stimulable for a sound. If your child can do this, then it is a good sign that they will probably begin producing the sound on their own sooner than later. If they cannot, it is an age appropriate sound, and the problem persists, you may want to consider consulting a professional. Also, if there are multiple sounds your child cannot produce, if they are doing things such as leaving the ending sound off all words, or if their speech is completely unintelligible even to family members, an evaluation of their speech production would probably be in order. You should remember that when children are young and language is emerging you are going to hear sound errors and most of these are perfectly normal.

Concern Three: My child seems to stutter all the time, and I’ve just started noticing it.

Most of the time, this problem is completely normal as a child’s language is developing and is called pseudo-stuttering. You may hear short repetitions of words or sounds, pauses between words, or substituted sounds. This problem often comes and goes, and may increase when your child is excited, stressed, or tired. A major change such as a move or a new sibling can also trigger stuttering. Be sure not to interrupt your child when he/she is speaking to you and give him/her time to finish what he/she is telling you. Most often, this problem will improve and/or correct itself within a 6 month period. If the problem persists longer than this, if you are seeing longer repetitions or hesitations in your child’s speech that occur most of the time, and/or if your child seems nervous or anxious about speaking, it is probably a good idea to consult a speech pathologist.

Thank you, Emily for all of the wonderful information you have shared with us today. If you have any additional questions or concerns, Emily has graciously shared her contact information with us. Simply email us and we will send her information along to you. Emily is also available for consults and tutoring.

Emily graduated with a BS in Communication Disorders and a minor in Psychology from ASU, and then went on to receive her MS in Speech-Language Pathology at James Madison University. She has worked as a Speech Language Pathologist for the past 15 years in three different cities – Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Fayetteville, Arkansas – in school systems as well as with private speech and language centers – and with patients of all ages from children to seniors. She has also provided evaluation and remediation services for clients who had a wide variety of speech-language disorders, additionally patients whose diagnoses included autism, cerebral palsy, pervasive developmental delay, and legally blind.

And you can always post your question below!