Speech development in children: What parents should know - East Idaho News

Speech development in children: What parents should know

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Communicating with words is one of the most important milestones in a child’s development. Parents eagerly await their child’s first words; it’s a time of huge growth and excitement. However, for some children and their parents, this transition to using language may be filled with confusion and doubt. Kids may become frustrated by a lack of ability to communicate. Parents share their frustration and wonder if their child’s speech is progressing normally or if they need therapeutic intervention. If you’re looking for answers, we’re sharing some things that parents should know about speech development in children.

EIRMC has pediatric speech-language pathologists who specialize in addressing speech and language issues in children. Ask your pediatrician for a referral to EIRMC Pediatric Therapies at (208) 529-7982.

Speech development and articulation

Articulation refers to the speech sounds that your child makes and how clear and easy to understand they are. Most children go through stages in their ability to articulate or speak clearly and understandably. While children vary in how quickly they master milestones in language and speech development, here’s a guide to help you determine how your child is progressing.

You should be able to understand:

  • About 50% of your child’s speech at the age of 2
  • About 75% of your child’s speech at the age of 3
  • 100% of your child’s speech at the age of 4

This doesn’t necessarily mean your child will be (or even should be) speaking flawlessly at 4 years old. Common speech errors are still expected at this age, but you should still be able to understand what your child means.

Articulation is a functional speech sound disorder with no known cause, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Signs and symptoms include:

  • Substitutions: One or more sounds are substituted, such as “tat” for “cat” and “dough” for “go”
  • Omissions/deletions: Certain sounds are left off, as in “cu” for “cup” and “og” for “dog”
  • Additions: Extra sounds are added to words, such as “buhlack” for “black”
  • Distortions: Sounds are altered or changed, as in a lateral “s” or “z” (lateral lisp)
  • Syllable-level errors: Syllables are omitted, as in “tephone” for “telephone”


ASHA reports that stuttering usually begins between 2 and 6 years of age. Stuttering, stammering and disfluencies all contribute to a lack of smooth speech. Typical disfluencies include adding “um” or “you know” to speech or repeating words or phrases. These are not considered stuttering. However, people who stutter may have more disfluencies and different types of disfluencies.

Many children go through normal periods of stuttering lasting less than 6 months. Stuttering that lasts longer may require treatment. Risk factors for stuttering include:

  • Gender: Prolonged stuttering is more prevalent in boys than girls
  • Age: Children who begin stuttering at age three-and-a-half or older are more likely to continue
  • Family history: Children with family members who continued to stutter are at increased risk
  • Other things to look for to identify possible stuttering is if your child tenses up or struggles when talking. They may even avoid talking or tell you it’s too hard to talk. These and the risk factors above are warning signs that something may be wrong.

    If you think your child may stutter, get help from a speech-language pathologist (SLP) as early as possible. Early intervention can reduce the chances that your child will continue to stutter.

    Late talking in toddlers

    The term “late talker” is often used to describe children who are not meeting milestones in the number of words or combinations of words they are using.

    Around 18 months of age, most children:

    • Use at least 2 to 3 words consistently
    • Can follow a one-step instruction

    The ability to follow a one-step instruction measures what your child understands and not how they speak. This is called receptive language. Examples of one-step instructions include “go find your shoe,” and “bring me the ball.”

    Around 24 months of age, most children:

    • Are using 2-word combinations
      • A noun and a verb (“dog go” or “me eat”)
      • A noun and an adjective (“big ball”)

    As noted earlier, it’s perfectly normal for children to reach milestones at different times. As a parent, use these milestone guides as a roadmap, but also be looking to see how your child is reacting.

    A child may need therapy if they:

    • Become frustrated when they try to communicate
    • Have difficulty communicating with peers or at preschool

    Speech-language disorders are most successfully treated with early intervention. However, it’s never too late to seek help if you or your child are struggling.