Speech Development in Children

What is Speech?

In terms of speech and language therapy, speech refers to the sounds we produce and how we produce them to form words. Speech relates to the clarity of what we say and how easily our sounds and words are understood by those around us.

If you child produces sounds incorrectly or is not easily understood by others they may have a speech difficulty.


Typical Speech Development

The following are some developmental speech milestones which you help you monitor your childs’s speech development if you have any concerns:

  • Babies generally begin babbling from 6-7 months onwards and you should start hearing some repeated syllables like ‘baba’, ‘dada’, ‘mama’ by about 9-10 months
  • By 12 months you should hear some mixed sounds in your child’s babble (variegated babble) e.g. ‘pabada’, ‘bamaga’
  • It can be typical up to age 3 for young children to reduce longer words (e.g. nana instead of banana), to leave of sounds at the end of words (e.g. su instead of sun) and to produce sounds that should be made at the back of the mouth at the front of the mouth instead (e.g. ‘tar’ instead of ‘car’). However these errors should not persist after this age.
  • It can be typical up to age 4 for children to have some difficulty with sounds like /s/, /z/, /sh/, /ch/ and /j/.
  • Sounds like /l/ and /r/ are later developing and for some children may not be produced accurately all of the time until age 6.
  • As a general guide to overall intelligibility, by age 3 your child’s speech should be understood by others about 75% of the time and by age 5 this should be 90-100% of the time.

children 7

What can Cause Speech Difficulty?

There are many reasons why a child may present with a speech sound difficulty; some of which include:

  • Developmental speech delay/disorder
  • Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia
  • Hearing difficulty (including history of fluctuating hearing loss associated with otitis media/fluid in the ear)
  • Neuromuscular issues (e.g. low tone associated with Down syndrome can lead to unclear speech)
  • Physical issues (cleft lip/palate, dental anomalies, tongue tie)


How can you help your child?

Generally speech sound difficulty is one of the areas that requires direct therapy as SLTs are uniquely specialised in the therapy techniques required to correct speech sound errors. However, you will be an important part of the therapy as most progress is seen when therapy activities are practiced at home and your SLT should show you how to use the techniques to help your child at home.

Some other general tips include:

  • Model clear speech yourself by speaking clearly and reducing your speech rate if needed
  • Interpret as best you can to reduce frustration
  • Ask your child to show you if possible or think of another way of saying what they want
  • Emphasise error sounds in your own speech (so for example if your child says ‘dun’ instead of ‘sun’ you should emphasise a clear ‘sun’ in your own production)
  • Get your child’s hearing tested if you have any concerns in case this is a factor affecting speech development

If you have any concerns about your child’s speech it is a good idea to see an SLT as soon as possible for an assessment. Speech sound difficulties generally respond well to intervention and the difference being understood will make to your child is incredible to see. Parents can self-refer or get a PHN/GP referral to the HSE SLT service or attend privately for therapy. It is vital to address speech difficulties early as poor intelligibility can lead to frustration on the part of the child and also early speech difficulties can impact later literacy development.


Marian Hogan is a Senior
Speech and Language Therapist who completed her
speech and language therapy degree in University College
Cork and graduated in June 2009. She has 8 years’
experience of working with a wide variety of client groups;
and has particular interest and skill in working with children
presenting with a range of developmental speech and
language delays and disorders and children with complex needs. She
has worked in both the public and private sectors, including the
Central Remedial Clinic Dublin, Down Syndrome Kerry, Kerry
Intervention and Disability Services and Kerry SLT Clinic.

Marian has completed many postgraduate training courses and continues to update her professional development and knowledge of current evidence-based theory and
practice regularly through research and training.

You can contact Marian on 087 216 2297


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