Causes of Speech and Language Delays

Speech and language delays can be caused by a number of things. This blog will describe the possible causes. Only evaluation by a professional can determine the actual cause of your child’s speech delay.

Mental Retardation
Children who have some type of mental retardation count for 50% of speech delay cases. According to the American Pediatric Association a child who is mentally retarded “demonstrates global language delay and also has delayed auditory comprehension and delayed use of gestures.” Which means that the child has been continually slower than average in speech development. The child also does not make use of gestures to explain themselves. A mentally retarded child usually does not understand the things that are spoken to them and will not respond correctly or follow simple directions. Speech is typically more delayed than other areas of development like walking or small motor skills.

Hearing Loss
Without the ability to hear speech and language development can be profoundly delayed. Hearing loss is typically in the higher frequencies resulting in the child’s inability to hear the sounds s, ch, sh, and th. Children will hearing loss in the lower frequencies will not hear most vowel sounds or m, n, and t. If your child does not use some sounds in their speech or replaces sounds with another it is a sign of hearing loss.

Maturation Delay
Some children are just late talkers. The part of the brain that produces speech is slower to mature. This condition is more common in boys or families that have a history of late speakers. It is often impossible to tell if a child just has a maturation delay or a more serious language disorder. So experts recommend intervention and speech therapy.

Expressive Language Disorder
A more reason for speech delay is expressive language disorder. A child with this disorder is normal in all areas except speech. They can understand other people but cannot express themselves. The American Pediatric Association says the primary cause ” appears to be a brain dysfunction that results in an inability to translate ideas into speech.” This child will need extensive speech therapy and often suffers from other language based learning disorders like dyslexia.

The Autistic child always has delayed language development along with other developmental issues. Kristyn Crow has a great description of the symptoms of autism in the special needs blog.

Elective Mutism
Children with this speech issue choose not to speak in certain circumstances. They may speak just fine by themselves or at home, but refuse to speak in public, at school, or daycare. This child may benefit from therapy since elective mutism is often accompanied by other symptoms like poor peer relationships or overdependence on parents.

Receptive Aphasia
This child has a difficulty comprehending spoken language. They respond to nonverbal stimuli but tune out speech. “Their parents often describe such children as ‘not listening’ rather than ‘not hearing.'” Many children with this disability will gradually acquire a language of their own.

For more information read my blogs on other Speech and Language Topics:
Child Speech and Language Development
Speech and Language Delays
Speech: Birth-12 months
Speech: 1-2 years

Also look for future blogs on:
Speech: 2-3 years
Speech: 3-4 years

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About Teresa McEntire

Teresa McEntire grew up in Utah the oldest of four children. She currently lives in Kuna, Idaho, near Boise. She and her husband Gene have been married for almost ten years. She has three children Tyler, age six, Alysta, four, and Kelsey, two. She is a stay-at-home mom who loves to scrapbook, read, and of course write. Spending time with her family, including extended family, is a priority. She is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and currently works with the young women. Teresa has a degree in Elementary Education from Utah State University and taught 6th grade before her son was born. She also ran an own in-home daycare for three years. She currently writes educational materials as well as blogs for Although her formal education consisted of a variety of child development classes she has found that nothing teaches you better than the real thing. She is constantly learning as her children grow and enjoys sharing that knowledge with her readers.