What are the main reasons a child may experience language delay?
Language delay is widely recognised in the early years sector with over one million children in the UK experiencing some difficulty with communication and language development. This can be due to a variety of reasons, some of which can be easily recognised and dealt with, offering a positive impact on language skills. However some reasons for language delay are not easily rectified and children will require specialist help and support in order to improve their development. When dealing with language delay, it is important to observe the child carefully to look for triggers and clues to why they may be having difficulty.
Here are 5 top reasons a child may experience language delay
When a child first begins to show signs of language delay, many professionals will first ask for the child to attend a hearing test. This is due to conditions and illnesses such as ear infections or glue ear having an impact on language skills. If a child is unable to hear correctly, this will in turn have an effect on their ability to understand what is being said and the use of language. Lack of hearing can affect a child’s language in many ways. If a child’s hearing is especially poor they may not be able to hear themselves when they do speak, affecting the volume, tone and pitch of their voice. Children with hearing difficulty will also be unable to hear the quieter sounds of a word such as ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘f’ and ‘t’; causing them to miss vital sounds when speaking. This can mean the child is difficult to understand. If a child’s hearing is contributing to their language delay, Makaton or visual aids can be introduced allowing the child to make sense of the world and able to communicate until the problem can be eased or resolved.
Lack of receptive language skills
Children must first understand a word before being able to use it in the correct context. Children with language delay may find it difficult to process information and understand the meaning of words. Young children that are using only single words at the age of three may be struggling with their receptive skills. It is common for these children to find it difficult to answer open ended questions, as they find it hard to use their vocabulary to explain their thoughts. You may find that these children will often answer open ended questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or perhaps with a word such as ‘mummy.’ This is due to a lack of understanding of what is being asked. Using shorter sentences or single words to communicate with these children will help them to understand and process information easier without becoming overwhelmed. Visual aids will help them to build routines and make connections using their receptive skills.
Some children may experience selective mutism at any point of their lives. Children that have sound language development can suddenly begin to regress and become silent. This could be selective mutism. It is a psychological condition in which individuals can become ‘shut down’ and find it impossible to talk in particular social situations. Many children go through periods of shyness and may not want to talk to strangers or in large social environments; however selective mutism is much more severe. Children who experience this language delay will often seem to shut the world out and are unable to use their language. They may still offer eye contact, give visual responses such as nodding their head but they will not use any language.
Oral motor disorders
Oral motor disorders such as tongue tie or cleft palate can cause issues with language development. Occasionally these disorders can be missed at birth and will only be found when language delay is present. Signs of oral motor disorders can be persistent dribbling, inability to stick tongue out past lips or immature speech sounds. It is important that a child’s mouth is checked if there is a concern with speech delay, in order for the correct procedure to be undertaken. After the possibility of surgery to rectify or improve the disorder, it is possible that speech and language therapy will be offered to help the child improve their mouth movements.
Pragmatic or social skills
Language delay can be caused by lack of pragmatic or social skills. There are many rules about using language, and these rules will change according to context or surroundings. Some children may not be able to process these rules, or find it difficult to communicate with others. Children with poor pragmatic skills often misinterpret other’s communicative intent and have difficulty responding appropriately either verbally or non-verbally. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have particular difficulty with many of these skills due to their deficits with social interactions.