Autism Behaviour Strategies

What to do if my child is slow to speak?

Speech delays in children can become visible from the young age of 2 years and whilst a large percentage of speech delays tend to resolve spontaneously in children 3 and under – parents are encouraged to follow their guts and seek help when they first notice a delay.

The reason for this is because a language development challenge may only be detected later.  Language development (and speech development for that matter) are commonly diagnosed between ages 3 – 15 year.

It is very important to remember that there is a big difference between “having words” and “having age appropriate expressive and receptive language” skills.

Expressive language is when your child has difficulties communicating verbally and Receptive language deficits happen when your child has difficulties understanding language. 

Whilst a high rate of comorbidity is known to exist between disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and speech & language development.  Autism is not the only reason why children struggle to start speaking and/or why children have language or communication difficulties.

What to do if I suspect a language or speech delay?

When there is a suspected speech and language delay audiometry and a good paediatric evaluation of the ear, nose, throat and early childhood development milestones becomes necessary to establish the root cause of the delay.  SPL’s or Speech Language Practitioners are also a great first step to take. 

A few of the most common Speech- Language Disorders include:

  • The child having a “hearing impairment” can delay the child’s speech development
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Apraxia of Speech (AOS) is when the pathway between the brain and speech function is lost or obscured
  • Stuttering / Stammering
  • A variety of intellectual disabilities can cause language delays as well as several psychosocial issues such as severe neglect
  • Elective Mutism
  • Dysarthria – often manifests as slurred speech, slowed speech
  • Spasmodic Dysphonia – often manifest as a voice that is shaky, hoarse, tight or jittery
  • Receptive aphasia
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cluttering which is a “fluency disorder” that is characterized by a child’s speech being rapid or jerky or both
  • Aphasia which is caused by damage to the brain’s language capabilities


As you can see moms and dads, there are many potential reasons why a child would not be using age-appropriate communication.  Being a “late-bloomer” can be one of them sure – BUT there can be medical reasons for it that need Speech Intervention, Early Autism Intervention, Therapy or a Remedial Education. 

The role of the Medical Professionals and Speech Language Practitioners are to go through a process of elimination and evaluation to ensure that the correct cause for the speech delay is found.

Ilse Kilian-Ross
ilse@amazingk.co.za

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, ABA, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.