Lauren Gillespie didn’t notice a speech problem when her son Shane was a preschooler. “Your kids say weird things, but you know what they’re saying,” recalls the mom of three from Claymont, DE.
But when Shane got to kindergarten, his teacher had trouble understanding him. Soon he was diagnosed with a speech disorder and began work with a therapist. “Shane started to improve by leaps and bounds,” Gillespie says. Now 9, he is much more confident after several years of successful speech therapy.
“By age 3, kids should be understood by most people outside the home 90% of the time,” says Dorothy P. Dougherty, author of Teach Me How to Say it Right: Helping your Child with Articulation Problems. “Even if they make errors, you should be able to understand what they mean.”
However, some kids don’t speak all sounds correctly until they’re age 8. That’s normal, says Dougherty. She and other speech pathologists recommend becoming familiar with other speech milestones to spot problems.
For speech milestones, visit Asha.org/public/speech/development
Common Toddler Speech Quirks
Pronunciation. “There are many sounds that a 3-year-old may not be saying and that’s perfectly normal,” says Amy Nelson, a speech pathologist at Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE. Kids are still developing R, S, Z, TH, and L sounds at this age. Into elementary school, kids continue to fine-tune some sounds.
“Typically by the age of 7 or 8, all the consonant sounds should be in,” says Nelson.
Stuttering. Between ages 2 and 6, some children may experience a period of stuttering called developmental dysfluency. (See sidebar, below.) This may sound like: “I was um um um I was…” It occurs as a child’s vocabulary starts to explode, and his mind is working faster than his ability to articulate, says Nelson. “There’s no need for alarm unless it’s worsening,” she says.
How To Help Speech Development
Model words for your children so they can imitate your speech, but don’t ask kids to repeat themselves when they’ve mispronounced something.
“Acknowledge what they’ve said,” says Valeri Le Beau, a speech language pathologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “Let them know that they were understood, and then model the word correctly.” Use problem words in conversations as many times as you can. Label everything out loud, over-articulate words, and try to expand your child’s utterances. For example, she says “bus.” You say “big yellow bus.”
Seek Advice for Concerns
“The earlier the intervention, the more successful it is,” says Eileen Rall, a CHOP audiologist. Recent advances in diagnostic technology can identify children with hearing loss at age 2 or 3 months rather than 2 or 3 years, she says. Speech therapy for kids younger than age 3 involves caregivers learning to promote speech development in the home.
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids and a Chester County, PA mom of two.