Language Delays in Children: Types, Symptoms, and Causes

Communication is what has driven the great developments of human beings. However, not everyone develops this ability in the correctly or at the same pace. Today, we want to talk about the types of language delays in children as well as their symptoms and causes.
Language Delays in Children: Types, Symptoms, and Causes
María Belén del Río

Written and verified by biologist and doctor María Belén del Río.

Last update: 18 May, 2022

Communication is what has driven the great developments of the human race. However, not everyone develops this ability in the correct way or at the same pace. Today, we want to talk about the types of language delays in children as well as their symptoms and causes.

From the time babies are born, they start to express their needs through tears, smiles, and other gestures. As they grow, they incorporate new means of communication and even pronounce their first words. However, many children experience delays in their language development for a number of reasons. As a result, they have a harder time expressing themselves and, at times, being understood. Today, we’ll take a closer look at language delays in children.

Delays in communication can affect a child’s interactions, personality, and ability to learn. However, these delays aren’t at all uncommon. In fact, between 5 and 10% of school-aged children display some sort of difficulty when it comes to expressing themselves. This statistic comes from the Health Department of the University of Michigan.

Language delays in children: A communication problem

Types and symptoms

There are two types of language delays in children. The first is a receptive language delay, which refers to a difficulty in understanding language. And the second is an expressive language delay, which refers to a difficulty in communicating with words. On many occasions, children experience a combination of the two.

Discovering language delays in children can often take some time. Just the same, there are symptoms that may catch parents’ attention of parents and lead them to suspect there may be a problem. For example:

  • Not babbling by around 15 months of age
  • Not talking by the age of 2
  • An inability to formulate short sentences by the age of 3
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • A child doesn’t react when others speak to him or her
  • Poor pronunciation or articulation
  • Difficulty putting words together in a sentence
  • Leaves words out of a sentence

The causes of language delays in children

Language delays in children generally originate in the brain. However, on occasions, they may be the result of some physical deficiency, social adaptation problems, or learning difficulties.

The main causes are the following:

  • Hearing loss. It’s common for children who have difficulty hearing to also have a hard time learning to speak.
  • Autism. Not all children with autism have difficulties with expression. However, sometimes language delays have to do with autism.
  • Neurological problems. Conditions like cerebral palsy and muscular atrophy can affect the muscles that are necessary for speaking.
  • Environmental distinction. Children that suffer from neglect, abuse, or isolation can have a hard time learning how to talk. Sometimes, in these cases, the lack of communication is selective.
  • Speech apraxia. This is a condition where speech muscles don’t react to signals from the brain.

The treatment of language delays in children

Sometimes it’s hard to know if a language delay is a product of one of these conditions or simply a temporary situation. In any case, it’s best to consult with a pediatrician if you notice that your child isn’t reaching normal benchmarks in communication. An early diagnosis will help provide fast solutions.

Depending on the cause, pediatricians may refer children with a language delay to a hearing professional, speech therapist, psychologist, or even a social worker. The best thing for these children is to have an interdisciplinary team that works together to stimulate communication.

The involvement of families is fundamental to the success of any type of therapy. Whether it’s to stimulate language or establish forms of non-verbal communication, parents must participate in the entire process.

You may also want to read: Five Exercises to Promote Speech in Children

Tips for parents

From the time children are born, they start to learn about everything around them in their new environment. One of their first sensory experiences outside of the womb is auditory. In fact, even in the womb, at 18 weeks, fetuses begin hearing their first noises. And, at 25 or 26 weeks, they can respond through their movements.

Therefore, experts recommend talking to babies as soon as they’re born, or even beforeOther stimuli will also aid in the rapid development of their communication abilities as they grow:

  • Responding to their baby talk with words and sounds.
  • Singing to them from a young age
  • Read books to them out loud. You can start with baby books and continue to progress as they grow.
  • Always respond to their questions.
  • Teach them the names of things, even when they’re babies and still aren’t talking.

Finally, if you suspect your child may have a language delay, consult with a specialist on the subject. As we’ve mentioned, early diagnosis will open the doors to the right therapy in order to solve your child’s difficulties.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.