Professionals use a variety of terms when describing children who have difficulty understanding and using language. Although they might sound similar, the terms “speech delay” and “speech disorder” actually have two different meanings. The misuse of terms can create assumptions and may make it difficult for parents to get appropriate information and treatment for their child.
A speech delay entails that a child is developing language in a typical manner, but is doing so more slowly than other children his or her age. Milestones are in order, but might be delayed in some areas.
A speech disorder means that a child is not developing language as one would expect, or abnormally. Your child may be experiencing speech delay if they aren’t able to say simple words such as “mama” either clearly or unclearly by 12 to 15 months of age, understand simple words such as “go” by 18 months, speak in short sentences by 3 years old and tell a story at 4 to 5 years of age. A speech disorder is when a child has complications creating certain speech sounds and has problems with articulation of speech sounds. Some speech disorders we commonly see are apraxia, dysarthria, and fluency disorders which can stem from aphasia, tongue ties, or some forms of Autism. Be sure you get your child evaluated before you make any assumptions about their needs and proper therapy approaches. It is important to seek a comprehensive evaluation for the therapist to assess the whole child and their strengths and challenges not just a simple screening. Seeking therapy when children are younger has been shown to benefit the outcomes for later speech development.