What Causes Speech Delays?
Updated: May 4
We get asked quite regularly by parents, what causes a speech delay? There are a number of factors to consider when attempting to answer this question and it helps to focus on one particular issue. A common speech and language delay that becomes more apparent with children over three-years old is Final Consonant Deletion. It sounds a bit wordy but it's actually quite simple to understand.
Ideally, your child would say, “Mum, I want some beans on toast for lunch.”
But a child who has Final Consonant Deletion will often sound highly unintelligible to an outside listener. As the parent, most likely, you will have developed an ear for your child's speech pattern and found ways to communicate effectively. Or this could be something brand new you’re currently encountering with your child? Either way, a child dealing with this difficulty will sound something like this:
"Muh! I wah suh bee o toe for luh!"
Tricky to understand for any parent but especially difficult for outside care providers and other children as well. Understandably, this can cause some distress for your child when they begin interacting more frequently with people outside of your immediate family.
Please be assured, you are not alone and there is a way to help your child.
Does this sound familiar?
Please read the sentence again, "Muh! I wah suh bee o toe for luh!" Does this sound very familiar to you? I meet parents regularly who have become experts in understanding this type of speech pattern. This is part of the problem. Because they can communicate effectively with their little ones, they often believe it’s just a phase - that it’ll sort itself out eventually. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The child doesn’t realise there’s a problem at first either and only becomes clear as they mature and attempt to communicate with peers.
From the child’s point-of-view
It helps to understand what they are experiencing - to see it from the child’s point of view. A single word that the child produces could have many different meanings. For example, when a child makes the sound ‘Bee’ if they’re missing the end sounds of words, there are several words they could be referring to; been, bead, beach, beat, beef, beam, bees and they could also be trying to say ‘be.’
It’s really difficult for adults/parents to understand what these children are saying unless you’ve developed a way of deciphering their speech pattern - something most parents have had to do, whether they realised this or not.
Speech and Language Therapist: Is it necessary?
When children are two years old, it’s quite normal for them to miss the end sounds of words. They are learning to form the right sounds and experimenting, while for us, the parent or responsible adult, it’s like trying to crack a code. We can do everything right in supporting our children. But if they reach three years old and are still obviously finding it difficult to be understood, they will probably require some level of support. Speech and language therapists are best placed to help you resolve this issue because they come across this type of speech delay on a daily basis.
Here at Step Up Speech and Language we often see this problem in children because their speech development has got stuck. We see children who favour using earlier sounds such as 'b' and 'd' but not later sounds such as 'sh' 'f' 's' and 'k'.
This means that children have a reduced phonological inventory which sounds really complicated but basically means they don't have a great bank of sounds to use. So they often go back to their favourite ‘b’ and ‘d’ sounds, which is confusing for the listener but becomes natural for the speaker.
Back to the child’s point-of-view
Again, let’s see it from the child’s point of view. They ask someone, not their parent, for something. It sounds perfectly normal to their ears, but no one understands what they mean. This must be extremely frustrating and confusing. This impacts not only their ability to be understood but their emotional well-being also. And of course, if you have experience with this then you’ll understand how upsetting this is for adults. You can be left feeling emotionally drained from not knowing how to support your child.
We totally get it!
It’s not your fault.
Can you fix the problem yourself? Anything is possible but the longer the problem persists, the more it impacts their learning of phonics when they are at school. Their learning and classroom experience will be negatively affected so it's important to resolve this as early as possible.
Step Up Speech and Language: The Solutions
Right, it’s time for the good news. Here at Step Up Speech and Language, we can pinpoint the problems because we see the same issues day after day but it’s much more helpful for parents to hear about the solutions. So how do we deal with Final Consonant Deletion?
We use a two-pronged approach; help the child mark word-final sounds and use new sounds to do it. This maximises the progress the child can make in the quickest time possible.
A great way to begin this process is to use mirrors so children can see what their lips and teeth are doing when they make certain sounds at the ends of words. Another way to support them is to use words that children use a lot so they have valued meaning for them. For example, if a child says 'beh' we want to use the word ‘beD’ a lot. Emphasising that final sound, so the child has increased awareness of the sound.
Also when selecting target words for the child to practise, it’s important these are short single-syllable words so they don't get stuck on more complex words to say while developing their speech skills.
Another really useful strategy is to find word pairs that have different meanings. For example words such as ‘be’ matched against the word 'beef.' Or a picture of an eye next to a picture of ice. These two examples demonstrate to the child that they need to use a final F sound and a final S sound for those words respectively in order to be understood.
Speech and Language Therapy: Plymouth
This is a nationwide problem so please don’t feel like you’re alone dealing with this issue. I can also say this with certainty, as a Speech and Language Therapist based in Plymouth, we have never been busier! Covid restrictions have definitely had a detrimental effect on the education and speech development of hundreds of local children and we are seeing the after effect each day as worried parents contact us.
We have found that children make the quickest progress when they have regular and frequent sessions. This is not something schools and the NHS are currently equipped to handle. We work closely with staff in schools and equip you with the skills and resources for daily practise so your child can make quick progress.
I often get videos from proud parents of their children saying words and marking the sounds at the ends of words. What is so fantastic about this is not only the progress that children make in terms of marking the final consonants of words but through the therapy, we increase their sound bank because they are producing words with a range of different sounds at the end.
By supporting children through this process we help them to gain confidence and communicate successfully and this, in turn, supports their engagement with learning and their literacy journey moving forward.
Lisa Taylor Jones is a Plymouth speech and language therapist who loves working with children and helping them to be confident speakers. She is able to offer online sessions to children regardless of where they live and she delivers direct one-to-one sessions. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Step Up Speech and Language webpage and use the contact form.