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How To Diagnose Problems In Child Language Development

Problems in child language development occur when there is a lack of communication between you and your child. This leads to misunderstandings and may affect your child.

Problems in child language development

Your child is unique in that he communicates with words, with gestures and with body language.

Communicating with your child allows social and emotional relationship to flourish.

Problems in child language development can arise at any stage during the development of your child as much as later in life.

They can be the result of a congenital defect, a developmental disorder, or an injury.

If you suspect problems in your child's speech and language development, you should consult a speech therapist who can diagnose and treat communication disorders.

How Are Problems in Child Language
Development Diagnosed?

When your child starts kindergarten he will be screened to determine if he has problems with his speech. Screening is an informal interview between a Speech Therapist and your child.

Your child may be asked to give his name, count, pronounce the names of pictured objects, and answer open-ended questions. The purpose of these tasks is to elicit a brief language sample from your child which the Speech Therapist will use to evaluate articulation, fluency, and other aspects of his speech. Screenings usually last about five minutes.

After a screening is done, an individual diagnosis must be made. This involves a one-on-one evaluation which may last two hours or more. If your child has been referred for testing, either by a doctor, teacher, or other professional, the screening process is skipped and testing starts here.

This session allows the Speech Therapist to gather information that will help in the diagnosis of a speech or language problem, as well as provide insight to possible causes, goals and objectives for therapy, and which techniques will work best for your child.

Individual evaluations often include the following components:

  • A hearing test
  • Tests of expressive language and spontaneous speech
  • Tests of articulation of speech sounds in words and sentences as well as alone
  • A measure of your child’s ability to hear the difference between correct speech sounds and the sounds he is producing
  • Evaluations of fluency and voice.

After this evaluation, the Speech Therapist will review the results and information gathered and determine whether your child would benefit from speech therapy.

Goals and objectives of therapy are outlined and a specific treatment plan is created, drawing on the strengths and weaknesses and unique situation of your child.

Common Problems in Child Language Development

Problems in child language development are often related to congenital disabilities or neurological or physiological results of childhood illness. These seemingly unrelated problems can have a serious impact on speech and language development in your child.

Autistic children tend to have difficulty communicating and expressing their emotions or desires. Sometimes this is due to specific problems with articulation or semantics, but often it is an issue of neurological development directly related to autism.

Brain injuries, tumours, or seizures in your child can also cause problems in child language development. Children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) commonly have learning difficulties which also affect their language development.

Emotional disturbances early in childhood can also have an impact on the growth of basic communicative skills. Perhaps more obvious are the developmental and communicative consequences of childhood hearing loss.

Problems in Child Language Development Commonly Diagnosed in Children

Specific Language Impairment Problems in Child Language Development

Your child’s language skills grow much more slowly than those of typically-developing children. While other children are speaking in complete sentences, using conjugated verb forms, your child's speech sounds telegraphic - lacking grammatical and functional morphemes (e.g., 'She go store' rather than 'She goes to the store')

His vocabulary remains relatively small while other children are adding new words every day. He often produces short sentences in order to avoid embarrassment and may have problems understanding complex or figurative structures (such as metaphors or multi-clausal sentences).

Problems in child language development due to SLI (specific language impairment) can also lead to learning disabilities as your child fails to understand information being presented in science, languages, arts, or math classes.

Articulation Disorder Problems in Child Language Development

An articulation disorder may be diagnosed when your child has difficulty producing phonemes, or speech sounds, correctly. This may be referred to as lisping, and the phonemes that present the greatest challenge for your child include /l/ as in pull, /r/ as in mirror, /sh/ as in shut, /ch/ as in church, /dj/ as in fudge, /z/ as in zoo, /zj/ as in measure, and /th/ as in math or this.

Different types of articulation disorder problems in child language development include:


Certain sounds are deleted, often at the ends of words; entire syllables or classes of sounds may be deleted; e.g. 'fi' for fish


One sound is substituted for another, often with similar places or manners or articulation; e.g. 'fith' for fish


Sounds are changed slightly by what may seem like the addition of noise, or a change in voicing; e.g. 'filsh’ for fish


An extra sound is added to one already pronounced correctly; often occurs at the ends of words; may include changes in voicing; e.g. 'fisha' for fish.

Voice Disorder Problems in Child Language Development

Your child may experience problems with his voice due to misuse or abnormalities in the vocal mechanisms. There are two types of voice disorders: those of phonation, and those of resonance.

Both types can be the result of either abuse or physical structure. Voice disorders are among the most successfully treated speech and language problems because they can be solved with surgery or reconditioning of the voice.

A phonation disorder is a problem with pitch, loudness, or intensity that originates in the vocal folds of the larynx. Phonation disorders may be functional, caused by continuous yelling or throat clearing, or speaking at an abnormally low frequency or pitch.

The results may be an increased size or thickening of the vocal folds.

In these cases, the treatment involves resting the voice and learning to speak at optimal pitches and volumes. Phonation disorders may also be organic, due to viral growths, cancer, paralysis of laryngeal nerves, surgical intubation, or external traumas such as being hit in the throat with a baseball.

These problems may require surgical removal of growths or reconstruction of the larynx, accompanied by voice therapy.

A resonance disorder occurs when any part of the vocal tract is altered or dysfunctional.

In the case of an oral resonance disorder, the tongue sits too high in the front or back of the mouth. When the tongue is too far forward in the mouth, a type of 'baby voice' occurs, and a lisp may also result.

Fluency Disorder Problems in Child Language Development

As your child's language and vocabulary grows, he may struggle while trying to locate a particular word or sound. Normal dysfluency occurs in your developing child as a repetition of whole words or phrases while he searches for a particular thought or word.

Around age three-and-a-half, he may compulsively repeat words or phrases. This tends to fade by the time he is five. Stuttering, in contrast, results in repeated or prolonged speech sounds or syllables. Often, involuntary blocks in fluency will be accompanied by muscle tension due to frustration.

The mouth may tighten up or the eyes may blink rapidly. He may become so embarrassed by stuttering that he reduces his speech to a minimum, talking as little as possible to avoid the struggle. This may have serious academic and social implications.

What Can You Do To Help?

Tailor games and activities to your child's problem areas. For example, a game board might have pictures of familiar items along a path. All of the items will have the target sound at the beginning of the word, in the middle, or at the end.

A board for the 's' sound may have images of socks, a whistle, glasses, scissors, or a horse. When your child rolls a dice and he lands on a particular picture, he has to pronounce the word correctly, focusing on the target sound.

This game can be reproduced using pictures with /f/ sounds or /th/ sounds, etc. Games keep your child's energy and interest levels high. He will enjoy the friendly competition and small-scale social interaction.

Record your child's speech and play back to him so that he can hear what he is saying. Often, your child may think that he is producing sounds the same as everyone else. When he hears his voice from the tape player, it helps him realize what he is doing wrong.

If your child is having a difficult time producing a particular sound, you may remind him of the oral cues that go along with the sound. Here are some common cues:

  • for /th/, stick out the tongue and blow air through the mouth
  • for /f/, bite the lower lip and push the air through the teeth
  • for /r/, raise the back of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, or pretend the back of the tongue is an elevator and there is a little man on it who wants to ride to the top.
Click here to learn more about how to teach your child to read in 12 weeks and overcome language problems.

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