Language delay has a neurophysiological cause; the hereditary aspect plays a major role and difficulties are present from birth.

If you are a parent or with children, you may have heard about language delay. Or perhaps you have a child with a language delay in your life? This developmental problem is characterized by slower language development compared to other children of the same age, between 2 and 5 years of age.

It is one of the most common developmental problems in children, and boys are the most affected.

What are the manifestations of language delay?

Language is similar to that of a younger child and can affect sentence formulation, vocabulary acquisition, pronunciation of certain sounds or verbal understanding of instructions, questions, words or concepts. For example, a child may be delayed in saying several common words (e.g., mom, dad) and communicate more through gestures.

Understanding is often better than expression. Also, the evolution of language is slow, but normal at the different stages of development, without major disturbances in the organization of language. The child has difficulty being understood, which sometimes leads to frustration and anger.

What is the difference between a delay and a language disorder?

Primary language impairment or dysphasia, unlike language delay, persists in children beyond the age of 5 years, and therefore lasts a lifetime. It affects the development of more than one component of language in a variable and heterogeneous way: comprehension, sounds, sentences, vocabulary, etc.

The child may have difficulty making himself understood by those around him, understanding instructions, questions, words or concepts (especially spatio-temporal concepts), memorizing sounds and words, formulating grammatically appropriate sentences (e. g. telegraphic style, omission of grammatical words), naming objects, etc.

Unlike language delay, dysphasia often coexists with other disabilities and persists over time despite the intervention, although significant progress can be made with the support of a speech-language pathologist.

Language development in the context of dysphasia is atypical, in that it is not similar to that of a younger child.

Before concluding that a dysphasia is present, the child must be at least 4 years old, and the speech-language pathologist ensures through additional assessments that the disorder is primary, i.e., it does not result from a concurrent condition or other deficit (e.g., sensory deficit, intellectual disability).

Also, the speech-language pathologist must note that the difficulties remain despite the intervention.

Early assessment in speech therapy and monitoring of language development are essential elements for the diagnosis of dysphasia and its differential diagnosis with language delay.

At what age should you start worrying?

It is important to be aware of some signs that your child may need professional help. The key steps to be monitored depend on the age of the child. Even in infancy, it can be observed whether the precursors to language development develop normally. For example:

  • At 6 months, baby makes sounds, reacts to environmental noises and voice, and looks at the person speaking
  • At 18 months, the child expresses between 20 and 50 words, understands simple little instructions (e.g.: Go get your coat), and repeats words.
  • At 24 months, the child makes sentences of at least 2 words, says at least 100 words, likes to listen to short stories and songs
  • At 30 months, he says sentences of 3 words, answers simple questions well (who? what? where?) and uses grammatical words (me, one, one, one, etc.).

What are the causes of language delay? Is it the family environment or is it genetic?

Language delay has a neurophysiological cause; the hereditary aspect plays a major role and difficulties are present from birth.

There are some risk factors: complications during pregnancy or childbirth, smoking, drug or alcohol use, premature birth, family history, etc. However, it is important to know that the environment is not the cause, unless the child has been under-stimulated by being cut off from social interactions.

When we think that our child has a language delay, what do we do?

It is important to discuss this with the doctor and to consult in speech therapy. To consult a speech-language pathologist in the private sector, no medical prescription is required, but it is necessary to consult in the public health system (CLSC, hospital).

The speech-language pathologist will conduct an assessment, which will allow him or her to determine the objectives to be targeted to improve the child’s language skills, and provide follow-up. The duration of follow-up varies from one child to another depending on the severity of the language impairment, ranging from a few weeks to a few months or even years.

In all cases, parents are highly involved, as the speech and language therapist teaches them language stimulation strategies to be integrated into everyday life. They are not responsible for their child’s language delay, but they can put into action strategies, tips and tricks to help their child.

In therapy, intervention methods focus on play, an essential element for the child’s intellectual, emotional and social development. Play increases motivation and desire to learn, develops creativity and problem-solving skills. It is essential to promote learning by doing!

Following meetings with a speech therapist, is the prognosis good?

Early intervention is essential to improve prognosis. The latter is favourable in the case of language delay, since the gap between the child and his or her peers will generally be caught up before school entry. School learning remains to be monitored.

In the case of a language disorder, it will remain for life, but the individual can improve considerably with follow-up in speech therapy. Some children may be enrolled in a regular class, and others in a language class (small class with adapted pedagogy).

Parents, family members and relatives are allies of therapy. When they reinvest the objectives pursued in therapy at home, learning becomes more widespread more quickly. Success is based on regular practice. The collaboration of family and friends is essential to the success of the therapy to translate the knowledge into everyday life.