Dear Ms. Lydia,
I am a first-time mom, and I am worried about my son’s speech development. He is 2 ½ years old and has only a few words. Since he is my only child, I do not have any experience with this and I find myself comparing him to my friend’s children, who are speaking in sentences! Should I be concerned about his lack of language? Do you think he needs speech therapy? He was in preschool three half days a week but since the pandemic started, he has only been at home with my husband and me. It’s starting to really stress me out! I would appreciate any advice you can give!
Alaina C., Spotsylvania
Take a deep breath and try to relax. Children develop at different rates, and it is harmful to compare your child to any other child. Your son is on his own path for achieving all his milestones, speech being an important one. If you have any concerns, your first step should be to contact your pediatrician. He/she will be able to evaluate if you need a speech therapy consultation. It’s important to note, though, that there is a difference between speech development and language development. Speech is the way that we form sounds and words, whereas language is the giving and receiving of information. Understanding which type of deficit you are seeing in your son will help you when you contact your doctor.
There could be many reasons he is not progressing at the rate of some of his peers, which is why it is so important to look at the whole child and all the factors that could be contributing to this perceived delay.
He may be having some language regression since he has been forced to stop preschool and all the valuable socialization and opportunities for language development.
At home, you and your husband are probably working and having limited time with your son.
There may be an increase in screen time and not as much interactive language opportunities. A 2018 study found that increased screen time on mobile devices was associated with language delays in 18-month-olds. Experts agree that interactions with others —not on a screen—is best for language development. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages no more than one hour of screen time per day for kids ages 2 to 5.
Are there two languages spoken in the home? This often leads to a slight delay in language development as the child processes words in both languages.
Has he had frequent ear infections? The fluid in the middle ear when your child has an ear infection causes muffled hearing which can delay speech development.
Is there anything physically preventing him from forming words, i.e., a short frenulum (the fold beneath the tongue) or enlarged adenoids?
Consulting with your pediatrician is always a good idea. If there is a true speech or language delay, meeting with a speech-language pathologist will be helpful and will probably result in reversing any problem that you may have.
Good luck with everything!