A friend mentioned the other day that she was going to have her 2 1/2 year old’s speech tested, which completely surprised me because her son has always been way ahead of Alex when it comes to speaking – he could form complete sentences by the time he turned 2! But then my friend explained that she thinks her son’s speech isn’t as clear as it should be – possibly due to having a daycare teacher with a heavy accent for the last year, continued pacifier use, or perhaps some other reason.
It turns out her concerns are valid. According to an article in the August issue of American Baby, articulation disorders are real. A child may leave out a sound (such as the last vowel sound in a word – “ca” instead of “cat”), substitute sounds, distort sounds (my friend’s son seems to be saying “buth” instead of “bus”), add extra syllables, or have difficulty with consonant blends. One potential cause is “weak oral muscles,” which can cause a child to have trouble placing his lips, teeth or tongue in the proper position to produce certain sounds. A friend’s daughter needed speech therapy because her constant ear infections impeded her ability to hear and therefore to learn the correct sounds. While it’s normal for toddlers to have trouble speaking clearly, it’s good to be aware of any potential problems as early as possible.
What can you do if you suspect trouble? The best place to start, as usual, is with your child’s pediatrician, who can refer you to an audiologist to check your child’s hearing, and to a speech-language pathologist (you can also check the following web sites for referrals: American Academy of Audiology, Academy of Doctors of Audiology, and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). You may also be able to get free assistance through your local school district’s early intervention program – I believe this is not limited to school-age children, since a family friend’s three-year-old son is currently receiving speech therapy for some articulation problems.