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When Should My Child Start Speech Therapy?

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

When should my child start speech therapy? This is a common question for parents who are wondering if their child needs speech therapy services. The answer is... it is never too early! If you think your child is behind in his or her speech/language development, it is important to talk with your pediatrician or reach out to a speech-language pathologist as soon as possible. These certified professionals will be able to help you decide if a comprehensive speech/language evaluation is needed.

Research suggests 70-80% of toddlers with speech difficulties will outgrow a language delay if it is strictly an expressive delay (have difficulty expressing themselves in some way). That means 20-30% of children will not catch up to their peers. It is important to know that when children have difficulty with their language skills, they are at risk for persistent struggles with reading and writing when they reach elementary school age. The more help your child receives early on, the more likely he or she is to benefit from therapy and overcome any speech and language delays.

If your child shows these red flags, or you are concerned about other aspects of your child’s speech and language development, contact a speech-language pathologist.

1 year of age:

  • No reaction to sound

  • No babbling

  • Limited imitation skills

  • Limited use of gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye

2 years of age:

  • Minimal attempts to communicate with gestures or words

  • No first words

  • Difficulty following simple directions

  • Inconsistent response to “no”

3 years of age:

  • Limited use of speech

  • Speech is not understandable to parents

  • Limited understanding of simple questions

  • Difficulty naming objects or pictures

  • Produces at most 2-word phrases

  • Frustration related to communication

4 years of age:

  • Produces at most 3-word phrases

  • Speech is mostly not understandable to parents

  • Limited turn-taking in conversations

  • Takes a long time to understand what is being said

  • Difficulty asking questions

  • Difficulty finding words to express thoughts

5 years of age:

  • Speaks only in simple sentences

  • Speech not understandable to teachers

  • Difficulty answering questions

  • Difficulty with complex directions

  • Difficulty telling stories

  • Difficulty with peer interactions

School age:

  • Difficulty with reading, writing, or math

  • Difficulty following complex directions

  • Does not produce complex sentences

  • Produces sentences with grammar errors

  • Difficulty repeating sentences

  • Limited vocabulary compared to peers

  • Produces speech with sound errors

  • Difficulty with social interactions

It is important to remember that not every child is the same. Children reach milestones at different ages. If you have concerns about your child's speech and language development, contact your child's pediatrician or reach out to a speech-language pathologist.


Adaptation of: Visser-Bochane, M. I., Gerrits, E., Schans, C. P., Reijneveld, S. A., & Luinge, M. R. (2016). Atypical speech and language development: A consensus study on clinical signs in the Netherlands. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 52(1), 10-20. doi:10.1111/1460-6984.12251


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