The slow or abnormal development of understanding and expression of language
- Usually develop in early childhood
- Gender, genetics and lifestyle as risk factors depend on the type
There is wide variation in the age at which speech and language skills are acquired, but most children are able to communicate verbally well before the age of 3. Many children have some type of speech and language difficulty in their early years, commonly only a minor impediment, such a lisp, that rapidly improves with increasing maturity.
A common cause of delay in speech and language development is hearing impairment (see Chronic secretory otitis media, and Congenital deafness). Children who have cerebral palsy and those with a cleft lip and palate may have difficulty coordinating the movements of their mouth and tongue. Slowness in acquiring speech and language skills may be due to lack of intellectual stimulation or developmental delay. Severe generalized learning disabilities may cause speech and language difficulties.
Difficulties with fluency of speech, for example stuttering, affect about 3 in 100 children, especially boys, and sometimes run in families.
What might be done?
A speech or language difficulty may first be noticed by parents or teachers or at a routine developmental checkup. A full assessment of the child’s development and hearing will then be made.
A child with a speech or language difficulty usually catches up with his or her peers when given appropriate guidance. Impaired hearing will be treated when possible. Stuttering can often be improved with speech therapy.
Once the underlying cause is treated, most speech and language difficulties improve. However, if there is a physical cause, such as cerebral palsy, the speech or language difficulty may persist.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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