Speech Delay: What to look out for?

Speech delay is a really common feature of childhood development but can be concerning for parents when their child is finding it difficult to be understood. Sometimes knowing what is typical for a child’s age and stage can be hugely helpful in reducing worry and providing reassurance and guidance on when it is time to seek help from a speech and language therapist.

Speech Delay vs. Expressive Language Delay?

Children who present with a speech delay have difficulty with the pronunciation of certain sounds. Often times for parents there can be a bit of confusion between a speech delay and language delay (understandably!). They are in fact though very different things. A child who is slow to talk, not saying many words or is behind their peers in putting together sentences and expressing themselves with language is generally considered to have an expressive language delay. A speech delay, on the other hand, is where a child may have lots of language and lots to say but the sounds aren’t always very clear and it can sometimes be difficult to interpret what they are trying to say because the sounds in their words are missing or mixed up. Just to confuse things children can sometimes present with both a speech and language delay where both sets of skills are affected.

When it comes to a speech delay, sometimes the issue can resolve by itself when the child is given time. The sounds start to emerge and no speech and language therapy intervention is needed. Figuring out what’s age-appropriate and when to make contact with a speech and language therapist can be hard, so I’ve put together a table of developmental speech norms below. This table will tell you what age certain errors or patterns are appropriate until and when you may need to look for help for your child.

Developmental Speech Sound Errors

PROCESSES Example Refer after this age:
Final Consonant Deletion Leaving off the final sound in words

(be for bed or du for duck)

Voicing Using b for p (bark for park), d for t (dap for tap) and g for k (goat for coat) 3;0
Stopping Using d for s (doap for soap, dun for sun), p/b for v/f.(ban for van, bish for fish). 3;6
Fronting Velars

i.e. K & G

Sounds at back of mouth being made at the front of child’s mouth. E.g. t for k (tar for car), and d for g ( dirl for girl) 4;0
  /sh/ s for sh (sop for shop) 4;0
Cluster reduction 2 consonants Leaving out one consonant in a blend (nake for snake, pun for spoon) 4;0
Deaffrication Difficulty producing ch, & j (tair for chair and dam for jam) 5;0
Gliding /l/ Child makes a /w/ or /y/ sound instead of /l/. (wadder/yadder for ladder). 4;0
  /r/ Child makes a /w/ sound instead of /r/. (wabbit for rabbit) 6;0
Interdental /s/ (lisp) When child’s tongue protrudes (sticks out) through teeth when making /s/ sound. (thun for sun) 6;0
Lateral /s/ Air escapes through sides of tongue resulting in a ‘slushy’ /s/ sound. 6;0

Atypical Processes:

Children under 3 years should only really need be referred to speech and language therapy for speech sound problems* when:

(i) Their speech is totally unclear to even familiar listeners (such as family)

(ii) They are using any of the following atypical processes.


Backing: When sounds usually made at the front of your mouth are made at the back.

e.g.: till = kill, tap = cap, sun = gun, door = goor


Initial Consonant Deletion: Dropping the first sound of a word

e.g.: Bill = ill, pan = an, sun = un

Sound preference: child substitutes almost all sounds with 1 preferred sound. E.g. /d/

Local Dialectal Exceptions:

These are the exceptions to the above rules in which children can omit sounds however it is typical of other native speakers where they live. Like the lack of ‘t’ at the ends of words if you’re living in inner-city Dublin!

Use of /t/ instead of /th/ e.g. Tank You
Dropping /t/ at ends of words  e.g. Grea-
Medial Consonant Deletion, e.g.: butter = bu-er
If you are concerned about your child’s speech, click here for some advice on what you can do to help.

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