Toddler Intellectual Development: "My Child Is Speech-Delayed"

Jan Faull, MEd, answers a parent's question about activities that encourage verbalization.

Helping a Speech-Delayed Child

Q. What are some activities I should be doing with my 2-year-old son who is speech-delayed? He loves to talk, sing, and dance, he just does not like to talk or sing in English.

A. Before embarking on a program to tackle your son's speech delay, call your school district and request screening. Your son may qualify for a special preschool, where skilled professionals can address language concerns. It's much better to find the help your son needs now rather than waiting until kindergarten. If your home is bilingual, it may take him a while to be as fluent in English as he is the other language that he speaks.

That said, there is much you can to do at home:

Read to your son. Don't read the book straight through. Instead, make the reading an interactive triangle between you, the book, and your son. Keep the reading lively; use your imagination to bring the story and characters to life. Give your son time to talk about the pictures he sees on the pages.

Recite nursery rhymes. These rhymes with their repetition and rhythm provide verbal gymnastics that will help your son improve his language skills. "Hey Diddle the Cat and the Fiddle," "Hickory Dickory Dock," and "Humpty Dumpty" are great starters.

Describe your actions. Whether working on your computer, washing the dishes, changing your son's diaper, or giving him a bath, describe to him what you're doing. Use short sentences but don't shorten your vocabulary. The more words your child hears and sees in action, the better.

Describe your son's actions, too. As your son plays with cars and trucks, put language to his activities: "You're moving your truck along the floor. It's going fast." You provide a play-by-play commentary similar to a sports announcer describing a baseball and or basketball game.

Reiterate what your son says. For example, if he points to the family's kitty and says, "Kiy, Kiy," your response could be, "Yes, that's the kitty. Do you think he's hungry?" With this approach he hears the word "kitty" pronounced correctly and is taught that people need to care for their animals.

Singing Songs & Asking Questions

Sing songs with your son. Just about any will do. If you're inclined to buy a CD, look for ones by Ella Jenkins or Raffi. These artists provide simple sing-alongs for the whole family. They use dance, song, and instruments for fun and learning.

Make requests. "Give me the ball." "Find your shoes." "Bring me a book. I'll read it to you." Remember that children's receptive language (what they understand) is far better than their expressive language (what they say). That's why they need to hear and see language in use.

Ask questions. "Where's mommy's purse?" "What's the kitty doing?" If he doesn't respond, provide the answer yourself. He will answer you with time.

Make corrections in context. If your child says, "I have two foots," respond, "Yes, you have two feet." If he says, "I goed to the store," simply say, "Yes, you went to the store." If your child mispronounces a letter such as "L" or "R", there's no need to worry; simply pronounce the work correctly. He'll soon improve.

If English is your son's second language, you'll want to use both languages with him. Although two languages take longer for a child to learn, children benefit from learning both languages simultaneously.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on, March 2007.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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