7 Ideas for How to Help a Child with Speech Delay

7 Ideas For How to Help a Child with Speech Delay



As speech therapists, we cannot minimize the importance of speech therapy early in a child’s life if delays are observed. What we’ve observed to be even more essential is parental involvement in speech therapy and taking learned strategies from speech therapy to integrate to the home.  Even if a child gets speech therapy a few times per week there are many other hours in the day. And many more opportunities to learn how to help a child with speech delay by creating a language rich environment in the home, so that a child has many opportunities to work on their skills.


RELATED: Does My Child Need Speech Therapy?


A language rich environment is one in which parents create scenarios in which their child has to communicate. It’s important to create this at home since children are more motivated to speak and are better able to adapt their newly gained abilities to other contexts when they learn to interact in their natural surroundings in real-life scenarios with their caregivers.


Before reading on, it is important to note that this article will review how to increase a child’s exposure to vocabulary and grammar that is appropriate for their age. In reality, this is language, NOT speech. Yet, many parents call their child’s language delay a speech delay. Speech is how a child sounds when they talk. Here is an example to differentiate between the two:


  • Speech Delay – a child might say “tat” instead of “cat” when seeing a picture of a cat.
  • Language Delay – a child would see a cat and not know the word “cat” when asked what it is.


Each of the ideas below can be modified depending on a child’s language level. Knowing the strategies in general as to how to help a child with speech delay is what is important. Moreover, parents should know that they do not need anything special (toys or tools) to use these strategies.

RELATED: Parent question: What are Two Year Old Speech Milestones?


7 Ideas for How to Help a Child with Speech Delay


1-  Model the language you want them to use. For example, if  your child comes over to you and lifts up their arms to be picked up, you can say, “Can you pick me up please?” or even just “Up” depending on the child’s current level of communication skills. Add gestures and make good eye contact as well.


2- Narrate Playtime: Parents can talk about what they’re doing and what their child is doing during play. Since children often like to play the same thing over and over again, they will be exposed to the same vocabulary repeatedly.  For example, you can say: “Pick up the red block…. Stack it on top.” Narrate the child’s actions too: “Oops! You knocked it down!”


3-Expectant Pause: Give your child  opportunities to use language by using familiar phrases and letting them “fill in the blank.” For example, while reading a story to your child they are familiar with, read the first part of the sentence and  leave off the last word, pause and look at them.  Wait for several seconds.  If they fill in the blank with the expected word (or even if not!) praise them and keep going. If not, provide the acceptable response (model) and then continue with the story.


4-Give Choices: Even if you know what your child is going to pick for their snack today, give them a choice between two items. For example, “apple or pear?” or make it more complex by saying: “big apple or little apple?” Depending on your child’s language level you can modify this and you can also accept different communication responses depending on the level the child is at. You can accept: eye contact, pointing, reaching, grunting, verbal approximations (e.g., “ah” for “apple”), the word itself and 2 word combinations (e.g., big apple, more apple).


5-Give the Wrong Thing: You can sabotage your child on purpose to create a situation where they need to communicate with you to correct the event or get the right item. For example, you can give your child a hairbrush when they expect the bath towel. If it’s time to eat and they need a spoon, give them their stuffed animal. This is sure to create some laughs. Make sure it does not cause frustration so if you see your child not able to understand what is going on or what they need to do, give a model for the correct response and move on.


6-Piece by Piece: If you are playing blocks or Legos with your child or giving them a snack, don’t give them all of the items of pieces. Provide them with a block one piece at a time, or put an apple slice on their plate one at a time. This creates an opportunity for using language or a communication attempt. Model the expected response if your child does not know what to do. If you’re wondering how to help a child with speech delay, the answer is: practice every day. You can also watch a video model of this here.


7- Read. Often: Studies have shown that young children whose parents read to them multiple times per day, hear a significant amount of books more than kids who were never read to. When you’re reading, ask questions and let them guess words they may have heard before. Children require frequent exposure to vocabulary which is why books can have repeating words and phrases. Here is a post with a list of books that has repeating words and phrases.


Reinforce your child’s speech and language in daily situations. To put it another way, talk through the day. You can name goods at the grocery store, describe what you’re doing when cooking or cleaning, point out things about the house, and talk about sounds you notice while driving. Ask your child questions and acknowledge their replies (even if they are difficult to comprehend). Keep it simple but try not to use “baby talk.”


Identifying and treating issues early on, regardless of your child’s age, is the greatest way to help with speech and language difficulties.  Your child can make progress in their communicating skills with the help of good speech therapy, parental involvement and time.


Therapy Works Together – Online Speech Therapy for Children and Adults


We care about every child and adult achieving their speech, language and communication goals. You can start speech therapy online now with a certified speech language therapist. We’ll discuss your personal needs, develop an individualized treatment plan, and schedule affordable online therapy sessions online at your convenience.

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