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Not to be confused with Speech delay

Language delay is one of the language disorders in which the child fails to develop language abilities on the usual age-appropriate for their developmental timetable. It is most common during the ages of 2 to 7 years and can sometimes continue into late childhood. Language delay is distinct from speech delay, in which the development of the mechanical and motor aspects of speech production is delayed.

Communication is a two-stage process. The first stage is to encode the message into a set of words (or signs in the case of Sign Languages) and sentence structures that convey the required meaning, i.e. into language. In the second stage, language is translated into motor commands that control the articulators (hands, face, body, lungs, vocal cords, mouth, tongue, teeth, etc.), thereby creating language.

Because language and speech are independent, they may be individually delayed. For example, a child may be delayed in speech (i.e., unable to produce intelligible speech sounds), but not delayed in language because they use a Sign Language or other means of communication.

Language delay is commonly divided into receptive and expressive categories. Receptive language refers to the process of understanding language. Expressive language refers to the use of sentences (made of words or signs) to communicate messages to others. Both categories are essential to effective communication.



It is most commonly identified around 18 month of age with an enhanced well baby visit.[1]

Early signs and symptoms (red flags)Edit

Language delay could be suspected by a lack of communication gestures or sounds in the early stages as early as three months old. As some examples, not smiling at three months old, not turning the head towards sounds at four months old, not pointing at 15 months old can raise suspicion. However, red flags might include four months age for not smiling, 18 months for not pointing or not speaking at least 10 words.[2][3][4][5]


Language delay is a risk factor for other types of developmental delay, including social, emotional, and cognitive delay. Even though speech and language delays may affect a smaller portion of the population in children, it still can have an incredible impact on their life and their accomplishments in the future. Some of these include problems with behavior, difficulty with reading, and other issues related to spelling and low IQ scores.[6] Some children may grow out of these deficits, even coming to excel where they once lagged, while others do not. One particularly common result of language delay is delayed or inadequate acquisition of reading skills. Reading depends upon an ability to code and decode script (i.e., match speech sounds with symbols, and vice versa). If a child is still struggling to master language and speech, it is very difficult to learn another level of complexity (writing). Thus, it is crucial that children have facility with language to be successful readers.

Neuroscientist Steven Pinker postulates that a certain form of language delay may be associated with exceptional and innate analytical prowess in some individuals, such as Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and Edward Teller.[7]


Language delays are the most frequent developmental delays, and can occur for many reasons. A delay can be due to being a “late bloomer”, “late talker”, or a more serious problem. The most common causes of speech delay include

Such delays can occur in conjunction with a lack of mirroring of facial responses, unresponsiveness or unawareness of certain noises, a lack of interest in playing with other children or toys, or no pain response to stimuli.[8][9]

Other causes include:

  • Psychosocial deprivation - The child doesn't spend enough time communicating with adults, such as babbling and joint attention. Research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills.[10]
  • Television viewing is associated with delayed language development. Children who watched television alone were 8.47 times more likely to have language delay when compared to children who interacted with their caregivers during television viewing.[11] Some educational television shows, such as Blue's Clues, have been found to enhance a child's language development.[12] But, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of 2 should watch no television at all, and after age 2 watch no more than one to two hours of quality programming a day. Therefore, exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged, especially television shows with no educational value.[13] Parents should engage children in more conversational activities to avoid television-related delays to their children language development, which could impair their intellectual performance. However, in a study conducted by Dr. Birken of the Hospital for Sick Children, it was found that watching television while interacting with a parent of caregiver is actually beneficial for children who are bilingual. The study spanned four years, from 2011 to 2015, and was based on parent report and clinician observation. Over the four years it was found that if a bilingual child had interaction with an adult while watching television they did not suffer language delay and it in fact helped them develop English, their second language.[14]
  • Gender and how each gender uses technology can also impact a child's language development. The use of handheld electronics in addition to television differs between boys and girls. A survey done in 2014 in the UK by Ofcom showed that 21% of girls ages 3–4 used handheld electronics whereas 30% of boys ages 3–4 used handheld electronics. From this study, the results show that gender provides a gap between the usage of electronics when comparing boys and girls, even though they are the same age.[15]
  • Stress during pregnancy is associated with language delay.[16]
  • Being a twin or a younger sibling increases the chance of speech and language delays. Reasons for this are thought to include less one-on-one time with parents, premature birth with twins, and the companionship of their twin sibling reducing their motivation to talk to others.[17] With being a younger sibling, it can also be linked to less one on one time with their parents or guardians. Older siblings also tend to talk for their younger siblings, giving them less opportunities to grow their language skills.[18]
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder[citation needed]
  • Autism (a developmental disorder) - There is strong evidence that autism is commonly associated with language delay.[19][20] Asperger syndrome, which is on the autistic spectrum, however, is not associated with language delay.[21]
  • Selective mutism (an anxiety disorder that is expressed by loss of speech)
  • Cerebral palsy (a movement disorder caused by brain damage)
  • Genetic abnormalities - In 2005, researchers found a connection between expressive language delay and a genetic abnormality: a duplicate set of the same genes that are missing in sufferers of Williams-Beuren syndrome. Also so called XYY syndrome can often cause speech delay.[22]
  • Correlation with male sex, previous family history, and maternal education has been demonstrated.[23]


Studies have failed to find clear evidence that a language delay can be prevented by training or educating health care professionals in the subject. Overall, some of the reviews show positive results regarding interventions in language delay, but are not curative.[24] To treat an already existing language delay a child would need Speech and Language Therapy to correct any deficits. These therapists can be found in schools, clinics, through home care agencies, and also colleges where Communication Sciences and Disorders are studied. Aside from these, it is still encouraged for the child's parent to get involved. A few ways that a parent could get involved with helping to improve a child’s language and speech skills includes speaking to their child with enthusiasm, engaging in conversations revolving what the child is focusing on, and reading to their child frequently.[25]

Social and play skills appear to be more difficult for children with language delays due to their decreased experience in conversation. Speech Pathologists utilize methods such as prompting to improve a child's social skills through play intervention. While recent studies have consistently found play intervention to be helpful, further research is required in order to determine the effectiveness of this form of therapy.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Gavin Bremner, J.; Wachs, Theodore D. (2011-08-02). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Infant Development, Volume 2: Applied and Policy Issues. ISBN 9781444351842.
  4. ^ Buckley, Sue; Sacks, Ben (2001). An Overview of the Development of Infants with Down Syndrome (0-5 Years). ISBN 9781903806029.
  5. ^ Crocetti, Michael; Barone, Michael A.; Oski, Frank A. (2004). Oski's Essential Pediatrics. ISBN 9780781737708.
  6. ^ "Screening for speech and language delay in preschool children: Recommendation statement". Pediatrics. 117 (2): 497–501. 2006. doi:10.1542/peds.2005-2766.
  7. ^ Pinker, Steven (24 June 1999). "His Brain Measured Up". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 11 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  8. ^ "Language Learning Styles". TLG. August 2013. Archived from the original on 23 August 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  9. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". American Academy of Children & Adolescent Psychiatry. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  10. ^ Committee on Public Education (August 1999). "Media education". Pediatrics. 104 (2 Pt 1): 341–3. doi:10.1542/peds.104.2.341. PMID 10429023.
  11. ^ Chonchaiya, W; Pruksananonda, C (July 2008). "Television viewing associates with delayed language development". Acta Paediatrica. 97 (7): 977–82. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2008.00831.x. PMID 18460044.
  12. ^ Bavelier, Daphne; Green, Shawn; Dye, Matthew (2010). "Children, wired – for better and for worse". Neuron. 67 (5): 692–701. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.035. PMC 3170902. PMID 20826302.
  13. ^ Bavelier, Daphne; Green, Shawn; Dye, Matthew (2010). "Children, wired – for better and for worse". Neuron. 67 (5): 692–701. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.035. PMC 3170902. PMID 20826302.
  14. ^ Akpan, N. "Toddler's Screen Time Linked to Slower Speech Development". PBS. PBS. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  15. ^ Kucirkova, Natalia; Littleton, Karen; Kyparissiadis, Antonios (2017-01-03). "The influence of children's gender and age on children's use of digital media at home" (PDF). British Journal of Educational Technology. 49 (3): 545–559. doi:10.1111/bjet.12543. ISSN 0007-1013.
  16. ^ Talge, NM; Neal, C; Glover, V (2007). "Antenatal maternal stress and long-term effects on child neurodevelopment: how and why?". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 48 (3–4): 245–61. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01714.x. PMID 17355398.
  17. ^ "Do Twins Talk to Each Other in a Secret Language?". Twin Pickle. 2017-11-07. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  18. ^ Turnbull, Khara; Justice, Laura (2017). Language Development from Theory to Practice (Third ed.). Pearson.
  19. ^ Miniscalco, C; Nygren, G; Hagberg, B; Kadesjö, B; Gillberg, C (May 2006). "Neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental outcome of children at age 6 and 7 years who screened positive for language problems at 30 months". Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. 48 (5): 361–6. doi:10.1017/S0012162206000788. PMID 16608544.
  20. ^ Hagberg BS, Miniscalco C, Gillberg C (2010). "Clinic attenders with autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: cognitive profile at school age and its relationship to preschool indicators of language delay". Research in Developmental Disabilities. 31 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2009.07.012. PMID 19713073.
  21. ^ American Psychiatric Association (2000). "Diagnostic criteria for 299.00 Autistic Disorder". Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV (4 ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. ISBN 0-89042-025-4. OCLC 768475353.
  22. ^
  23. ^ Campbell, T F; Dollaghan, C A; Rockette, H E; Paradise, J L; Feldman, H M; Shriberg, L D; Sabo, D L; Kurs-Lasky, M (2002). "Risk factors for speech delay of unknown origin in 3-year-old children" (PDF). Child Development. 74 (2): 346–57. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.7402002. PMID 12705559.
  24. ^ Commentary - Early Identification of Language Delays, 2005.
  25. ^ Klass, Perri (2010). "When to worry if a child has too few words". The Hamilton Spectator. The Hamilton Spectator.
  26. ^ Sualy, Abbey; Yount, Sara; Kelly-Vance, Lisa; Ryalls, Brigette (2011). "Using a play intervention to improve the play skills of children with a language delay". International Journal of Psychology: 105–122 – via PsychINFO.

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