How speech develops
Speech develops gradually. The way that a child says a word naturally changes over time as their speech develops and they manage more complex sounds and words. This means that making errors is a normal part of developing clear speech.

There are approximate milestones for acquiring speech sounds, but children typically vary in their speech development. By the time a child starts school, most of their words are usually clear to others.

What are speech difficulties?
Speech difficulties are a type of speech, language and communication need (SLCN). Many children take longer to develop a range of speech sounds and need some help with their unclear speech. Speech difficulties include:

  • Difficulty with telling the difference between sounds
  • Difficulty with the articulation (making) of sounds
  • Difficulty with combining sounds in words
  • Difficulty saying longer words
  • Difficulty with the rhythm, flow or ‘tune’ of speaking

Taking into account a child’s age, it is important to consider the impact of a child’s speech difficulty on how they talk to others.

Help and support

Talk to our experienced Helpline if you need support and advice about anything to do with your child’s talking difficulties.
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Terms used to describe speech difficulties
A number of terms are used to describe speech difficulties such as developmental speech difficulties, speech sound disorder, and speech delay, and in some cases dyspraxia. The different terms can sometimes be confusing for parents.

Possible causes
Speech difficulties may be associated with a medical diagnosis such as cleft palate, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment or global developmental delay. However many children have speech difficulties without an obvious cause.

Identifying the problem
Identifying a child’s speech needs as early as possible is important. Persisting, unclear speech may affect social confidence and the sound awareness required for the development of reading and spelling skills.

For some children their speech difficulties are temporary and may resolve spontaneously or in response to intervention. For other children their speech difficulties persist or are more severe.

If you have concerns about your child’s speech, seek advice from a qualified speech and language therapist in your local area. Some children only need support with their speech sounds and others need support with their speech and their talking (or language and communication).

A speech and language therapist can assess your child’s particular patterns of difficulty, including the impact of any difficulties, and provide appropriate intervention to match your child’s needs.