Could a Speech Problem Be a Sign of Something More?

"My son has problems speaking; could it be serious?"
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Q. "I have a 3-year-old son who has problems talking. When he tries to talk, it comes out like mumbling. We can understand some of the things he says, but not everything. I have tried to teach him his ABCs and numbers, and he can say some but has difficulty with certain letters and numbers. We have been working with him on these for a year, but he still has difficulty repeating them after me. He even has trouble remembering his own name. Are my expectations too high or is it normal for him to have some difficulty at this age? Could these problems be a sign of a learning disability?"

A. There's no need to speculate further. Call the public school near your home and request testing by a speech therapist. It's better to find the help your son needs now rather than waiting until kindergarten. He may qualify for a special language preschool where teachers give children specific tasks to address their language development needs. Sometimes language delays indicate other developmental problems. But again, one can only speculate. It's time for professionals to test him and find a classroom environment and/or therapy that will address his specific language delays or disability. On the other hand, the therapist might simply say that he's fine and will outgrow his current problems naturally. She might reassure you that he's right on target for language development for his chronological age. If he does qualify for a language preschool, ultimately you'll feel more relaxed when you place him in the hands of a therapist or teacher who will work with him while he's having a good time at preschool. Then when he's home with you, you'll be able to enjoy him more because you'll know his verbal skills are being addressed elsewhere.

What You Can Do at Home

While it's admirable to attempt teaching your son numbers and letters, it's probably better for you to do nothing more than be a good model for language. As you go about your daily tasks, describe what you are doing. Also use clear speech to describe what your son does, what others are doing, and what's going on in your son's immediate environment. When your son speaks, respond. Answer his questions, offer more information, and ask him questions. If his words are muddled, but you can decipher what he's attempting to say, repeat his words back to him in a clear, audible fashion. He'll naturally work to correct his speech in a way and timeframe that's right for him. I can give an example of one boy who, at age 3, was only making one-word utterances: ball, boy, and bottle, to name a few. After attending a special language preschool for six months, he was saying, "Throw the ball to me." "I'm a boy." "Give the baby his bottle." It was miraculous. There's probably always a little fear about having a child tested, as sometimes the unknown might feel better than the known. However, as an intelligent parent with your child's best interests in mind, it's far better to find out what's going on with your son's language development and address any concerns now.


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