You asked

I am worried that my child may have a speech problem. What should I look for?

It’s perfectly normal for your child to have some difficulty mastering some of the intricacies of speech. Children also develop at different paces, and while some three year olds can use 500 words, and some four year olds have mastered around 1500, there’s no hard and fast rule. Likewise, many preschoolers this age can speak in sentences of up to eight words, and can ask, and answer, complex questions. For the most part, as long as your child’s speech is clear, and she can make herself understood to most people, there shouldn’t be a problem.

If you are worried that your child may have a speech problem, and you aren’t sure, here are a few of the more common troubles many children experience:

Lisping. Many preschoolers lisp – they confuse the ‘s’ sound, and replace it with a ‘th’ sound. Instead of saying ‘sister’ your child will say ‘thithter’. This is actually quite normal, and most children outgrow it spontaneously by the time they are around seven years old.

Your child may also mispronounce words, or even substitute one consonant for another. This is also fine, as is being unable to make certain sounds, like ‘g’ and ‘k’.

These sounds are made at the back of the throat, and it takes time for children to learn them, as they can’t see how they are formed.

Stuttering is another common speech problem that most children experience – it’s usually just a sign that your preschooler’s brain is working a little too fast for his or her linguistic ability to keep up with.

Problems with the flow of words is another common one at this age, and it’s not unheard of for children to have disjointed, laboured language.

One problem that you do want to pay attention to is apraxia. This is a condition where your child has trouble imitating sounds, they can’t co-ordinate their lips, tongue and jaw, they may make sound errors or they may have trouble with pitch, tone or volume. This particular speech problem needs to be assessed and treated by a professional, so if you suspect that your child is suffering from it, you may want to seek the help of a speech therapist.

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