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The number of cases of children who speak late appears to be on the rise. This increase is parallel to the increasing incidence of chronic ear infections, which can affect hearing and, in turn, contribute to speech delays. As more children spend time in child care settings, pediatricians say, they are exposed to playmate diseases that could lead to more hearing problems.

Chronic ear infections can negatively affect early learning experiences, especially if other risk factors are present. Preschool years are a critical period for the development of speech and language.

Although many children appear to be genetically predisposed to developing speech later than others, environmental factors may also play a role in children who speak late. For example, it is being investigated whether exposure to substances such as mercury could cause neurological damage, which in turn could affect speech and language.

What to Expect

Although children develop language skills at different speeds, it is important that their progress is steady and reach certain milestones within the accepted deadlines. Here are some indicators of what is normal and what should generate restlessness:

  • Most babies begin to lull and babble in the first year of life. They should be babbling all the sounds of consonants, but if they are limited in this regard, it may be a warning sign.
  • Babies should begin to mimic the sounds that their parents say. When mom or dad says “mom” or “dad” and the baby does not imitate it, that’s a warning sign.
  • Do not worry too much if a small child does not clearly say the sounds “l”, “r” and “s”. The ability to form these particular sounds tends to develop over time, although it may not be until the age of 7 years in some children.

In general, speech and language therapy is not necessary, although there may be an exception if these sounds are in the child’s name. These children may become cohibid, may be reluctant to say their name, and may retire socially.