Speech & Language Difficulties



Impact of Prematurity on Language Skills at School Age
Jamie Mahurin Smith; Laura Segebart DeThorne; Jessica A. R. Logan; Ron W. Channell; Stephen A. Petrill.

These findings suggest that in the absence of frank neurological impairment, sophisticated semantic and syntactic skills may be relatively intact in the discourse-level language of children born prematurely. Implications for assessment, particularly the potential role of attention and executive function in standardized testing tasks, are reviewed.
CLICK HERE to read article.


The term speech disorder refers to difficulty with how you perceive and how speech sounds are produced.

Speech sound disorders may include:

  • articulation disorder: challenges saying individual sounds, such as a lisp,
  • phonological disorder: challenges understanding which sounds go where in your language, eg. sometimes omitting or swapping sounds around, such as beges for veges, twain for train, do for dog, etc
  • dysarthria: a problem with the neuromuscular movements for speech like that seen in cerebral palsy, eg. where children may have less accuracy of speech and slower speech rate
  • childhood apraxia of speech: a problem with accurately and automatically sequencing sounds for speech, with very poor speech clarity or ability to be understood

Language disorders, by contrast, are problems with either understanding or expressing thoughts and ideas, such as having a restricted vocabulary or not being able to form accurate sentences.

Receptive language impairment: difficulty understanding what others are saying.

Expressive language impairment: difficulty expressing thoughts and ideas.

Mixed receptive-expressive language impairment: difficulty understanding and using spoken language.

Beyond school readiness: 7 signs that your kindergarten, year 1 or year 2 child may have a speech or language delay 
29 March 2014 by David Kinnane

There are some fantastic school readiness checklists and speech-language programs out there to help you help your child develop the language skills necessary for his or her first day at big school. But what signs of speech and language delay should you look out for after your child has started school?

Of course, disclaimer alert, children don’t develop in exactly the same way according to a pre-programmed formula (if only). But here are some fairly straightforward things you can listen out for that signal there might be an issue worth looking into:

  • If your child is 3 years of age and cannot be understood by others, then there may be some speech difficulties present that are not part of typical speech development. Most children have some speech errors at around 3 years of age, but these are generally typical developmental errors that can be easily understood or interpreted. If your child cannot be understood, then they may have a speech disorder and it would be helpful to see a speech pathologist (Reilly et al., 2015, British Medical Journal).
  • Your child doesn’t use correct plurals for common nouns.  He/she says dog for dogs, bus for buses, mans for men, child’s for children, and sheeps for sheep. Don’t worry about fish/es; a controversial topic at the best of times!
  • Your child doesn’t have a good handle on the past tense of common irregular verbs, e.g. if he/she says words like “goed” and “holded” and “broked” and “flied” and “falled”. Although this is a common stage of language development called “overgeneralisation” - the subject of a separate article here– most children have “went”, “held” and “broke”, and “flew” and “fell” down by school.
  • Your child can not rhyme words, count syllables, identify words that begin with the same sound or link sounds to letters of the alphabet. This may indicate a problem with phonological awareness, which is strongly related to later reading development.
  • Your child can not give or follow two-step instructions, e.g. “Put on your shoes after you pack your lunchbox”. This may indicate your child is not processing sentences with complex syntax or applying rules of thumb, like watching what others do or doing things in the order they are said. Of course, it may also indicate your child is ignoring you and testing your patience/limits (something that happens to me with increasing frequency).
  • Your child can not sort common words by opposites or category.  For example, knowing black/white, big/small, up/down, over/under, heavy/light are related words; or that chickens, horses, cows, goats, sheep and ducks are all farm animals, while cars, motorbikes, jets, boats and trains are all forms of transport.
  • Your child can not sit and listen quietly to others. There are a number of possible explanations for this, including possible attention issues or simply, dare I say it, old-fashioned naughtiness. But it may also signal that your child has problems understanding what others are saying, causing frustration to both listener and speaker.
  • Your child can not re-tell a simple story coherently. As your child goes up the grades at school, he/she will be required to work with what some academic folk call “text types of the narrative genre”, and what almost everyone else calls “stories”. This one is easy to check; simply read your child an age-appropriate bedtime story, then ask him/her to tell it back to you. Does the story make sense?  Did your child cover the start, middle, high point and end? Did your child identify the main and supporting characters? Did he/she speak in full, grammatically correct sentences with lots of description and appropriate emotion in his/her voice?

If you spot one or more of these potential issues, DON’T PANIC! It doesn’t necessarily mean your child has language delay. If there is an issue, there is a good chance your child’s teacher has spotted it and is working on it with specialist teachers at the school. But if you are worried - particularly if your child ticks more than 3 boxes above, or you have a family history of language problems - don’t hesitate to contact a qualified speech-language pathologist who can assess each of the above language skills (and more) with a comprehensive diagnostic assessment.


Here are some empowering ways to help support your child’s learning while challenged by delays in language:

  • Create a positive study environment
  • Parents can always ask teachers to provide information and ideas about how to best assist with homework and other curriculum-related activities.
  • Encourage reading at home by creating a custom reading list based on the child’s personality, interests, and level.
  • Set up clear homework policies.
  • Parents can stick to a study routine and set up a homework-friendly area where distractions are kept to a minimum.
  • Volunteering can help families feel as though this is a team effort in their child education especially when there are special needs.
  • Parents can feel empowered by creating a parent-teacher group. This will promote open communication and understanding between parents and school staff. Ask the group for their feedback about classroom activities, school programs, field trips, and events.

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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].