Speech Development Blog

Speech Disorder or Speech Delay?

What is the Difference Between a Language Disorder and a Language Delay?

speech delayed


When a child doesn’t begin talking by the age of 2, most parents start to worry. Parents and teachers may start to talk about a “language disorder” or “language delay” at this point, but what is the difference between a language disorder and a language delay?

It can be hard for a parent not to worry when a friend’s child has a vocabulary of several different words, and their own child barely says three. While it is hard not to compare your child to others, it is important to remember that every child develops at their own pace.

A language disorder describes children whose speech and language is developing abnormally. This is the most common developmental problem in preschool children.

A language delay describes a child whose speech and language skills are developing in the appropriate order but at a slower rate than normal. A speech problem can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Here is an analogy to help distinguish the difference between a language disorder and  a language delay in a more relatable way to understand:

You hop on a plane from New York to San Francisco. The flight is delayed two hours, so you take off two hours later than expected. Once in the air, the pilot is able to make up some ground thanks to a nice tailwind, and you end up arriving only an hour late instead of two hours late as expected. This is what a language delay is like. Your child might not talk as early as his or her peers, but once they get started, they are quick to make up ground.  By the time he or she is ready for school, you might not even be able to tell there was ever a problem.

Now, imagine that your flight is delayed two hours. You sit on the runway and then have to wait another hour or so because the pilot missed his turn to take off. Then, while in flight, the plane hits some turbulence from a bad storm and has to slow down and climb several thousand feet to avoid it. Then, because of the bad storm, the plane has to make a wide detour around the thunderstorm. Then, problems with the engine arise, and the plane has to make an emergency landing in Denver. This is what a language disorder is like. The child often does not start talking until several months after his or her peers, and the language does not follow the normal course of development. The child will often be able to "catch up" with his or her peers and understand/use language appropriately after a period of speech therapy.

SpeechTails can help you take the first step in determining if your child may have an articulation delay. Take the free online assessment, and the resulting report will provide you with a comparison to their peer group and will help you to see if a speech delay is present or if what you are feeling is nothing to worry about.  If a speech problem is suspected, the report provides concrete actions that you can take to help your child, including how to find a licensed speech pathologist in your area.     

Topics: speech evaluation, speech development, assessing speech therapy, language disorders, speech therapy, speech disorders, speech delays, childrens speech development