When People Think Your Childs Speech Delay Is No Big Deal

This post was originally written a year ago when my son was 3.5 years old and has since been published on The Mighty and The Huffington Post.


Some people seem to think a speech and language delay is no big deal, and the child in question will get there in the end. Admittedly, I used to think the same until it was my child. Now I know better. A speech and language delay can be heartbreaking for the parents and the child.

There are many different language disorders, so I can’t speak for all children or their parents because all children will be affected differently, but I can tell you how it affects my child as well as myself.

We have good and bad days. On the good days, my 3-year-old son, Harry, will use words and gestures to let you know what he wants. If he can’t for any reason, I’m able to remain calm, sympathetic and understanding, but when Harry is having a bad day, he throws the mother of all tantrums multiple times a day. They seem to go on for hours on end. He gets so frustrated that he bangs his head on the hard floor over and over again. Most of the time, I have no idea what the tantrums are about, and he isn’t able tell me. I’m ashamed to admit that when I’m having a bad day, all calm, understanding and sympathy goes completely out the window. So on the really, really bad days, you have one screaming 3-year-old and one screaming 34-year-old acting like a 3-year-old.

Also on the bad days (for reasons unknown to me), Harry may refuse to use the words he has learned and mumbles or makes whiney noises at me, which leaves me feeling frustrated, annoyed and then guilty. Guilty for feeling frustrated and annoyed.

His parrot-like speech and out-of-context sentences he uses over and over can grate on my nerves. And then I feel guilty and ungrateful because I know there are mums out there with completely nonverbal children who would give their right arm to hear them say anything, even if it meant hearing them repeat the same thing again and again.

Sometimes I feel sad for my son who can’t always communicate like a typical 3-year-old can. And sometimes I feel sad for me. This isn’t how I imagined our lives would be. You certainly don’t spend your pregnancy dreaming about visits to the pediatrician and attending speech and language appointments. You don’t expect it will be your child who has additional needs.

A speech and language delay can sometimes affect a child’s overall development because they can’t process what you are saying to them. Sometimes in Harry’s case, it all becomes a bit too much to take in, and he ends up switching off completely.

You hear speech delay and just think that one day soon they will just suddenly start talking. For some children that’s true, but for others, it’s not that simple.

Imagine not being able to tell someone what you want and not being able to get it for yourself, either. Imagine being in pain but not being able to say what hurts so someone can help you to feel better. Imagine feeling scared or angry or sad and not being able to talk through your worries with the people you love. Imagine being hungry or thirsty but not being able to ask for food or drink.

Although Harry can now say “drink,” “dinner” and “snack,” sometimes he prefers to just throw an almighty tantrum instead, and I’m supposed to guess what he wants.

There are the toddler groups we attend where he gets so hyper because he doesn’t know how to communicate properly with the other children. He gets rough and starts pushing them to get their attention in the only way he knows how. He thinks it’s a game. I then have to tell him off because pushing is, of course, completely unacceptable (speech delay or not). Then everyone looks at you both in a way that says, “He’s the naughty child.” Except he’s not. He’s just misunderstood.

I can’t reason with him to go to sleep on his own at night with the promise of a new toy or an outing of his choice if he’s good. I can’t tell him he can’t watch Peppa Pig for a week if he’s not. He only hears the words that interest him. So when he only hears “Peppa Pig,” he thinks I’m putting it on for him when I actually mean quite the opposite.

We have to simplify everything we say to him with just a few words, and he can only follow one simple direction at a time. I’m won’t lie. It’s exhausting.

While other children his age are just starting to draw stick people and shapes, he’s still scribbling in the same way as his 18-month-old sister.
Some days, I don’t feel like I have a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old. Some days, it feels more like I have 18-month-old twins, especially when they’re both screaming at me and I can’t work out what they want.Unless you go through something like this yourself, you have no idea what an emotional rollercoaster it can be. There are really, really hard days, but every new word or sentence is cause for a celebration. Just one tiny new word can put a smile on my face for days.

Having a speech-delayed child can mean having more bad days than good. It’s so much harder than I ever thought it would be. Harry is definitely making progress, but not at the rate that he should be. So the next time I tell you my son has a speech delay, please don’t tell me it’s no big deal. It’s a big deal for my son and me as it affects our lives in more ways than one every single day.

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This post is linked up with:

Marvelous Mondays  

Reflections From Me

Twinkly Tuesdays 

Best and Worst     

Blogger Club UK 

Stay Classy Mama

Cool Mum Club


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44 thoughts on “When People Think Your Childs Speech Delay Is No Big Deal

  1. How are you feeling about your son’s speech therapy now? Are you seeing the progress you hoped for?

    My 4-year-old twins have been in speech therapy for almost 2 years. We ended up parting ways with our first therapist. There was MUCH focus on language which, while very important, was not causing quite as much angst as the articulation issue with both kids.

    Since we have changed to different speech therapists, we have seen marked improvement with both kids. They were determined to have moderate to severe articulation challenges which are being addressed very systematically and effectively now. Thank God.

    One of my best friends growing up sent me a speech and language system called It Takes Two to Talk (http://www.hanen.org/Programs/For-Parents/It-Takes-Two-to-Talk.aspx.) Are you familiar with this? Her son has some unique developmental challenges, only one of which is speech-related, but she correctly assumed that this system would be helpful to me. It’s loaded with great stuff. I am pretty sure I have the whole batch of stuff at my house still (DVD, workbook). Feel free to contact me if you are at all interested….

    All my best!
    #mg

    • My son has actually not had that much speech therapy would you believe. Only a couple of sessions and we advice of stuff to do at home. Now he’s in school though he has speech therapy most days as he has an ehcp and his speech has come on loads. He is now being assessed for autism though and we also found out that he has a chromosomal deletion which more than likely causes his speech delay/disorder.

  2. I watched my nephew struggle for years with his hearing a speech delays it was so hard for him and you could see his frustration and his parents. My son Adam was picked up as having a speech delay last year at school when he was 5, I understood him, but it seemed his teachers were concerned. We went to therapy for a year and they now feel confident enough to end the therapy. It is hard as a parent to know that things are difficult for them. Just remember to be gentle with yourself and know that we all get frustrated. I wish him all the love and happiness and hope everything keeps improving xx #mg

  3. It’s so hard to know what to say when I read posts about things like this which I haven’t experienced – as you so eloquently explain, trying to say the ‘right thing’ can be almost offensive to someone who is going through so much. Thank you for highlighting what it is like to be a Mummy to a child with a speech delay, and thanks for linking with #coolmumclub

  4. As a parent yet to find out what the future holds (my son is 3 months old) and a primary teacher I completely sympathise with you. There’s bound to be frustrations for you both – but remember to try (as hard as it may be) to let go of the mummy guilt – its clear your getting him the help he needs and being there for him which is all any mum can do. Wish you all the best for the future. Thanks for sharing x

  5. I’m sorry you have to deal with this, and the people who don’t get it. We have been put on the waiting list for my eldest because there are some sounds he simply can’t say, making his speech sound babyish and meaning most people can barely understand him even when ‘I’ think he’s being clear, compared to most kids his age who speak full sentences with compound words etc. My youngest is now 11 months and has not even begun to say ‘mama’, ‘dada’ etc rather he is just barely making ‘da du mu ah’ sounds, which seems to be way behind his peers and also even where eldest was at this point. It is hard when you have such worries, we all want to help our kids and be patient but sometimes it is so hard to do. xx #bloggerclubuk

    • It is. Especially when you go to toddler groups and all the much younger kids are talking in clear sentences. I find that heartbreaking sometimes and I do get upset.

  6. It’s tough when a child has any sort of delay or difference. I think people mean to be encouraging and positive, but sometimes it can just come across as really insensitive. I also think a lot of people have no idea how hard and draining it can be bringing up a child who is struggling in a particular area. It affects every part of your life.

    I see that this post was originally written quite a while ago. I hope things have improved for you #BloggerClubUK

    • Thank you Lucy. We actually found out that Harry has 4 genes missing from one of his chromosomes and he has also just been assessed for autism. We find out the outcome on 10th January. His speech has improved lots since I wrote this post but he does have other issues as well. He is making fab progress though 🙂

  7. I have a slight lisp and sometimes find it heard to verbalise what I’m thinking. Which makes me stutter sometimes . My mummy finds it hard and gets frustrated too. She’s worried I was slightly behind other children because I had glue ear and a perforated ear drum which made listening and picking up things difficult. She’s thinking of referring me to a speech therapist. Hope progress is being made and that there is light at the end of the tunnel x #TwinklyTuesdays

  8. My son had a speech delay when he was a toddler, all my family kept telling me not to worry as he would just pick it up. But he didn’t. He had to see a speech therapist because he hadn’t learnt his babble sounds properly. He is now 11 and only just stopped seeing his speech therapist. The only thing he as problems with is his ‘SK’ sounds. But if he had therapy earlier it would have been a lot easy for him #TwinklyTuesday

  9. Learning to see every child as different and not having unrealistic expectations is so important to remember… especially when I’m babysitting. ❤ I love how you share this and remind others not to judge too quickly.

  10. I can’t believe that people lack so much understanding. It must be horrendous for both of you. I’m glad he’s a little better now, but I hope you are getting all the support you both need. Alison x #StayClassyMama

  11. I know just how you feel lovely! We have talked about that before, one of my kids had a significant speech delay. I think when people hear speech delay they think of a child who starts talking late but then it all just flows out naturally. But there’s the speech delays that take hours upon hours of work at home & with a therapist to overcome. So much love & effort that it’s painful when others don’t understand that too. I know you are doing an amazing job! Harry is lucky to have you looking out for him & helping him develop his speech! Thank you for sharing your post with us at #BloggerClubUK xx

    • Definately Becky and yes I remember reading some posts of yours and also I tldo remember that you had similar issues. We now know that Harry has a speech disorder rather than a delay caused by him having four genes missing in his 15th chromosome.

  12. I can’t even imagine how frustrating this must be. It is very different when it is your child. I’m not sure if there are any words that would be of comfort to you but I hope you all find a way of effectively communicating soon.
    #StayClassyMama

    • Thank you. Since I wrote this post his speech and understanding have improved significantly bit he has still has a long way to go to catch up with his peers. Communicating has certainly become much easier though.

  13. I can only imagine what thats like, it sounds tough and frustrating for both of you, but it seems like you’ve got it covered. I’m sure your doing all the right things with the doctors etc, chin up babe your doing a grand job indeed x thank for sharing such an honest post #bestandworst

  14. It sounds tough. I would never dismiss another parent’s concerns; not when I’ve been there myself with knowing there was something wrong but having everyone dismiss it. My eldest has an autism diagnosis but – despite speech delay being common in autistic children – his speech was actually more advanced than his peers. It made everything a little easier than it would have been.

    My youngest, on the other hand, does have a slight speech delay (I’m pretty sure he’s also autistic and we have an appointment with a speech and language therapist for later this month) and even though it’s not to the level you’re talking about, it just makes everything harder.

    The frustration he feels (and that I feel) when I can’t understand him is horrid.

    I hope things get easier for you. Do they have any idea of why your little one has such a profound speech delay? I’m assuming ASD etc. have been considered? Hang in there.

    #MarvMondays

    • Since I wrote this post we found out that he has a chromosomal microdeletion which is almost certainly causing his speech disorder. He is also on the waiting list for an ADOS assessment and should be seen very soon. ASD was my first thought and is one of the common symptoms of this deletion along with speech disorder, global delay and behavioural problems all of which my son has.

  15. I’m one of those parents that make a big deal of milestones and are always pushing my children to reach them on time and get really worried if they don’t so I know how you feel when people don’t think it’s a big deal (not totally the same but a similar context)
    My cousin and brother had speech problems and it was really tough on my mum and auntie. My brother is 13 now and still speaks with a little lisp and can’t say things 100% but I know it does get easier as they get older, hang in there and take the good with the bad 🙂 #MarvMondays

  16. I would never dare presume that any developmental delay is no big deal. How awful that people are so inconsiderate. I can imagine how worrying and exhausting it must be for you. With lots of best wishes #MarvmOndays

  17. I can absolutely relate to this. Both of my children were delayed with their speech. Luckily for us when Miss Tot did get the hang of it she just started speaking in sentences straight away, but for a long time she seemed to be a long way behind her peers. Her little brother is the same and at just over two he has only just started to pull a few words out of the bag. It has made a massive difference to his frustration levels now that he can start to get some sort of point across, but he still screams as his main form of communication as he struggles to vocalise what he needs. I hope that your little man finds his words soon and that you get the support you need in the meantime. Thank you for sharing your experience. #MarvMondays xx

    • Thank you. I wrote this post a year ago and Harry has improved a lot since then but he is still way behind his peers. We are now just about to start speech therapy WITH Lexie because although she tries to say a lot her words are very very unclear. Very often I can’t understand a word she says. Since this post I have found out that they both have a chromosomal deletion which goes along way to explaining their delays.

  18. Wow this sounds incredibly hard. My daughter is 22 months and just coming out of that stage where she wants to communicate but can’t. I remember quite vividly how frustrating and exhausting it is for both mum and child. I cannot imagine that continuing indefinitely.

    I hope that things improve with the support it sounds like you are (hopefully) being given! #MarvMondays

    • Thank you for your lovely comment. His speech has improved so much since I wrote this post a though he still has a long way to go. I’m very thankful for the progress he has made though and am lucky that we have had such fantastic intervention.

  19. My little boy is three and also has speech delay and I feel the same way…. everyone goes “oh it will come” or “something just has to click he’ll be Alrite” really gets too me because yes hopefully it will come but ATM he’s behind really behind and it’s effect everything and everyone as you say, for us luckily he’s now attending a pre school which has a speech therapist here most days so I’m hoping to see him being able to cope more.
    I’ve come to the point where I just avoid going to clubs and places where people look at me or him thinking he’s being naughty which is a shame but people are too quick too judge.
    I’m more than sure you are doing an amazing job and frustration is normal believe me I’ve had my days of just frustration abe lots of grumpy was for the both of us.

    • Thanks for your comment. I found it really frustrating when everyone said “Oh he’ll be alright”. We’ve since found out that he has a chromosomal deletion and although he is making progress he is still behind his peers. I’m so had I followed my instincts despite everyone telling me for a good 18 months that I was being paranoid. There’s a lot to be said for “mum knows best”. It sounds ikebana your son is on the very best place and I wish you both all the best for the future.

  20. I can totally sympathise with you on this and can imagine how frustrating it must have been for you both. Thanks for sharing this post for #marvmondays

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