Speech or Language Delay what’s the difference?

Language Delay in Children

I am a Mum of an 10 year old boy who has a Severe Language Delay and Auditory Processing Disorder (APD).

My son was never formally diagnosed with a delay until around 4 years of age.  I knew.  It seemed quite obvious that something wasn’t right.  He didn’t reach those ‘normal’ speech milestones that toddlers do, but my GP kept telling me he’s a boy, boys are slower to develop than girls etc, so we just progressed with no intervention and gave him some time.

There was something more to it – call it ‘mothers intuition’ but I knew there was a problem – that’s where my journey began and I’m still on that journey.

Seeking and finding out information for him, for me.  Watching and supporting his development, meeting new people, finding speech pathologists and other dedicated specialists has left my head in a spin at times.  There is the large emotional roller coaster you are on as a mother.

So what exactly is a Language Delay and Speech Delay?

When a person is unable to produce speech sounds correctly or fluently, or has problems with his or her voice, then he or she has a speech disorder.

Difficulties pronouncing sounds, or articulation disorders, and stuttering are examples of speech disorders.

When a person has trouble understanding others (receptive language), or sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings completely (expressive language), then he or she has a language disorder/delay.

Both children and adults can have speech and language disorders. They can occur as a result of a medical problem or have no known cause.

* Source:  American Speech and Language Hearing Association


So why does it matter whether or not you get intervention if your child has a language delay?

Firstly, kid’s speech matters.

With no intervention there are obvious learning difficulties which can lead to and can be the result of behavioural issues and frustrations. Imagine not being able to say what you want.  Or not being able to understand what is going on around you feeling like at times it a foreign language?    This is what it can be like for a child with a language delay.  

In my son’s case he was speaking jargon or he would repeat back to you partly what you said.  He didn’t make sense but that was because he wasn’t able to hear the spoken words clearly.   Once this was rectified with grommets he was on his way to hearing and learning – he was 4.5yrs.   He has exceptional visual skills and relies on them most of the time.  It gives him the assistance needed to work out what is going on.

So he has ‘winged it’ at the best of times and got himself through.  As he stepped into Year 4 this year – winging it isn’t going to cut it.

He has developed and progressed very well, is able to read, works on the computer independently, interacts appropriately socially and joins in with the class activities.  He has required constant intervention at school and home to assist with this learning.  I won’t say it’s easy but it’s worth it when you see how he progresses and feels supported.

A statistic that I found quite interesting, ‘one in seven Australians has some form of communication disability. This means that one in seven people has a problem understanding other people or being understood by people.

‘An example, 13% of school aged children will have a speech and language disability.’ As quoted for Speech Pathology Australia’s website.


What to do if you think your child could have a Language Delay?

In the first instance you can visit your GP or your maternal health nurse.  They will point you in the right direction.  Please note if you are sure there is something wrong you can go direct to a speech pathologist to check things out and they will offer assessments.  You can if you wish go to a speech pathologist direct and get a language assessment.

If you feel there is something wrong look into it.  It can’t hurt to check things out and know for sure what is going on.

If money or funding the visits to specialists is a concern, as they can be expensive – there are pathways for funding via Medicare.  Your doctor, speech pathologist and paediatrician can help you activate this funding which will help with part of the cost.


Kids Speech Matters



  1. aideen says:

    Hi! just to clarify a speech delay is when language is developing in the usual way but there is a lag for one reason or another and it’s all happening a little later than usual …it is delayed. Usualy children with a language delay develop normal language skills but the delay may mena that they find it difficult to understand or express as would be expected for their age, which has major implication for making progressin school where much of the learning is through talk.

    A language disorder is different to a delay. With a language disorder some aspect of language development is not happening in the usual way. There are various types of disorder and generally they are more difficult to overcome than a speech delay.

    Often we think that speech therapy is to remediate the child’s “speech” -as in their ability to make certain sounds correctly -like an “r” sound or an “s” sound for example. Speech theripists do work on sounds but also work on understanding language concepts, recpetive language skills, vocabulary and expressive language too!

    I would definately advise anyone with concerns to have their child’s language checked out. The earlier you know what’s going on the earlier you can addres it and get to work on fixing it!! There can be long waiting lists and by time you get the help your child needs there might be a much bigger gap between what you’d expect and where your child is with their language. People will tell you boys are slower to talk, 2nd children are slower to talk, it’s because he speaks a 2nd language -these things make a bit of a difference as does their verbal intelligence…everyone likes to reassure you, but get it checked out if he doen’t seemt o be doing as well as your other children/his peers.

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