Causes of Speech and Language Delays

One of the first things I am always asked after I give parents the news of a speech and language delay or disorder (or even the possibility of one) is “what could’ve caused this?”.  While we often don’t know the specific cause, there are times when we do know the specific cause.  

Below are some of the causes of speech and language delays and disorders.  If you suspect your child may have a speech and/or language delay, it is important to have them evaluated by a professional.  Early detection and intervention can help make tremendous gains.  

Autism - Autism affects communication.  Most of the times these delays will be detected first in nonverbal communication.

Neurological Disorders and Problems - Such as traumatic brain injury, muscular dystrophy, and cerebral palsy

Hearing Loss - Children with hearing loss (even mild hearing loss) can miss out on hearing the sounds and words they need to learn a language and use it effectively and properly.  

Apraxia of Speech - Apraxia of speech is a specific speech disorder in which the child has difficulty in sequencing and executing speech movements.

Auditory Processing Disorder - Individuals with auditory processing disorder can’t process what they hear in the same way that others do because their brain and their ears don’t communicate fully in the way others do. 

Selective Mutism - Selective Mutism is a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively in certain social settings.  

Genetics - Research shows that 50-70% of children with speech and language delays have a family member who also had/has delays. 

Intellectual Disabilities - Limited cognitive abilities may often lead to delayed speech and/or language skills.  

Physical Impairments - Physical impairments such as cleft lip and/or palate or facial abnormalities can limit the use of the body parts used for speech.  

Prematurity - Some preemies may have health issues that contribute to a speech and or language delay or may have spent extended time in the hospital without the exposure to speech and language that they needed.   

Life Events and Environmental Factors - Children exposed to drugs in utero and children who are the victims of abuse and neglect can exhibit speech and language delays.  Additionally, children who have had limited exposure to language models may show delays in speech and language development.  


Despite the reason for the speech and language delay and or disorder, we can make great gains in treatment.  The earlier we can determine the delays and begin to work with a child and their family, the better outcomes we will see.  

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