Why is it important to treat speech and language delays as soon as possible?

Speech and language treatment is more effective and less costly to the public system when children receive it earlier in life. 1 2 5 6 9 10

Many decades of research have proven that an investment in early intervention for speech, language and other developmental delays pays dividends many times over. By investing in the health and well-being of young children, a tremendous amount of money can be saved over time in the public school system, health care, and legal system. Investment in early speech and language services is an investment in the health of the child, the family, and the community.

Children’s brains are geared to learn quickly in early childhood. 2 3 4 5 6 7 10

The first six years of life is an important time in a child’s life for learning the basics of speech, language and other important foundational skills. After age six, neuroplasticity is reduced and it becomes more difficult (but not impossible) for the human brain to learn speech and language. Many decades of research has proven without a doubt that early intervention brings about the best results.

Severely impaired communication skills are a barrier to normal human relationships. 10

It can be difficult for children with significant speech and language delays to build and maintain normal relationships with important adults in their lives such as caregivers, teachers or extended family members. Children with severely delayed communication skills may also have difficulty building friendships with other children. Poor communication skills can restrict a child’s ability to play and socialize with other children. A child needs adequate speech and language skills, as well as communication confidence, to introduce him or herself to other children, ask to join in play, and negotiate the rules of the game. As children grow older, normal play and socializing include activities in which more sophisticated communication skills are necessary.  

Language and intelligence support each other in early development. 2 3 4 5 10

Starting in very early childhood, communication skills and intelligence support each other and grow together. Children learn best by communicating with caring adults in social relationships. When they are able to use their communication skills to make connections with adults, those adults tend to spend more time talking with these children. These conversations are important learning opportunities for a child. When an adult talks with a child, the child can then use his or her language and speech skills to ask the adult for even more information. As the conversation flows back and forth, the child’s mind receives the stimulation and information it needs to grow and flourish. Celebrate the curiosity of a preschool child when he or she asks, “Why?” “Who?” “Where?” Give thoughtful answers to those questions. You are giving information to feed a growing mind!

Children with speech and language delays are at risk for developing anxiety about communicating. 4 10

Speech-language pathologists and other early childhood development professionals have recently noticed an increase in the number of children who show signs of anxiety. Many children with significant speech and language difficulties lose their confidence about their ability to communicate with other people when they experience many failed attempts at communication. As a result, they sometimes shy away from interacting with others. When an anxious child withdraws from others, the child misses out on opportunities to learn, participate in the community, make new friends, and share their own ideas and stories. Children who can successfully communicate with others enjoy a healthy amount of control in their lives. This helps to build a child’s self-confidence.

Children who have difficulty communicating sometimes develop unwanted behaviours as a way to cope with their frustration. 1 6 10

If a child’s speech and language difficulties are not resolved early, unwanted behaviours may develop due to extreme frustration. These behaviours may include biting, hitting, pinching, or pushing others. If the child turns his or her frustrations inward, they may harm themselves in physical, emotional or psychological ways. This does not mean that a child is “bad”; it’s just that they have no other way to communicate. These behaviours are simply forms of self-expression. But these unwanted behaviours can become habits, and these habits can lead to social, emotional and psychological problems over time.

Children with good speech and language skills at the start of kindergarten are more likely to succeed at school. 2 3 4 8 9 10

Children who have any type of developmental delay, including speech and language delays, are at risk of falling behind at school. An important part of being “kindergarten ready” is having adequate communication skills to participate in the classroom and be ready to learn. Children need to understand spoken language well enough to understand new information and to follow instructions. Children also need adequate speech and language skills to ask and answer questions, successfully interact with others, and communicate their thoughts and ideas clearly. Kindergarten readiness is an important measure of success to those who are responsible for the public health system.

Good speech and language skills are the foundations for learning to read and write. 3 4 8 10

When children learn how to read and write, they use their knowledge of spoken speech and language to help them understand how words and sentences are written. If a child’s knowledge of spoken language is delayed (for example, they have many speech sound errors well into their first years of school, or their spoken language sounds immature compared to other children their age), their foundation for reading and writing is weaker. Children with speech and language delays are more likely to struggle in learning to read and write. Educators often say that children learn to read until Grade 3, and read to learn after Grade 3. This means that if a child has not learned to read well enough by Grade 3, he or she will find it more and more difficult to be successful in higher grades.

Children with poor speech and language skills face many risks throughout life. 1 2 4 5 7 9 10

Poor communication skills are closely linked to poor life chances. Children with delayed speech and language skills are at risk for failure at school, problems connecting with others, fewer educational opportunities, and poorer professional opportunities. Children with poor communication skills are also at risk for lower self-esteem, poor self-confidence and higher risks for mental health issues as they get older. Studies have shown a close link between poor communication skills and increased chances of being jailed.


  1. Canadian Paediatric Society and Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “The promise of the early years: How long should children wait?” Paediatric Child Health 2012, Vol 17 No 10: 535-536.
  2. Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University; NGA Center for Best Practices; and National Conference of State Legislatures. “In Brief: The science of early childhood development.” www.developingchild.harvard.edu. Accessed September 2017.
  3. Head Zauche et al. “Influence of language nutrition on children’s language and cognitive development: An integrated review.” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 2016, 36: 318-333.
  4. Head Zauche et al. “The power of language nutrition for children’s brain development, health, and future academic achievement.” Journal of Pediatric Health Care 2017 Vol 31 No 4: 493-503.
  5. Heckman, J.J. “Skill formation and the economics of investing in disadvantaged children.” Science 2006 Vol 312: 1900-1902.
  6. Hertzman, C. “The significance of early childhood adversity.” Paediatric Child Health 2013 Vol 18 No 3: 127-128.
  7. Human Early Learning Partnership. The importance of early child development, 2014: 1-3.
  8. Inclusion BC et al. Kids Can’t Wait: The case for investing in early childhood intervention programs in British Columbia. Report on the 2016 Provincial Early Childhood Intervention Summit, 2016.
  9. Kershaw, P., et al. “The Economic Costs of Early Vulnerability in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Public Health 2010; 101 (Suppl. 3): S8-S12.
  10. Law, J. and Charlton, J. Language as a child wellbeing indicator. Early Intervention Foundation, 2017.



Author: Communication Matters

An SLP Advocacy Group for Young Children #CommunicationMattersBC

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