Speech & language services for preschool children

Children’s brains develop quickly starting at birth. Studies show that helping children early in life will help shape brain development and allow them to learn skills to be more successful in school and later in life. Helping a child with communication challenges at a young age builds the foundation for important skills such as reading and writing, making friends, building confidence, self-esteem and managing their own behaviour.

If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language, don’t wait. We can help.


Types of speech and language delays and disorders in children

Imagine living in a world where you have trouble understanding what people say to you or where you’re not able to make others understand you. Naturally, communication challenges like these can lead to frustration, social isolation and trouble with learning in children. Together, we can help your child through whatever challenges they’re experiencing. The first step is recognizing the signs that something might be need attention.


Receptive language delays and disorders

Receptive language is how well a child is able to understand what is being said to them. A child with a receptive language delay/disorder may:

  • Look like they are not listening when spoken to
  • Have trouble understanding words or sentences (e.g. they may not point to items like body parts or pictures in books when asked)
  • Have trouble following directions
  • Have trouble answering questions
  • Seem to have difficulty understanding stories


Expressive language delays and disorders

Expressive language is how a child communicates with others using words, actions, and/or pictures. A child with an expressive language delay/disorder may:

  • Not be able to communicate their needs (e.g. either through pointing or words)
  • Use very few words or use very short sentences to communicate
  • Have trouble coming up with which words to say
  • Miss smaller words in sentences (e.g. “I want red one” instead of “I want the red one”)
  • Have trouble using language to have a conversation with someone


Phonological delays and disorders

Articulation or phonological delays/ disorders means trouble pronouncing speech sounds correctly.  This can make it difficult for other people to understand what a child is saying. A child with a phonological delay/disorder may:

  • Miss parts of words (e.g. bu-fly for butterfly)
  • Change sounds (e.g. “tun” for “sun” or “tat” for “cat”)
  • Leave off sounds (e.g. “sah” for “sun”, “ca” for “cat”, “da” for “dog”)


Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Childhood apraxia of speech is a speech disorder where the brain has trouble sending correct signals to the speech muscles, making it difficult for a child to make speech sounds. The child often knows what they want to say but has a hard time talking or being understood. A child with apraxia of speech may:

  • Use very few speech sounds
  • Have a lot of trouble copying even simple words
  • Have trouble saying the same word the same way each time
  • Have trouble putting sounds together or putting sounds in the right order to make words (e.g. “nus” for “sun”)
  • Put stress on unexpected parts of the word (e.g. bu-BBLES instead of BU-bbles)


Stuttering (speech dysfluency)

Stuttering is a disruption in the smooth, easy flow of speech. A child who stutters may often:

  • Repeat words (e.g. “mommy, mommy, can I…”)
  • Repeat parts of words (e.g. “mo-mo-mommy can I…”)
  • Repeat sounds (e.g. “m-m-m-mommy”)
  • Stretch out sounds (e.g. “mmmmmommy”)
  • Get ‘stuck’ getting the sound out

Sometimes, children also do other things while trying to talk like: 

  • Making movements such as blinking their eyes or nodding their head 
  • Tensing the muscles in their face
  • Getting frustrated or avoiding talking 


Voice disorders

Similar to adults, voice disorders in children can seriously impact their ability to speak and express themselves properly. A child with a voice problem may have a voice that sounds:

  • Too high or too low as compared with other children their age
  • Too high or too low (doesn't match gender)
  • Too loud or too soft
  • Hoarse or strained


Resonance disorders

Resonance is how air moves through the throat, mouth, and nose when a person is making certain sounds. A resonance disorder can happen when there is a problem with the correct flow of air. A child with a resonance disorder might:

  • Sound like they have a stuffy nose all of the time
  • Sound “nasal” – too much air coming through the nose
  • Have a voice that sounds muffled
  • Have air come through their nose when speaking
  • Have food or drink come through their nose


Preschool special needs services

Hearing and Speech staff work with the IWK Health Centre team of specialists to assess a child between birth and 6 years of age, who may have difficulties in two or more of the following areas:

  • Thinking/learning skills
  • Communication skills
  • Fine motor skills (e.g. eating, holding/picking up objects, cutting, writing)
  • Gross motor skills (e.g. walking, jumping, climbing)

Children can be referred to this program by a health or community service provider (including an early childhood educator) or by a doctor.


Are you concerned about your child’s speech or language development?

Don’t wait to make an appointment. We can get your little one the right help to manage communication challenges at a young age and build the foundation for important skills like reading and writing, making friends and building self-esteem.

At an assessment, we’ll meet with you and your child to observe their interactions with others, ask you questions about what they do at home and use testing tools to see if there are difficulties. 

Some of this assessment may involve playing with toys or pointing to pictures. If any difficulties are found, your speech-language pathologist will talk with you about treatment options.