My daughter's speech development has always been full of contradiction. At 15 months, she said the words "manatee" and "tortellini" but not "bye-bye" or "no." At two years, she could recite the preamble but not answer simple questions. At three, she could rattle on for hours about dinosaur taxonomy but couldn't introduce herself to other kids. Now four years old, my daughter has been found to have the vocabulary of a nine- to ten-year-old but the pronunciation skills of a two-year-old. I can't help but wonder, looking at my daughter's definitively lopsided linguistic skills: why do some kids have such unusual speech development?
I ultimately don't know yet what's "wrong" with my daughter, or if anything is indeed wrong at all. There are many, many causes of unusual speech development in children-- some benign, others more worrisome. Here are some of possible causes of unusual speech development.
My daughter's first developmental assessment, in her early toddlerhood, yielded only one conclusion: "She may just be very, very intelligent." Gifted children tend to experience what is known as asynchronous development, in which one area of development advances rapidly while another is left behind. Unusual speech development, such as learning at an odd pace or in reaching milestones in an unconventional order, may be a sign that your child is gifted.
This common autism spectrum disorder tends to cause unusual development of language and social skills, according to Mayo Clinic. Kids with Asperger's syndrome may be able to deliver entire dissertations about topics that interest them, but become virtually mute when faced with social interaction. These signs can often be apparent in toddlerhood or even infancy as the child's speech first develops.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
Also an autism-spectrum disorder, CDD occurs in children who experience completely normal development until a point between two and four years of age. At that point, the child rapidly experiences a regression of previously acquired language, social, behavioral, or motor skills. If your child experienced a rapid loss of any skill, it's more than unusual development: it's a problem that needs to be addressed promptly.
This is is one of the most commonly overlooked, but easily diagnosed, causes of unusual speech development, according to the University of Michigan Health System. Hearing loss can cause children to develop odd patterns of speech or odd forms of pronunciation, since they may hear only sounds of a certain tone or volume. Ask your pediatrician for a routine hearing evaluation if you suspect that this may be a problem for your child.
Learning or Intellectual Disability
Children with intellectual disability, also known as mental retardation, may develop unusual speech patterns due to difficulty grasping the use of language. They may have an odd development of vocabulary, tone, or speech comprehension. These symptoms can also occur in children with more mild learning disabilities rather than broad-scale cognitive disorders. Early evaluation and intervention are always beneficial to children with these conditions.
Regardless of the reason for your child's unusual speech development, stay in touch with his primary health care provider and other caregivers to make sure that you notice symptoms and address them as early as possible. Good parenting and education can help to set your child on a course toward success, even if he's inclined to take the road less traveled.
Related Work by Juniper Russo