Speech and language are some of the most powerful tools that we use to navigate and interact with our world. Watching children develop these skills as they grow can be so exciting and rewarding.
Many parents also wonder if their child is developing normally, whether they may have or will develop a speech delay, or whether their child’s sex at birth will play a role in determining these things.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, it’s important to fully assess what’s going on so you can pursue the most effective pediatric speech therapy. Schedule a free introductory call with us here at Great Speech to discuss the challenges you are facing, as well as the best route to overcoming them with our online program.
Do Boys Talk Later than Girls?
While it is true that on average girls develop speech and language skills earlier than boys, the reason behind this is more complicated than the simple fact that girls mature more quickly in general. In fact, many contributing factors determine whether someone may be delayed in their speech and language skills, with gender/sex having only a minor influence. In general, boys are more likely to develop a speech or language delay than girls.
Research in Britain shows that on average, females have a significantly larger vocabulary, they acquire skills and words more quickly and they also are ahead of males in their gesturing skills. Overall, girls also begin speaking an average of 1 month sooner than boys. It is important to note that these differences can be minimal, almost insignificant, and do not necessarily mean that boys are delayed as much as they simply fall behind girls.
While it is true that more boys than girls develop a speech or language delay, it is important to note that if you know a boy who is struggling with his speech don’t assume that it is because he is a boy and therefore doesn’t need intervention. There are many factors that contribute to the speed at which speech and language skills are acquired and developed. Some of the reasons girls might develop faster than boys are:
The Language Gene
Scientists are studying a gene called FOXP2 which they have discovered to be an essential part of speech and language development. There have been many studies, on both animals and humans, that have confirmed that the “Language Gene” FOXP2 is found in higher levels in females. While this likely has some impact on speech and language development, more research is needed and scientists agree it is hard to separate nature from nurture when studying the development of children.
Nature vs. Nurture
When examining the developmental differences between sexes, scientists agree that it is always important to consider the impact of ‘nurture’ or environmental factors and not only those factors determined biologically. While things are changing quickly and gender equality is closer than ever, the fact remains that unconscious bias and behavior patterns are ingrained within each and every one of us. This means that the majority of people will (in most cases subconsciously) alter their behavior and communication depending on whether they are interacting with a male or female.
It is also true that many adults will focus on skills they believe to be part of their child’s gender identity: for example, encouraging a male child to engage in physical activities such as sports or structure building and encouraging female children to engage in more social and domestic forms of play. The way that we engage in play with children can have a major impact on their development. Because of this, it is impossible to study the biological differences in speech and language skill development without also considering the role of environmental influences.
There have been many studies on the neurological and cognitive differences between the sexes. A good amount of research has been conducted on the role of sex hormones in the development of speech and language skills. Generally speaking, estrogen has been linked to enhanced verbal and social skills as well as promoting the growth of certain areas of the brain that are directly related to language development. These studies also found testosterone to have an opposite effect, affecting these same ‘language centers’ inversely, especially those related to social and language development and empathy in children.
What Are Some Other Factors that Contribute to a Speech or Language Delay?
Many factors can contribute to the presence or development of a speech or language delay. Some of the most common known causes are:
- Hearing Impairment or Hearing Loss
- Significant Psychosocial Issues
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities
- Scientists and researchers have also identified several risk factors that may increase the probability of a particular person being affected by a speech or language delay. They are:
- Premature birth
- Being born male
- Low birth weight
- Parents with limited or no education
- Family History of speech or language issues
- Prolonged thumb-sucking or pacifier use
How can I Support my Child‘s Speech and Language Development at Home?
Play: While this may seem like an obvious thing to do, play can be an incredibly powerful tool to help promote the development of speech and language skills in children. Whether you engage in pretend play, role-playing, or working together to build a structure, these interactions are the foundational building blocks of communication skills.
Read: The joy of books and reading is a wonderful thing to encourage and promote with your child. Take time to read together every day, and keep a supply of easily accessible and age-appropriate books available to your child.
Talk to Them: Again, this may seem simple or obvious but it can be surprising how many parents don’t think to engage their children conversationally in a meaningful way. Including children in conversations as well as collaborating on household activities such as list-making or calendar planning can be an incredibly beneficial and educational activity.
You can also schedule a free introductory call to get matched with an online speech language therapist on our team to address to best support your child’s speech and language development.
How can Online Speech Therapy help my Child?
Speech therapy can be a very helpful and supportive resource, even for children who are developing as they should. Our online speech therapists are highly knowledgeable and possess a huge repertoire of tasks, games, and activities that will help guide and support your child as they develop essential speech and language skills.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, or simply want to know more about how to support your child as they learn and grow, schedule a free introductory call discuss our services and to get matched with one of our highly trained and specialized online speech therapists today! Services can start as soon as three to five business days.