What Are Speech and Language?
Speech is the mechanical means of the oral motor mechanism to create sounds. Intelligible speech requires sufficient muscle tone for the lips, jaw, tongue and cheeks to work together as a team to produce functional verbal communication. Sometimes people use the word “articulation” for speech.
Language, on the other hand, is how the brain processes the information that it hears. Language can be receptive (understanding) or expressive (communicating). Receptive language allows a person to give meaning to what is heard. It is comprehension. It begins to develop in the first year of life in a typical child.
Expressive language is the ability to be able to share thoughts, ideas and feelings. It can be verbal (with sound) or non-verbal (with gestures, signing or use of technology). It generally does not begin to emerge until the second year of life.
What Your Doctor May Tell You About Speech and Language
Lack of the emergence of speech and language is one of the first areas of concern for parents. Your pediatrician may tell you not to be so concerned, as all kids are different, or that boys talk later. He or she may also recommend a hearing test to rule out auditory problems.
If the child is over two, your doctor will usually suggest an evaluation from a speech-language pathologist, or at a communication disorders clinic, or refer you to your local early intervention services.
Another Way to Think About Speech and Language
Early intervention is imperative, but please know that a nonspeaking child very often has very good receptive language; they may understand everything that is said to them and around them but likely lack the fine-motor ability to speak. Nonspeakers can learn to communicate with assistive technology with their gross-motor skills using letterboards.
If you suspect a speech and language delay, the earlier you recognize that your child is not meeting developmental milestones and implement intervention strategies, the better the chances of more effective outcomes for your child.
The most important goal is to discover why a child lacks understanding of what is said or is not talking. Look at all possibilities. The answer is rarely one thing; it is usually a combination of some or all of the following:
- Biomedical issues
- Auditory issues
- Visual processing issues
- Primitive reflex integration issues
- Vestibular issues
- Structural issues
- Oral-motor issues
- Neurological damage, including a stroke
While a hearing deficit is an obvious reason for speech and language delays, very often, some underlying biomedical reasons that are not so obvious are at play.
Researchers have recently made great gains in the understanding of biomedical causes of speech and language issue, such as:
- Defects in detoxification pathways
- Nutritional deficiencies in the brain, especially folate (B9) and methyl B12
- Malabsorption of fatty acids (fats)
- Choline deficiency
- Vitamin E deficiency
- N-acetyl-cysteine deficiency
- Glutathione deficiency
- Fatty acid deficiency
Once underlying biological issues are addressed, speech and language may improve gradually, or could even emerge spontaneously. Other senses besides hearing can also impact upon speech and language.
The body’s vestibular system, which creates balance and equilibrium, plays a significant role. Children with vestibular dysfunction may have auditory and language processing problems.
Vision refers to the brain’s ability to process the information coming in through the eyes; acuity refers to the eyes’ ability to see well at a certain distance. Visual processing uses up most of the brain’s bandwidth, and having impaired vision can cause undue strain on other functions of the brain, including speech and language.
Therefore, once a child’s visual processing issues are corrected with vision therapy, his or her language may improve because the brain now has more capacity.
Speech and Language Checklist to Start
Consider lifestyle contribution:
- Is your child getting 10 hours of sleep per night (or more if your child is under 10)?
- An hour of exercise or movement per day?
- Drinking half his body weight in ounces of water?
Make dietary changes:
Is your child craving and eating primarily a refined carbohydrate, high sugar, trans-fatty acids and fast food diet?
Eliminate all processed foods, and eat a whole foods diet.
- Eat whole foods
- Buy organic foods
- Remove all GMO foods
- Remove all fast and processed foods
- Remove all foods with:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial ingredients
- With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:
- Strictly limit:
- Refined salt
- Refined carbohydrates
- Consider implementing a low glutamate diet and/or the Feingold diet
Include plenty of good quality fats, such as:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Wild salmon
- Organic chicken
- Organic turkey
- Grass-fed ghee
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Essential fatty acids from:
- Cod liver oil
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Evening primrose oil
- Borage oil
- Walnut oil
Remove vegetable oils such as:
Include plenty of high-quality proteins with every meal, such as:
- Pasture-raised eggs and chicken
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught fish
Heal the gut with special diets such as:
- GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet
- Paleo diet
- GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) diet
- Body Ecology Diet
- Modified Atkins Diet (replaces the Ketogenic diet)
Learn more about healing diets and foods.
Clean up your environment:
Have you identified and removed possible environmental triggers, such as mold, dust, pet dander, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs)?
Have you identified and removed possible toxic exposures in the home from purchased products, such as detergents, soaps, lotions, and other cleaning and personal care products?
- Remove animals (both live and stuffed!)
- Remove carpets
- Use non-toxic cleaners
- Use non-toxic building materials
- Green your home
Ask your pediatrician to run some laboratory tests for:
- Possible food sensitivities and allergies
- Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) IgG, IgA, IgE and IgM
- Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. The NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs covers the following areas:
- Cellular energy
- Mitochondrial metabolism
- Neurotransmitter metabolism
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Toxin exposure
- Detoxification need
- Bacterial and yeast overgrowth
- Gluten and casein sensitivities
- Organic acids: The organic acid test by Great Plains Laboratory for:
- Yeast overgrowth (Candida)
- Other microbial infections
- Comprehensive Stool Analysis by Genova Diagnostic Labs to identify:
- Altered gastrointestinal function
- Bacterial/fungal overgrowth
- Chronic dysbiosis
- Neurotransmitters: Neurorelief (Neurosciences Laboratory) is a specialty lab that tests neurotransmitters to determine chemical imbalances in the brain
- Genetic mutations such as MTHFR, CBS and SUOX, which may interfere with your child’s ability to detoxify
Add fermented foods and probiotics daily:
These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.
- Eat kefir yogurts
- Eat fermented vegetables
- Eat umeboshi plums (very alkalizing)
- Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
Some good probiotics are:
- Gut Pro
- Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics
- Garden of Life
- Klaire Labs
Use herbs, essential oils and natural supplements with your practitioner’s guidance:
- Omega fatty acids
- Methylcobalamin B12
- Folinic acid or 5MTHF
- Other B vitamins
- Trace minerals
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Alpha lipoic acid
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
- Epsom salt baths
Use digestive aids with your practitioner’s guidance:
- Betaine hydrochloric acid
- Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances
- Proteolytic enzymes
Help your child detoxify:
- Ionic foot baths can help detox unwanted pathogens and are easy to do with children
- Infared saunas can detox heavy metals through the skin by sweating. However, this form of detoxification may not be suitable for young children who lack the ability to sweat.
Find an oral motor and/or myofascial therapist:
Find a therapist who will work inside a child’s mouth to evaluate and treat oral motor issues. This may be an occupational therapist, a talented speech-language pathologist, or someone with training in craniosacral therapy.
See a craniosacral practitioner:
Craniosacral therapy can reestablish central nervous system functioning. These practitioners use approaches rich in vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile input and may also do oral motor therapy.
Have your child evaluated for a tongue tie:
Many children with a neurodevelopmental disorder often have tongue ties, which means that their tongues cannot move freely around their mouths, leading to problems with swallowing and verbalizing. A tongue tie is difficult to evaluate, and you may get different answers from different practitioners.
Find a practitioner who is adept at looking for tongue ties; one who works in conjunction with myofascial therapists and oral motor therapists is best.
Learn about retained primitive reflexes:
Most, if not all, children with neurodevelopmental disorders including speech and language disorders, have retained primitive reflexes.
Find a therapist that is trained in integrating primitive reflexes, which can cause imbalances in the way your child’s brain performs. Get an evaluation from an occupational therapist (OT) with experience in primitive reflexes, vestibular dysfunction and sensory integration.
See a sensory-integration occupational therapist (OT):
These OTs address a variety of sensory issues with a child using hands-on equipment. This type of therapy calms down the nervous system to help integrate the senses.
Give the child many opportunities for unrestrained movement. Create fun sensory activities at home with your child. Put the child on a swing to stimulate the vestibular system, which can help stimulate the development of speech and langugage.
Ask about using brushing therapy to calm down the nervous system.
See a behavioral/developmental optometrist:
Get a developmental vision evaluation by a developmental optometrist who specializes in children with special needs. Many kids with delayed speech and language have an undiagnosed eye turn, or lack of binocularity that can confuse the brain and negatively affect the emergence of speech and language.
Prescribing special lenses or vision therapy improves the brain’s processing of both auditory and visual information, and thus improves speech and language.
See an auditory therapist:
Many children with speech and language issues have auditory processing problems. An auditory therapist can devise a listening program that is specific to your child’s needs. Auditory Integration Therapy (Berard) or Sound Stimulation (Tomatis) can retrain the brain, calm down the nervous system, reduce sound sensitivities.
See a homeopath or naturopath:
These practitioners can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.
Consider Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT):
If your child had a difficult birth resulting in insufficient oxygen to the brain or a negative reaction to routine childhood medical interventions, consider Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, which can increase oxygen levels in the brain. Because this type of therapy is also helpful for stroke victims, you may want to consider that your child may have had a stroke.
Consider a one-on-one educational program in the home and at school:
If you are home schooling, the Vince Carbone Clinic and CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders) are good resources for you to check into.
Still Looking for Answers?
Sources & References
Borre, Y.E., et al. Microbiota and neurodevelopmental windows: implications for brain disorders. Trends Mol Med. 2014 Sep;20(9):509-18.
Frye, R.E., et al. Folinic acid improves verbal communication in children with autism and language impairment: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Mol Psychiatry. 2018 Feb; 23(2): 247–256.
Gabis, L.V., et al. Improvement of Language in Children with Autism with Combined Donepezil and Choline Treatment. J Mol Neurosci. 2019 Oct;69(2):224-234.
Jadavji, N.M., et al. B-vitamin and choline supplementation increases neuroplasticity and recovery after stroke. Neurobiol Dis. 2017 Jul;103:89-100.
Morris, C.R., et al. Syndrome of allergy, apraxia, and malabsorption: characterization of a neurodevelopmental phenotype that responds to omega 3 and vitamin E supplementation. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. Jul-Aug 2009;15(4):34-43.
Warner, B.B. The contribution of the gut microbiome to neurodevelopment and neuropsychiatric disorders. Pediatr Res. 2019 Jan;85(2):216-224.
Zaigham, M., et al. Prelabour caesarean section and neurodevelopmental outcome at 4 and 12 months of age: an observational study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2020 (20)564.
Bronston, Berri. Devoted dad is partner in autistic graduate’s success. 22 May 2018, Tulane News.
Kedar, Ido. I Was Born Unable to Speak, and a Disputed Treatment Saved Me. 23 Sep 2018, Wall Street Journal.
Kedar, Ido. Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison. 2012, Sharon Kedar.
Mukhopadhyay, Soma. Understanding Autism through Rapid Prompting Method. 2008, Outskirts Press.
Peña, Edlyn Vallejo. Leaders Around Me: Autobiographies of Autistics who Type, Point, and Spell to Communicate. 2019, independently published.