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Myths About Speech Delay in Children

Myth #1: Boys take longer to develop speech than girls.

Fact: Speech and language development occurs at similar rates in boys compared to girls, typically before the age of 3 years old. 

Myth #2: It is normal for boys to have a delay in language.

Fact: Language delay should always be investigated.  In fact, boys are at higher risk of language delay, developmental delay, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  If your child (boy or girl) is delayed in speech, this requires investigation by a physician. 

Myth #3: His dad didn’t talk until he was 5, so it’s in the family. 

Fact: Any speech delay, even if it “runs in the family”, warrants investigation.  The resources for developmental delay and speech delay have grown significantly.  Just because a family member had a speech delay and didn’t “need” intervention or “turned out fine”, does not mean that they may not have benefitted should it have been offered to them. 

If speech delay runs in your family, your child may still benefit from intervention to help support their speech development. 

Myth #4: His sister talks for him so he doesn’t need to talk.

Fact: If your child’s sibling (or even parent) is talking for your child, or if your child is relying on the parents to meet their needs without them asking for what they want – this could be a sign of speech delay. 

Sometimes siblings or parents will unknowingly compensate for children with speech delay.  This is helpful to become aware of, because it can prevent your child from learning to learn to speak for themselves. 

Myth #5: She talks fine at home, it’s just at school she doesn’t talk.  She is just shy.

Fact: if your child is talking normally at home, but not at school, daycare, or with more distant family members – this could be a sign of “selective mutism.”

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder in children in which anxiety impairs a child’s ability to communicate.  The good news is that their speech is usually on track.  Because anxiety is preventing them from speaking up, support and encouragement to speak at school, daycare, or with family members may help. 

If your child is spending a lot of time not speaking due to “anxiety” or “selective mutism”, they are at risk for falling behind their peers for language development. 

Myth #6: Her speech is delayed because she is bilingual.

Fact: Although it is normal for bilingual children to confuse languages early on, delay in language development is not normal, even if your child is bilingual.  Your child’s complex language development should still be on track – in both languages.

If you child has limited exposure to their “bilingual” language, then they may be delayed in this language.  However the primary language spoken in the home should still be on track. 

Myth #7: He doesn’t talk, but he can understand.

Fact: Your child may have strong receptive language abilities and is able to understand when spoken to.  But if your child is unable to express language effectively, this warrants investigation.  This could be a sign of “expressive language delay.”

This post was co-authored by Suzanne Black, MD, BSc and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.


  1. Council on Early Childhood, High PC, Klass P. Literacy promotion: an essential component of primary care pediatric practice. Pediatrics 2014; 134:404.
  2. Xie QW, Chan CHY, Ji Q, Chan CLW. Psychosocial Effects of Parent-Child Book Reading Interventions: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics 2018; 141.

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