What’s the difference between a delay and a disorder?

When children are learning language, they all make mistakes and these mistakes follow a typical or usual pattern. For example, almost all children try to make the past tense of ‘go’ regular by saying ‘goed’ instead of ‘went’. The usual pattern of mistakes is well documented and a speech and language therapist will tell you if your child’s language is within the normal pattern of variation or not.

  • A delay means that the child is making mistakes that are a usual part of development but at a later age than might be expected. For example, a 5 year old who says ‘tat’ instead of ‘cat’ would be using a pattern called ‘fronting’ which most children go through. Usually, fronting disappears by the time children are about age 3 1/2 so this child has a speech delay.
  • A disorder would mean that the child’s pattern of mistakes is not part of usual development. A child who misses out all consonants and only speaks in vowels (this does happen!!) would be experiencing a speech disorder because this is very unusual and not part of the typical pattern of development.

If your child’s pattern of mistakes is not within the normal pattern of variation, seeing a speech and language therapist for some support is important.