What is speech and language regression?
Speech and language regression refers to the decline in a young child’s speech and communication abilities. Research has shown that the loss of any previous speech and language skills may indicate a greater underlying developmental or cognitive concerns. There are a few potential developmental disorders that could be related a language regression, such as autism spectrum disorder (or ASD).
Speech and language regression vs. delay:
It is important to understand the difference between speech and language regression and a speech or language delay. Speech or language delays are fairly common and can be caused by several different factors; many children who experience a delay do not have autism. A speech delay is characterized by a child failing to meet one or more of their developmental milestones related to speech and language. This could mean that the child appears to be progressing more slowly than their peers when learning to speak or communicate.
Every child learns and develops at their own pace, and some children with a delay may catch up to their peers on their own. However, if a child experiences a persistent speech delay, it is often beneficial to seek an evaluation from a pediatric speech-language pathologist. It might also be helpful to discuss concerns with your child’s pediatrician.
Signs of regression:
Unlike a speech delay, speech and language regression is not a lack of certain communication skills, but a receding or disappearing of skills thought to be already mastered by the child. Some significant signs of regression might include:
- A child who stops using previously learned words or speech sounds
- A child who was using some simple words, such as “mama,” begins to revert to general babbling
- A child who showed previous social skills with peers stops seeking out other children during play and keeps to themselves
- A child or baby who was once able to point to things around them out of want or necessity and has now stopped trying to engage others’ attention in this way
Causes of regression:
While a main concern of speech and language regression is that it is often a sign of autism or other developmental disorders, there are some other reasons why a child may be presenting with fewer communication skills than they once had, such as:
- Mastering other milestones: sometimes children show signs of regression in one area of development when they are working on mastering another. For example, a child may experience some speech regression when starting to potty train.
- Life changes: a child may experience some speech regression during, or after, a major life event, such as a family move, a transition into a school setting, or the birth of a sibling.
What to do if your child shows signs of speech and language regression:
If your child is presenting with significant speech and language regression (or other forms of developmental regression) or if their regression is impacting their ability to to communicate or complete daily tasks and routines, consult your pediatrician for possible developmental screening and assessment. If a developmental issue is suspected, your pediatrician will likely recommend a speech-and-language evaluation or a more comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.
Do you have questions about your child’s development or diagnostic evaluations? Contact the team at the Goldman Center of Chicago to speak with a specialist who can answer all of your questions! (773) 998-8500
Shinnar S, Rapin I, Arnold S, et al. Language regression in childhood. Pediatr Neurol. 2001;24(3):185‐191. doi:10.1016/S0887-8994(00)00266-6, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32018934/.
Elleseff, Tatyana. “Guest Post: 10 Common Causes of Pediatric Speech and Language Problems: Smart Speech Therapy.” Smart Speech Therapy LLC, Smart Speech Therapy, 7 Apr. 2018, https://www.smartspeechtherapy.com/guest-post-10-common-causes-of-pediatric-speech-and-language-problems/.
McKenzie, Robert. “Developmental Regression In Toddlers.” Speech Blubs, Speech Blubs, 25 Mar. 2020, https://speechblubs.com/blog/developmental-regression-in-toddlers/.