Speech Regression: What Concerned Parents Should Know

by | Jan 9, 2023

Have you noticed your child’s speech isn’t the same lately? Are they babbling more or speaking in a simpler form than a few weeks ago? Your child may have a speech regression.

Seeing your child regress in any skill is frustrating and worrisome. You may wonder if this means your child has autism or other developmental or cognitive problems. You wonder if they will ever speak the same way they did before.

Before stressing, know that several factors cause temporary language regression, such as big life changes and illnesses. If you are going through one of these, take a wait-and-see approach to determine if their language improves when things relax.

However, always trust your parental instinct. If you think something is wrong, talk to your doctor. Keep reading to learn more about childhood regression of speech.

Related: How Does Reading Improve Speech for Your Child

What is Speech Regression?

Speech regression, often called language regression, is the term that refers to the decline in a young child’s speech and communication abilities. The child develops language capabilities and then regresses, losing previously achieved speech and language skills.

Oftentimes, a regression indicates an underlying developmental or cognitive concern. Certain disorders may lead to language regression, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Normally, a developmental regression is short-lived and not a cause for concern. You’ll find a range of problems that lead to this, and most are resolved without any help from parents or experts.

Regressions happen in a lot of areas of development! Here are some other examples.

  • A fully potty-trained child has accidents during the daytime.
  • Your walking child begins crawling around the house.
  • Your child, who sleeps through the night, will only sleep in your bed.
  • Your toddler only communicates through pointing rather than using words.

Signs of Speech Regression

Parents worry, and you need to know if you should actually be concerned about your child’s language skills. Remember, a speech regression is when a child experiences receding or disappearing skills already mastered.

Here are some signs of regression; it’s not an exhaustive list of options. This is to give you an idea of what you may see.

  • The child stops using words or sounds he previously learned and used.
  • Your child, who used simple words like “ball” or “dog,” now reverts to only babbling.
  • You notice your child losing social skills switch peers, such as seeking out other kids to play with at the park or a playdate.
  • Your child, who once pointed at things, stops finding ways to get your attention to indicate what they want.

What Causes a Speech Regression?

When you think of language regression, chances are you think of autism or other developmental disorders. It is true that this is a major cause, but there are other factors that may lead to this language problem.

Mastering Other Milestones

Sometimes, when a child is progressing in another area, they regress in one area of development. That could be because their focus switches to another task.

For example, if you notice the regression during potty training, it simply may be due to a new milestone coming into the picture. Usually, once that milestone occurs and life develops a sense of norm for your child, their language skill comes back naturally without any help from you.

Major Life Changes

Another factor is life changes. You may not think these events cause your young child stress, but a major life event, such as a family move, a new school setting, or a new sibling, can lead to regression.

Many parents notice that their toddler has a potty regression when they bring home a new baby. The same can happen with their speech.

Try not to worry; this typically works itself out over time.

However, it may be more concerning if you aren’t sure what the stressor is. Sometimes, things may happen that stress out your child that you aren’t aware of.


If your child isn’t feeling well, it’s normal for kids to revert back to previous communication skills. They lack the energy needed for newer forms of communication, so they go back to the easiest form possible.

Once your child rests, listen for their previous skills to reappear.

One common medical reason for speech issues is chronic ear infections. Fluid buildup in the ear makes it harder for your child to hear sounds; it’s like hearing underwater. It muffles speech, and their speech may reflect this.

Developmental Disorders

Some developmental disorders, primarily autism spectrum disorder, cause regression.

Experts have yet to pinpoint exactly what causes regressive autism, but some believe it’s due to “over pruning” in the brain. However, no definitive answer exists yet.

Children with autism are developmentally normal for the first year, but parents typically notice signs by the age of two years old. These kids often have other symptoms, such as:

  • Repetitive word use
  • Repeating the same phrases
  • Difficulty communicating verbally and nonverbally
  • Language regression
  • Lack of social interest and interaction

Does Speech Regression Always Mean Autism?

Not always! While it is true that one-quarter of children with autism will have some sort of speech or developmental regression, that leaves three-quarters without any loss of skill.

As I indicated above, there are other reasons for this as well. It’s not always an indicator that your child has ASD.

Typically, regression tied with autism occurs between 18-24 months. This change happens suddenly, but it also can be a gradual loss over time.

Can ADHD Cause Speech Regression?

Evidence shows that as many as two-thirds of kids with ADHD have speech and language disorders. Some studies suggest it’s as high as 90%, so it’s possible that a child with ADHD may experience a speech regression.

Speech Regression vs. Speech Delay

You often see both of these terms when discussing language problems. Parents need to understand the difference between regression and delay.

Speech delays are common; many kids have a language delay, which is why speech therapy is quite common for kids to receive. A range of factors causes delays.

A speech delay is when a child fails to meet one or more language developmental milestones, progressing slower than their peers. For example, a four-year-old with a small vocabulary would indicate a speech delay.

We all know kids progress and develop at their own rate, and many of these children catch up with their peers in the years coming. A pediatric speech-language pathologist may be a helpful tool to encourage your child to communicate.

A regression, on the other hand, is when your child loses abilities they already have.

For example, a child who once spoke three-word sentences now only speaks one word at a time would indicate a regression. Another example is a child losing a word, such as no longer being able to say the word “shoe” when getting dressed.

What Should You Do If You Think Your Child Has a Language Regression?

If your child has significant language regression – or any developmental regression – visit your pediatrician for screening and assessment. Seeking professional help is the best way to ensure the problem doesn’t worsen.

Facing a speech regression may feel scary, but many kids experience this and end up with normal language skills. Speaking to your pediatrician may help calm your fears and get you the help your child needs.