Even a small speech defect can create big problems for a child. The taunts of classmates can leave lasting psychological scars. Kids with speech problems often do poorly in class because they are afraid to speak out.

According to Better Homes and Gardens magazine, speech disorders may simply be poor speaking habits, or they may be caused by such health problems as hearing loss and learning disabilities. Some common speech disorders include:

- Delayed language. A child should develop first words by age one and two-word combinations by age two.

- Poor articulation. Children sometimes distort and omit sounds or they substitute one sound for another. Some sounds are harder to say: the "s" may not be mastered until after age 5. Many children have trouble with others (l, r, j, v, z, th, zh, ch and sh) until age 6 or 7. If the problem persists into first grade, talk to a school speech therapist. - Stuttering. Nearly all children stumble over sounds or repeat whole words. Children who become tense and frustrated during prolonged episodes of stuttering may need professional help.

the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association can give information and a list of local speech pathologists. Call their toll-free help line: 800-638-8255.

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