Many, but not all, special needs toddlers also have speech delays. To determine if your toddler has a speech delay, address your concerns with your pediatrician and have the child assessed by a speech therapist. If a speech delay does exist, take your toddler to speech therapy sessions and engage him in speech activities at home on a daily basis. Some special needs children may have delays in articulation (the actual pronunciation of words) or in language (the use of words to communicate). Some toddlers may have delays in both areas.
Modeling and Repeating
Always model good speech for your toddler. Don't use baby-talk or purposely use incorrect grammar in an attempt to entertain your toddler. Enunciate your words clearly and maintain eye contact as much as possible when speaking to your toddler. Talk to your toddler all day, even as you do mundane tasks such as folding laundry. Explain to him what you are doing and ask him questions as well. When your toddler talks to you, repeat what he says. If he is using only two or three words at a time, expand what he says into a full sentence. When a child points to what he wants, tell him what to say instead and encourage him to use words to get what he wants. Responding quickly to pointing will teach the child that it's unnecessary for him to talk to get his needs met.
Singing children's songs and reciting nursery rhymes encourages your toddler to practice articulation. Many songs and rhymes use alliteration and rhyming, which allows your child to practice consonant and rhyming sounds. Sing and recite the same songs over and over to build confidence. A good time to sing children's songs is in the car. Play a CD with children's songs and make it a part of your travel routine.
Reading books to toddlers will help with speech and language development. Hearing correct speech will help toddlers to learn letter and vowel sounds. Encourage the child to repeat words or phrases as you say them. Also, read books with pictures of real-world objects so that you can point to pictures and have the child tell you the names of the objects.
Mirror and Phone Play
Get your child a small tabletop or hand-held mirror to look at when he is speaking. Your toddler will like watching himself and it will encourage him to talk more. Also, he will be able to see how his mouth looks when he says certain sounds and he will begin to differentiate the ways it forms different sounds. Another helpful tool is a whisper phone, which is a toy phone that toddlers can speak into and then hear what they are saying through the top part of the phone. This will help your toddler become more aware of what they sound like when they talk.