Find out what your child should be doing and learn what speech problem warning signs to look for
As my daughter approached her second birthday, I noticed her vocabulary growing every week. She was picking up words left and right and repeating what we were saying. While I was thrilled to be hearing these new-found nouns and verbs, I wondered if her tendency to leave out syllables and sounds was normal.
Were these verbal missteps typical for her age group or was it something to keep an eye on? And what other language milestones should she be meeting?
Scott & White speech language pathologist, Joan Togami explains the typical language development of a young child and common speech problems to watch for.
Language development begins at birth, but by six months your child should be making a lot of different sounds, which is called babbling.
“We want them to be laughing, making cooing sounds with familiar people and making gurgling sounds,” Ms. Togami said. “This is the start of language.”
At this age, your child should have different reactions to loud sounds, angry and friendly voices and be able to turn and look towards new sounds. Your baby may even be babbling for attention.
By the child’s first birthday, he or she should be able to recognize a family member’s name and look toward them when their name is called.
“They should also be saying two to three words besides ‘mama’ and ‘dada,’” Ms. Togami said. “And they should be imitating familiar words. Maybe they’re not using those words, but they’re imitating words they hear in their environment.”
Children at twelve-months-of-age should also be able to point to objects they want or items they want to know the name of. They should also be able to understand and carry out simple instructions.
Children at this age should be using 10 to 20 different words at the single word level, and using them frequently. This may include animal sounds.
“We’re not talking about imitating at this time. We’re talking about words that they’re using in their environment to get what they want or words they use during play.”
Between 18 and 24 months
Vocabulary increases significantly at this age to approximately 50 different words.
“That doesn’t mean the child will be pronouncing or articulating them accurately, but using a larger pool of words.”
Word combining begins at this age and your child may begin using two-word phrases like “want milk” to acquire something they want.
At this age, they should also be able to follow more commands like pointing to their body parts or going to their room to get a book on request.
As your child becomes a two-year-old, their vocabulary continues to increase to 200 words or more. They may even be able to start little conversations where they’re using real words and jargon together. Children of this age will commonly ask “what’s this” or “what’s that” or “where’s my….”
Between the Second and Third Birthdays
Not only are they using nouns, but they should also be using verbs and adjectives. They will start to outgrow the “I want” sentences and begin building a larger variety of sentences to ask more in-depth questions.
“They are still developing their articulation at this age, so there are certainly sounds that a three-year-old doesn’t produce,” Ms. Togami said. “But other people should be able to understand most of what your child says in conversation.”
If the parent has to interpret most of the time for other people or family members, their child might be behind.
The parent should not have to interpret what the child is saying at this age.
“It doesn’t mean at four-years-old that there aren’t sounds that their child developmentally won’t have,” she said. “But at four-years-old, especially for safety reasons, they should be understood by other friends and other adults.”
What are some of the common speech problems to get checked out?
If the parent notices that the child’s language skills aren’t changing over time or seem to be slower than other children his or her age, that might be a sign of a language development issue.
Here are a few other speech problems to look for:
- The late talker – the child seems to understand everything, but just isn’t talking very much.
- Interpreter needed – the child talks a lot, but mom has to interpret a lot at age three and there are a lot of articulation errors.
- Frustration over articulation – The child shows frustration when even the parent can’t understand what he or she is saying.
- A lot of ear infections – children with a history of a lot of ear infections are more at risk of developing speech or language delays.
- Stuttering – Between the ages of three and five, some developmental stuttering is normal. A speech pathologist can determine if it’s just developmental or if it’s a long-term stuttering issue.
With all of these issues, early intervention is very important. If you notice any of these problems in your child’s speech, it is best to have them assessed between infancy and age three. Getting help when they are four or older may cause delays or problems with school performance.
How can parents encourage speech development?
“Beginning at birth, parents should be talking to their child about what they’re doing with their child,” Ms. Togami said. “Whether they’re giving them a bath, dressing their child or playing with toys. That’s where it starts.”
Reading books, even to infants, is also a good way to increase vocabulary and encourage speech.
Even if you are normally a quiet person or a quiet family, it’s important to talk to your baby.
“For the benefit of the child’s language development, they need to practice talking to their child.”
And although it might be tempting to switch to baby talk when in the presence of your infant, Ms. Togami said it’s better for your child’s language development if the parent uses adult pronunciations in a happy, cheerful voice.
If you have questions about your child’s speech, ask your child’s doctor or pediatrician about your concerns. They can refer you to a speech pathologist or other community resources.