My Child Understands But Doesn’t Speak – Read This!


“My child understands but doesn’t speak” is a sentence I often heard from parents who brought their child in to see me for a speech and language assessment.

While in most cases this was true (the child understood at an age appropriate level), there were a few children who actually did not understand what they should have.

There are children who are true “late talkers”, meaning that they are developing as expected in every area except for expressive language (spoken language).

But then there are those who do have difficulty understanding, and have fooled their parents, making them think they actually understand more than they do.

When I say “fooled” I don’t meant that your child is doing this intentionally.

Rather, he is using strategies, almost like coping strategies, that help him fit into his surroundings.

Let me explain how a young child can fool a parent into thinking they understand when they are actually struggling.

If you are interested in learning more about the late talking child, I have a webinar focused specifically on this topic.  Click here for more information!

How A Child Seems To Understand When They Actually Don’t

Making A Choice

When a choice is given the child takes one of the items offered, regardless of wanting it or not.

This leads the parent to believe that the child has understood and made a choice.

In order to see if your child can truly make a choice, pay attention to your wording.  

Many children will choose the last word in the list of choices.

Therefore, make sure you switch the ordering of the choices.  For example, “do you want yogurt or strawberries?”

The child may say strawberries because it is the last word they heard.  If you said “do you want strawberries or yogurt?” and now they choose yogurt, then that is definitely what is going on.

Joint Attention

A child may use joint attention to feign an understanding.

Joint attention is basically sharing attention.

An example is when a parent looks at an object and the child or baby turns to look at the same object.  Children are often assumed to understand more than they do because they are able to use joint attention.

In therapy sessions when I would request a specific item from a child, I would always make sure NOT to look at the one I wanted the child to give to me.

If I said “give me the car” while looking at the car and not the ball, for example, the child would most likely have given me the car because that is the item I was looking at.

17 tips to help toddler with speech delay

Following Routines

Parents often assume that their child is able to follow directions because the child’s teacher has no concerns at school (I am talking about preschoolers or kindergartners).

However, children are quite good at following what the rest of the group is doing.  So if the teacher says “it’s time to clean up and then sit at the carpet”, the child with comprehension (understanding) difficulties will typically wait and see what the others are doing and then follow along.

At home this can happen when a child knows what to expect.

For example, after breakfast he always goes upstairs to get dressed.  So when the parent says “go upstairs to get dressed” and the child goes.

The parent assumes their child has understood the direction.

Parents also often uses gestures and pointing without even realizing it.

So the parent may say “go and get your hat and mitts on” while pointing to their head and hands.  If it’s cold outside, the child will figure out what their parent means.

Use An Object For What It’s Meant To Be Used For

Here is a great example.  Dad says “throw me the ball” and the child throws the ball.

Of course it seems like the child has just followed a direction.

But, that’s what you do with a ball, you throw it.

If dad would have said “sit on the ball” that might have been a different story.

child understands but doesnt speak playing with doll

♥ You Might Also Like: Baby Sign Language Basics – What you need to know! ♥

Prepositions In Directions

This was one that often came up during my years practicing as a speech-language pathologist.

Many times I would ask a parent about their child’s understanding of early prepositions (in, on, off, out, under) and they would tell me they have no concerns as their child follows instructions containing these words at home.

When I asked for an example I would often get an answer like “he throws the dirty napkins in the garbage when asked”.  This is great, but it’s also what you do with a dirty napkin.

If you said to the child “throw the dirty napkin on the garbage” would the child do that?

In my speech therapy sessions I often had kids follow silly directions or directions with objects such as a box and blocks.

This way the child cannot predict what I might ask them to do.  For example, “put the block under the box” or “put the baby (doll) under the bed”.

Another way I would check for comprehension of “in” and “out” was by using a box and blocks or a toy bus (open at the top) with small figurines.

Usually when children are asked to put something “in” or take something “out”, there is only one option and the requested action fits the object being used (e.g. putting something in the garbage that belongs in the garbage).

However, in order to check for true understanding, I would have several blocks around a box as well as 2-3 blocks in the box.

Then I would say to the child “take a block out of the box”.

Many times the child would take all of the blocks that were laying around the box and put them all in.

Parents would stare at me baffled as they thought their child understood these words.

What is the Best toy for language development?

What Does This All Mean?

I am not telling you all of this to scare you or because I think that you should be testing your child.

But, if you have a child over 18 months who is not using words to communicate or using very few words and those words only consist of nouns and a few verbs, don’t assume that your child is understanding everything.

Think of the examples I gave above with regards to your child.  Play some silly games where you ask your child to do something unexpected like “put the dirty napkin under the garbage” and see what happens.

Or try saying “hug the car”, but make sure there is a teddy bear and car near the child.

Keep in mind, that the age of your child will determine whether or not they should be able to follow the directions.

That being said, Kerstin Meints, Kim Plunkett, Paul L. Harris and Debbie Dimmock (2002) found that children as young as 15 months understood the prepositions “in, on, under” in typical situations whereas by 18 months most children understood these same prepositions in atypical situations.

Chances are that when you say “my child understands but doesn’t speak” your child truly does understand, but realize that perhaps there could be more going on.

This is why it is so important to have a speech and language assessment done by a licensed speech-language pathologist rather than just “waiting it out” and hoping for the best.

If you would like more information on the subject of late talking toddlers I have a webinar on that subject!  Click here for more information.

Be sure to get your child in to see a Speech-Language Pathologist for an assessment if she is over 18 months and is still not using any words (regardless of being able to understand).

In the meantime I highly recommend reading the book “It Takes Two To Talk” by Speech-Language Pathologist Elaine Weitzman.

This book is packed with information including strategies that you can use at home to help your child speak!

child looking ahead with text overlay

67 Comments

  1. Thalia Reyes

    Hi so glad I found this. My almost 18 month old only blabs. He says words like mama,dada,papa,nana, calls for his brother but only when bribed. The other day he said tv, one time only. Dr. Wants him to speak 10 words for his 18 month check up. Should I be concerned, my first born was a late talker. Past 2 and he started talking complete sentences. Could he be like his brother?

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Thalia,

      By 18 months children should actually have about 20 words and at least 50 by the age of 2. However, there is a good chance he may be like his brother.

      I have several articles that might be of interest to you. These 2 will provide you with tips for how to foster language development at home:
      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay

      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      And this one discusses the concept of a “late talker” and what parents need to be aware of:

      What Is A Late Talker – The Truth Revealed!

      I also always recommend the book “It Takes Two To Talk” to parents as it provides so much information for how to support your child’s language development at home.

      A lot of children have a language explosion between 18 months and 2 years. However, if this doesn’t happen then I would strongly suggest seeing a speech pathologist to do an evaluation.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Reply
  2. Benia

    Hello I have a 3 year old daughter she just saying words and love to sings she doesn’t speak clearly she understands commands she counts from 1-10 in French and English and she speaks more French than English… at home she speaks both languages… she knows colds and shapes she repeats words and she babbles a little bit she doesn’t say when she want something she shows my husband and I .. can you help me

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Benia,

      I would definitely suggest having your daughter seen by a speech-language pathologist. By the age of 3 children should be communicating in sentences. I have written the following articles that provide tips for how you can help your daughter expand her vocabulary at home.

      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      I also highly recommend the book It Takes Two To Talk. You can check it out here. This book is an amazing resource for parents of children how are struggling with their language development.

      Feel free to reach out if you have further questions.

      All the best!

      Reply
  3. Ana

    I have a 2.7 year old that has about 200+ words however he rarely puts words together ( he has done it but it’s not all the time). His doctor suggested we wait until he’s 3 because he’s exposed to 2 languages but I took him to a speech pathologist because it concerns me. He’s a very shy child, who doesn’t even try to say something until he’s sure he’s able to say it. Hates to be corrected and gets very self-conscious.
    He’s recovering speech once a week for now but really hates it.
    Sometimes I wonder if he’s really unable to talk or just too self- conscious to talk.
    The speech therapist couldn’t evaluate him as he didn’t do anything ( he was shy the whole time), she’s just going with what I could tell her .

    At school he doesn’t talk , he talks a lot at home ( mostly one words commands, starting to use 2 /3 words together but seldom) , he love books and “reads them” remembering what we tell him about the stories. He repeats nursery songs as well.

    Is there anyway I can help him at home? He really puzzles me.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Ana,

      I’m glad to hear that you went with your parenting instinct instead of simply listening to your family dr and had your son seen by a speech language pathologist. Based on what you have shared with me it’s not a surprise that he did not speak during the assessment. Despite your son “hating” speech therapy I definitely think you should keep taking him, or perhaps trying someone else to see if there is better rapport. It is not uncommon for shy children to not be happy in speech therapy, at least initially.

      A 200+ word vocabulary is great and typically indicates that word combinations and sentences should be starting. Does your son speak more in one language than the other?

      Being exposed to many languages does not cause speech delays, unfortunately this is a myth that keeps being spread (even by doctors). There could be a slight delay in one language over another, but this would barely be noticeable and typically resolves in a few months.

      I would suggest taking a look at the book It Takes Two To Talk as it is filled with actionable strategies for parents of late talkers.

      Another thing you can do right away is repeat what your son says and expand on it. For example, if he says “milk” indicating he wants milk to drink, you can follow up and say “I want to drink milk, milk is yummy” or something like that. It might seem odd at first, but by expanding on his sentences you are helping him to grow his vocabulary.

      I hope this helps!

      Reply
      1. Ana

        Thank you for your suggestions ! I will start putting them in place. His Spanish is better than his English, but his speech therapy is in English. Hoping we don’t confuse him more!

        Reply
        1. Tanya (Post author)

          You’re welcome Ana. You mentioned that he goes to school, is this in English or Spanish? If he is hearing a lot more Spanish than English it would make sense that he English is lagging behind. You can also try speaking more English with him at home if this is the predominant language at school and will be going forward. Don’t worry about confusing him though. There is no evidence that speaking multiple languages causes a speech delay. But you do want him to be strong in the language he will be primarily speaking and if this will be English, I would focus on that for now. Once he is doing better with English add more of the Spanish back in to everyday life. These are also great topics to discuss with the speech therapist who is working with him.

          Reply
  4. edwin mogaka

    my name is edwin mogaka from kenya africa i have a four year old son first born he does not know how to speak well but understands everything in three languages.he is able to count from A to Z ON his own and knows A to Z What they stand for, can identify colors can also count one to thirty on his own. but combining words is difficult for him but looks very sharp in mastering things he does not forget easily .he cannot give you a story talks one word at a time .

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Edwin,

      By 4 years old a child should be able to make complete sentences. I’m not sure what kind of services are available in Kenya, but if you are able to have him seen by a speech language pathologist that would be my recommendation.

      I would also suggest taking a look at these articles I have written for parents to strengthen their child’s language skills at home:
      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      Wishing you all the best!

      Reply
  5. Daniela Droguett Leon

    Hi! awesome post! Thank you so much!
    My son is 2 years and 5 months and he didn’t speak at all. This week he learn to say “blue” but the rest are just blabs. I didn’t worry before because we use 3 language at home (spanish, english and portuguese) and I can see that he understand instructions from each. But you know, time is passing and I am worry again. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Daniela,

      I would suggest having your son evaluated by a speech language pathologist. Being exposed to 3 languages can cause a slight language delay however, it shouldn’t be too much. By the time a child is three they should be able to speak in complete sentences with grammatical errors still present. Children typically have about a 50 word vocabulary by the time they turn two. Once a child has around 50 words, 2 and 3 word combinations start appearing.

      I wish you all the best!

      Reply
  6. Haminat

    Hello,
    My little one is 2 years and 6months old. She hasn’t made a full sentence. However, she understands when asked to do little things. Like go bring your slippers, give me the water, call me your sister. Her few words so far are water, come, Nah (which she usually shakes her heads when saying it), back, eye and light. She still blabs a lot too. Had planned to get her to see a speech therapist but the lockdown happened. How can I help her? What do you think? Is she just a late talker? Thanks

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Haminat,

      I would definitely look into having her assessed by a speech pathologist (the waiting lists can be long unless you are going to do it privately). It sounds like her understanding isn’t an issue which is a good sign.

      I recommend expanding on the single words she is saying. For example if she says “water” because she wants a drink, you could say “drink water” as a start. If she starts saying “drink water” then you could model “I drink water”.

      Be sure to read some of the articles I have written that include tips for children with language delays:
      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      You could also try incorporating some sign language to help her expand her ability to communicate.

      I also highly recommend the book “It Takes Two To Talk“. It is a great resource for parents of late talking children. The advice given can be implemented in your daily activities with your daughter.

      I hope that this helps somewhat.

      Reply
  7. Kris Ferley

    Hello, I am so glad I found this page. My daughter who is 2 years and 9 months seems to have a slight speech delay. She is talking two word sentences and sometimes uses three word sen tenses to communicate, however she doesn’t refer to herself as me or my but instead she will use her name. The same goes to other people she will verbalize that is daddy’s or mommy’s but wont say his or hers. Also if I ask her if she likes something she will answer with the word “like” instead of yes or no. She does learn new words frequently but at a slower pace after her brother was born. She also hears two languages at home, so I don’t know if that has to do with anything. Can you please suggest what can we do to help her with building better sentences. She seems to understand most of the things we say to her but I am still a bit concerned. Also she became aggressive and does bad things on purpose after her brother was born, so I don’t know if that is because of her age or attention seeking behavior. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Kris,

      Thanks for your comment. From the information you have shared it does sound like your daughter has a mild speech and language delay. Does she speak both languages she hears in your home or has she chosen one as her main language?

      As for referring to herself with her name, this is actually not all that uncommon. However, most children stop doing this at around 2.5 years (although some don’t drop this way of speaking until they are closer to 3). It is very important that the adults around her use correct pronouns. Many parents refer to themselves in the third person when speaking to their children – e.g. Give it to Mommy. Unfortunately this does not help the child learn grammar rules. So make sure you are using the pronouns I and me when speaking to her and encourage other adults in her life to do the same. The pronouns “his and her” typically don’t emerge until a child is between 3 and 3.5 years old. Again be sure to model correct grammar when speaking to your daughter so she will pick up these words when she is ready.

      Take a look at some of these articles I have written to get a few ideas for helping her speak using more words:
      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
      Toddler Talk: Follow Your Child’s Lead In Play
      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      The aggression/misbehavior you are seeing is most likely age related with a bit of jealousy thrown in. Make sure to give your daughter one on one time every day. It can be something as simple as cuddling with her while reading a book or 2.

      I hope I have been able to answer some of your questions. Let me know if there is anything I can help out with.

      Reply
      1. Kris

        Thank you for your response. That is very helpful. She does speak mainly one language however she would sing songs mainly in the other language. She also watched tv more than i want to admit, which I am sure wasn’t helping her, so I did stop that. Also I tried to see how well my daughter understands me base on your article and I can say that when I asked her to put a diaper under her bed, she looked under the bed instead which makes me a little nervous. When i told her to but the diaper on the bed she followed my direction. When I told her to go hug her bottle she also followed my direction. If I tell her to put he shoes on or give me a phone she will do it but if I ask her if she likes the cake she is eating she will not answer or will just repeat the last word of the question I asked her. She also asks me question like what is this and can ask me if she wants to eat or drink and specifically what she wants. However she doesn’t listen to me when I tell her not to do something, and I don’t exactly know if she just ignores me or not fully understanding. I am sorry to be writing all the issues here, we are also getting her evaluated by private speech language pathologist this Saturday so hopefully can get some answers, but I am a very anxious person and that desnt help the situation. Thank you again.

        Reply
        1. Tanya (Post author)

          It sounds like she is able to follow directions fairly well. When you asked her to put a diaper under the bed she still looked under.

          You can model nodding and shaking your head for yes or no while saying the words to demonstrate how to answer a yes or no question. So when you asked her if she likes cake (assuming she does) pause and then respond with something like “yes, cake is yummy, I like it” while nodding your head.

          The not listening part is most likely an age thing.

          But I am very happy to hear that you are having her seen by an SLP tomorrow. I would have suggested that. It will help put your mind at ease!

          I hope it goes well.

          All the best.

          Reply
  8. Zovig

    Hi hope you view this comment in your thread. I was just about to see a speech therapist for my 2.5 yr old son but the virus outbreak set everything back and everything is shut down and I hope I’m doing everything I can to get my kid to talk. He doesn’t say a single word though, I am not sure if he just is refusing to talk to he really can’t talk, my son is pretty clever. And his comprehension is quite fluent. He knows what everything is. He understand when reading books what words mean, and loves playing. He throws horrible tantrums because we cannot understand what he wants. He will drag the words mama or dada in a scream but that’s about it. He often makes sound effects of every animal and object there is. I wanted my son to see a specialist but with everything happening thats no longer a possibility. We limit television for him and I read to him at least 3-4 times a day for 10-15 minutes. He truly loves books and playing with his toys. I personally think my son has a speech delay but what would I know.. I’m no doctor. Please help give me some tips or guidance of how I can get my son to talk. I cannot get a word out of him. He’ babbles all the time trying to make words but they are so muffled in his expression I have to really pick apart what he wants.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Zovig,

      I’m sorry to hear about the struggles you are having with your son’s speech and language development. And of course, thanks to Covid-19, now there is no way to access speech and language services. Under normal circumstances I would have suggested having your son’s hearing assessed (despite being able to show that he understands) because for some children even a mild hearing loss can result in a language delay. Does your son have a history of ear infections?

      I would reach out to the speech therapist you had an appointment scheduled with to see if they are offering any kind of online services.

      In the meantime, if your budget allows, I highly recommend the book It Takes Two To Talk . It contains very practical suggestions and strategies you can get started with right away.

      I’ve also written several articles that can help parents work on language development at home.
      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home
      Toddler Talk: Follow Your Child’s Lead In Play

      I hope this helps. Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions.

      Reply
      1. Zovig

        Thank you for your response, my son has never had a hearing infection. I would get his ears checked if it was a possibility but he always responds in some way when we ask him to do something, say his name, out stuff away or choose an item out. If he could talk everything would be normal. I’m not sure if this has to do with anything. But my husband didn’t talk until he was 4. I don’t think I can wait until my son turns 4 but I did purchase the book it takes two talk. Hopefully I can use some tips and guidance to attract my son to use language skills. The reason I think my son knows how to talk but doesn’t is because every now and then out of complete random he will say Hi, yellow, ball, red, uh oh, no. But then you ask him to say it again and He shuts up and has this grin on his face. I feel like my toddler just gives me a hard time on purpose -.-
        He is something else. Thank you again and be safe!

        Reply
        1. Tanya (Post author)

          You are welcome! From what you have said it doesn’t sound like his hearing would be the issue. However, children can have fluid in the ear (that causes a hearing loss) with no signs of an ear infection. But you cannot worry about that now.

          If your son is getting frustrated with not being able to communicate I would suggest you try adding in some basic sign language when speaking to him.
          Here are a couple of articles I have written on that subject:
          Baby & Toddler Sign Language Basics – What You Need To Know!
          Teach Your Baby or Toddler Sign Language: It’s Easier Than You Think!

          There is some evidence that suggests that late talking (especially on the father’s side) does have a hereditary component. So the fact that your husband was late to talk could be why your son is struggling with language.

          Here is an article about late talkers that has a lot of good information. It is also written by a speech-language pathologist.

          Your son is very lucky to have you as a parent! You will get through this and please reach out if you have any further questions.

          Reply
          1. Cami

            I am so thankful I stumbled upon your site and specifically this thread as just today I was told after a video-chat evaluation with a SLP that my 21 month old has a moderate speech delay. Our little man has own language and really no clear words at all. Thank you for giving me hope and light reading while we are all locked up with this COVID crisis!

          2. Tanya (Post author)

            You’re welcome! That is great you were able to get a video chat evaluation with an SLP. Did they give you any resources for how to best encourage language development at home?
            I always recommend the book “It Takes Two To Talk“. It is an invaluable reference for parents of toddlers with language delays. If you haven’t had a chance to read some of my articles on language development activities at home, I highly recommend these two:
            17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
            Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

  9. Jessica

    Hi Tanya,

    I really enjoyed your blog. I have twins that are 18 months. They say a few words other then that they babble a ton to each other and us as well as point a lot. They understand us very well and can put their toys away when asked, push their chairs in, go grab clothes in the morning, put stuff in the garbage etc. I’m just concerned they aren’t saying much. They haven’t had ear infections and they weren’t born premie, I had them born full term for twins (37 weeks for twins). Should we be concerned they aren’t saying much?

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Jessica,

      It definitely sounds like your children do understand well. There is some information that suggest that twins may talk a bit later than singletons, however a lot of that research used twins that were born prematurely. Which is not the case with yours. I would get your children on a speech-language waitlist (they are long to begin with but may be getting longer now) for an assessment. Things may change by the time you actually get in at which point you can cancel any upcoming appointments.

      Also, if you are able to I would advice purchasing the It Takes Two To Talk book. It has so much information in there that parents can do at home! It is one of the best resources for speech and language development for parents.

      If you haven’t done so yet, take a look at these articles I wrote for parents to help their children develop language skills at home:
      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      Reply
  10. Yolonda

    My grandbaby will be 2 in March he say a few words but u have to tell him to say them he recently had tubes put on both ears due to fluid I was wondering is it speech delay r late talking ? He understand very well he went to speech therapy once have to go back in 3 months

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Yolanda,

      I responded to the comment you left on the other article. I didn’t realize he had gone for speech therapy already. I definitely recommend going back, especially if there have been no improvements about 2 months after having the tubes in.

      Reply
  11. Brittany North

    My son just turned 2 years old. He has anywhere from 40-50 words he uses. However he not putting two words together yet, unless you count bye bye as one. However he follows directions really well and listens well. And he is still picking up words. His doctor just said bring him back in 3 months to do another check up. But besides this is on target with everything else and is happy, but I’m highly concerned. Just to add he was born at 35 week, but has been on all targets with other milestones.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Brittany,

      Children need approximately 50 words in their repertoire before they begin combining words. So your son might start putting words together any day now. I agree with your doctor and think you can wait 2 to 3 months to see if there are any improvements. However, wait lists for publicly funded speech and language services are typically quite long. So you could get your sons name on the waiting list for a speech-language assessment now. If he has improved before he gets seen you can withdraw his name from the list. If you have private insurance coverage you could get into see someone much sooner.

      Here is an article I wrote that may help you with some more tips to get his language going 17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay. Number 11 would be of particular interest to you.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Reply
  12. Callie

    I’m so glad I found this website. Our daughter will be 14 months. She doesn’t say words only babbles. At what point skills we be concerned? We can give her a list of things to do and she will do it but she doesn’t speak.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Callie,

      There is a good chance that your daughter is a late talker. I’ve written an entire article about that which you can read here.

      Has she had many ear infections? If so, I would have her hearing assessed by an audiologist. Sometimes even a little bit of fluid in the ear (that is there consistently) can result in a mild hearing loss and this can be enough to muffle sounds making it difficult for your daughter to properly hear words and thus causing her difficulty to make the words herself.

      If this is not the case I would keep providing her with language rich experiences. If by 18 months she has not had a language explosion (she should be consistently using 20 to 30 words at that time) get her in for a speech and language assessment.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Reply
  13. Annice

    Hi Tanya sorry he is 2 and will be 3 in February.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing his age. The suggestions I gave are applicable to an almost 3 year old.

      Reply
  14. Annice Jackson

    Hi Tanya,

    I was told my son has a slight receptive and expressive delay but likely not enough to qualify for early intervention from the school district possibly. However, I had him in a preschool that was really good for like a month his words and understanding took off then I had to switch him to an in home provider due to needing more days and seems like things are stagnating. Could it possibly be that he just needs a more language rich environment in order to catch up. My mama gut is telling me that is it? Just wondered was it likely? I’m definitely getting him a kitchen and we are going to read and I am going to visually show him what I mean then test his understanding later without the visuals. Could some children simply need more stimulation he was solely at home till around 2.5.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Annice,

      You didn’t mention how old your son currently is so it is a bit difficult for me to give you specific suggestions.

      From what you have said it sounds like a language rich environment is what he needs!

      I love the book “It Takes Two To Talk – Parent Handbook” as it is filled with wonderful suggestions for boosting language naturally at home.

      Also, be sure to check out these articles for tips on some other things you can try at home:
      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      If you have private insurance coverage you can also check to see if you qualify for speech-language therapy that way. A few sessions with both you and your son may be all he needs!

      Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.

      Reply
  15. Stuti

    Hi Tanya,
    This is Stuti, mom of a 2.7 year old boy. My son can speak dada, Dadi, Chachi,hello, papa, mummas, Nana, mama, Babu, two, three, crow, ball, tweety and few more words. He knows all his body parts including tough ones like elbows, shoulders and knees. Turns around when I ask him to do so, when I ask him to do hands up, finger on your lips, sit down, stand up, go and keep this in the drawer, go get the cloth from kitchen, what do you say when you want milk, he says milk in Hindi. He attempts to say thank you when asked understands sorry. But he doesn’t always call me mummas. He calls me by anything. He babbles a lot and explains everything what he wants to do by babbling and pointing it out. Also he is not fussy about any food or while going to the toilet. He keeps eye contact with me always, but when I ask him to say something which he can’t he moves away or turns his head or says smilingly aaaaaaa….He has learned to say no. When I ask him to eat something extra even after his tummy is full he says no. He understands simple as well as complex directions. He doesn’t get cranky unless his routine is changed. He identifies alphabets from A to I which has been taught in school. Identifies colors and few shapes that too which is taught in school. He waves at known people while going out of house. He likes to see kids playing but doesn’t go easily towards them to play. But runs behind them if sees the elder kids cycling or running.
    I am making him learn at least 1 new word everyday. He sometimes uses them sometimes doesn’t. I am worried a lot about what should I do.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Stuti,

      Thank you for your comment. From what you have said it does not sound like your son has any issues with hearing so this is most likely an expressive language delay. The best thing you can do is get him set up with a speech-language pathologist who can do a thorough assessment of his language abilities. If you have private insurance coverage it will be quicker to go that route. But if you don’t then you will need to go the public route through early intervention services. If you can tell me where you are located I can try to give you more specific information. You can also ask your family dr how to proceed.

      Here are some articles that may be useful in the meantime:
      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay
      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      Reply
  16. Amber

    Hi, Tanya.

    Thank you for this great article! It is full of very useful information. My son babbled as a baby and could say “Daddy,” “Hi,” and “Sissy” around 14 months old. The only word he used in context was “daddy” and repeated the others. He’s currently 21 months old. He has progressively become less vocal. He doesn’t imitate words anymore and doesn’t babble. He uses inflection when he grunts or squeals but doesn’t “speak.” He makes no consonant sounds. He points at things he wants. If he wants me to do something (like open the blinds) he makes it known (like banging the blinds until i open them). Seemingly, he can hear. He’s a light sleeper and wakes easily with noise. He goes to the refrigerator when I ask “do you want milk?” and goes to the bathroom when we ask if he wants a bath. If I ask him where something (like his cup or shoe) is or tell him to go get something, he’ll find it and bring it to me. He doesn’t always respond to loud noises like a high pitched bell or a loud bang. He’s had several ear infections but never enough to get tubes or for any major intervention.

    I contacted our state early intervention program for an evaluation and are waiting on that. I don’t really know what to expect with the evaluation. What do you think?

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Amber,

      Sorry to hear your son is struggling with his expressive language. It’s great that you have him on a waiting list for early intervention. From what you have said I would strongly recommend him seeing a pediatric audiologist to rule out any hearing issues. A small amount of fluid may be present in his ears which can be enough to muffle some of the high frequency sounds. You might be interested in reading Ear Tubes For Children – What You Need To Know!

      As for the evaluation, the speech therapist will most likely play with your son. Speech and language assessments for children under 3 are typically play based and many therapists stay away from standardized testing as it often doesn’t give a good picture of what is going on. The therapist will also speak with you for more information.

      If you have private insurance coverage I would recommend having him seen privately to start so that you don’t have to wait as long. Unless you were told the wait time was reasonable. Here is a link to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Associations Find a Professional website https://www.asha.org/profind/

      Let me know if I can answer any other questions you many have.

      Reply
  17. Austin

    Hi Tanya,

    Our son turned 2 in April, and we’re started to get concerned, think he may have expressive language delay. He “understands” quite a bit; I quote the word because now it’s a bit hard to tell after reading your post. When we ask him questions about wanted to take a show, being hungry, wanting a banana or grapes, wanting to go a walk, or swim, etc… he responds to all of them. Sometimes he may not say no, but he wont show interest either. When he was young, we started with signing. He can do “more”, “bottle” (which he uses for any kind of drink now), “thank you”, he can do some others but not very accurately. He also says words, but not many. Mama, Papa, Dada, bye bye. Words he can kind of say are “more” when we ask him to (cuz he will sign it), bubble, truck, car, and some others I’m missing right now. He also makes a lot of sounds for things he clearly knows what they are. We have cards with pictures that we will throw on the floor and ask him to find, and he get’s almost all of them. Things like fire truck, zebra, ball, soccer ball, clock, frog, house, leaf, sheep, etc; A whole mix of things. The talking he just seems uninterested in doing, or he just can’t do if he has this delay. If I try to get him to say something and he can’t, he will get frustrated and upset, then walk away because I’ve pushed to much. We’re not sure what to do. Should we get him assessed? Wait a bit longer and just use some of these links you’ve shared in other posts to do speech therapy at home? I’m fairly certain he understand (or maybe hopeful because I’m a parent), but I’ve said whole sentences to him without thinking what I’m saying, then afterwards I tell myself “why did I just say that? He has no idea what I just said.”, but then he’ll immediately respond non-verbally by going and do the action I asked, or what have you.

    Reply
    1. Austin

      I forgot to mention some other things he points at or “signs”. He knows a lot of parts on his body (hair, eyes, nose, lips, teeth, tongue, belly button, hands, feet). He also “signs” cold, airplane, wind. Oh yeah, he can also say “hot” when food/drink is warm/hot to him.

      Reply
    2. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Austin,

      Based on all of the information you have provided it does not sound like there is a receptive delay. He is most likely a late talker, but that being said I still strongly recommend having him assessed by a speech language pathologist. Is he able to imitate sounds and sound combinations, for example if you say “Dada” will he try to repeat it? There are many different reasons as to why he may not be speaking at the level he should be and the only way to figure out what that might be is to have him assessed by a speech-language pathologist. If you have private insurance coverage there is a good chance a part of most of the fee would be covered. You can also go the publicly funded route, but you may have to wait several months.

      Wishing you and your son all the best!

      Reply
      1. Austin

        Thanks for such a quick response! Unfortunately, I don’t believe our insurance covers a speech pathologist (I work at a startup, so insurance is on the lower end). Sometimes he will try to mimic and he will get the sounds almost correct, other times he’s way off. But when sometimes when he’s way off, I really feel like he’s just not interested or he might even just ignore us. He just wants to sign, as if it’s easier. He’s recently started creating his own signs instead. I’ll ask him to say “run”, and he’ll move his arms really fast. I’m going to look into the cost of assessment at a place nearby, so we’ll see how that goes. I also didn’t realize there was a publicly funded route, so I can check that out as well. We are going to start enunciating more, reading more books like “Brown Bear, Brown Bear”, do the Mr. Potato head thing, and we’re also working with in/out, on/under with things that typically wouldn’t work (like asking him to put a book under his blanket). But, my MAIN concern was if there was something wrong with the brain, the part that handles converting thoughts to speech.

        Reply
        1. Tanya (Post author)

          Definitely look into publicly funded services because it is important to have a proper assessment done to figure out what may be causing his inability to produce words. It’s great that he is finding ways to communicate. When he signs, make sure to repeat what he is signing or what you think he is signing in words so he is always hearing spoken language. Let me know if you need any help trying to figure out how to access public funding for speech and language services. I am not 100% sure I will be able to help but I can try.

          Reply
  18. Akosua Ofori-Attah

    Hi tanya,thanks for the useful information. My son is nearly 3 and used to say words like who did that,I want this,mummy come when he was 2.Then I had another child few months after he turned 2 and all of a sudden he stopped using his words and started crying most of the time.He can still call me and daddy but his attention is quiet worrying. I took him to see SLT and he’s on waiting list.Is there something I can do to help?

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi there,

      I would also suggest talking to your family Dr. about this and consider taking your son to a developmental pediatrician to make sure there is nothing else going on. It is not uncommon for children to lose some words they have previously spoken when they go through growth spurts or are learning new skills. However, this would typically resolve on it’s own in about a month or so. Has your son had many ear infections? Has his hearing been checked? Fluid in the ear can cause a mild to moderate hearing loss which can make it difficult to speak when a child is young.

      I wish I could provide you with answers but that is difficult to do without having actually met your son.

      Wishing you all the best!

      Reply
  19. kellt

    My daughter is almost 5 she can not say any words not even ma. She can identify numbers, letters, shapes and colors she can follow directions. However nobody can seem to tell me why she has such a severe speech delay. She recieves speech therapy 3 times a week at head start. But all she does is grunt makes sounds and signs.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi

      I’m sorry to hear that your daughter is struggling with her expressive language. Has the speech pathologist that is working with her given any indication at the lack of progress? There are several reasons why she may not be communicating with words, but I cannot say what these might be without knowing her. Can she imitate words and sounds? Has she ever said words and then stopped?

      Reply
  20. Tamea

    Hello,

    My grandson will be 3 next month. He doesn’t talk but he makes sounds. When he watches a movie you know he knows what is going on by the pitches he makes. The other way he communicates his needs is by bringing you his cup if he is thirsty, he will push you in a forward motion if he wants you to go somewhere with him. He understands commands but if its not something he wants he will scream and cry. He hasn’t been diagnosed with autism but the doctor said he is showing signs of it. He also had a speech therapist but he didn’t like her and every session was a disaster because he would cry.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Tamea,

      It is not uncommon for a child like your grandson to cry during speech therapy sessions. Do not give up on speech therapy. It will be challenging with anyone at first because he will be asked to do non preferred tasks. This is completely normal. I am not sure where you are but there are many early intervention programs available in Canada and the US that you can look into. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Reply
  21. Elle

    Hi Tanya

    I have a three old boy who is a late talker. We started to get concerned soon after his 2nd birthday when he wasn’t talking maybe having 10 words max. He has had a number of speech and language assessments since then and have been taking him to private sppech therapy for over 9 months. Have been told most likely an expressive language delay. He has attended a creche since he was a 1yr and started in their montesorri class in July. We have availed of extra support for him, so there is an extra person in the room so they can work in smaller groups with him. He is doing well, very happy there, plays with other children and attempts to join in with circle time songs and actions. He just doesn’t seem to be progressing with his speech though. He understands and follows instructions and will say 1, 2 or 3 word phrases randomly. His favourites are no mummy, no its mine or bye bye. He is a really loving good natured boy who loves to give hugs and kisses. However he does through tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants.we are tryjng to talk to him as much whilst doing day to day things but not sure what else to do. Going to continue with speech and language therapy but not sure if is helping. Do you have any advise on what else we can do? My gut tells me he is fine developmentally except for his speech.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Elle,

      From what you have said it does sound like an expressive language delay. I would definitely continue with the speech therapy. In some cases it can take years of therapy.

      Is your son able to repeat sounds and words?

      The best person to ask about the lack of progress would be the speech-language pathologist.

      I’m sorry I can’t give you more information than that.

      I can share with you some articles I have written with tips for promoting language development.

      It sounds like you are probably already doing many of these things but I will share anyway.

      Straightforward Speech Therapy Activities For Toddlers You Can Do At Home

      17 Tips To Help A Toddler With A Speech Delay

      13 Ways Mr Potato Head Helps To Foster Toddler Development

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Reply
      1. Elle

        Thanks Tanya will keep going with slt. He can repeat sounds and words but not always when prompted to do so more when it’s on his terms or when he is interested in something. He knows animal sounds and will repeat words when it sounds fun…like yucky or yummy. I guess it is a waiting game. Thanks for your help.

        Reply
        1. Tanya (Post author)

          I know it’s frustrating Elle! Just keep talking to his speech therapist about your concerns. There are many reasons for a language delay and a speech language pathologist is the best person to help figure out the best treatment.

          Reply
  22. Martha Peters

    We are raising our two year old granddaughter who was born about
    5-6 weeks early. Thus far she says these words, apple, ice, baby, bye bye, Bri & who’s that. The phrase who’s that is the first & only phrase she’s said. The other words she says at first over & over then stops as if she isn’t interested. Still says ice, apple, baby. For the correct items. Love to go outside. Will go to glass door, move curtain & start making the sound
    Mmmmmmm or aaaaaaaaa. Knocking on glass door.
    Asking her if she wants to find grandpa she goes looking for him & will go to bedroom door knocking on it.
    I’ll tell her I’m going potty she will stop what she’s doing & go to the bathroom before I get there. If she wants in the fridge she will go to the door & again the sounds are made.
    My husband, her grandfather was a late talker. Our daughter, her mom wasn’t but she had a big sister to follow around. Our granddaughter is in a house of adults. Can’t get her to daycare because we are still in the process of getting custodial guardianship. Which is required for the daycares to accept her. Any opinions, advice is appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Martha,

      Thanks for sharing! It definitely sounds like she understands but is struggling to express herself? Have you tried sign language?

      I also strongly recommend having her assessed by a registered Speech-Language Pathologist as it is hard to determine if she is a late talker or if there is something else going on.

      It could also be because she was born prematurely.

      This is something a professional will be able to help you with.

      Best of luck and let me know if you have any other questions.

      Reply
  23. Gnekoda

    Hello Tanya,

    I’m doing a research about ASD for myself and I crossed your post. And you just give me more evidence.

    When a young child listens to parent’s words, but they somehow don’t respond back or or don’t really react, it could be a hearing problem.  Or it could be the language, speech problems like you said since it’s your profession. 

    And I don’t dare to cross over you because you have the license and knowledge. I just research some information only.

    Therefore, as you describe, if the child has some behavior like that, should parents inform with the family doctor and then go to you for M-CHAT R/F or well-baby checkup?

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Gnekoda,

      You are correct, there could be a hearing problem when a child doesn’t react to a sound or has difficulty following directions.  This can easily be ruled out by a visit to an Audiologist.

      Speech language pathologists often recommend a full audiological evaluation if a hearing loss is suspected.

      However, as I mentioned in the article it can also be a receptive language delay.  And this can be harder to figure out since kids are really good at using strategies which make an outsider think they understand (and hear) everything.

      If a parent is concerned they can ask their doctor or at a well baby checkup.  Or they can go directly to a speech language pathologist!

      Reply
  24. DorcasW

    Hi Tanya

    Thanks for sharing this insightful article.  Many parents believe that they love their child too much to accept the facts about them.

    It can be very difficult for parents to hear the truth about their child. 

    If they use the time spent with their child wisely, they will accept the term that ‘it takes two to talk.’

    Is there any treatment for child who isn’t speaking to develop understanding?

    Keep up your good work

    dorcasW

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Dorcas.

      Yes, speech therapy or in some cases just some guidance from a speech pathologist will help a child develop receptive language skills!

      Reply
  25. Mommy

    Hi Tanya,
    I found your web page today and I think it is fantastic!. I live in USA and today I requested an evaluation from a speech pathologist. My almost 4 years old (in 2 months) can speak in both languages, Spanish and English, but like a 3 years old. When I say he can speak I meant that he can do it in short sentences (4 or 5 words), sometimes with verbs, sometimes with articles (Spanish) and good pronunciation. He doesn’t elaborate complex sentences and I definitely identified that there are things that he doesn’t understand like “under” or “how” or “why”. He’s improving everyday even not being in a preschool, no siblings/family around or been exposed too often in social activities. When I noticed a couple months ago that his sentences where too short for his age, I started at home speaking more, reading and talking to him strategically thinking in the way we were talking to him. He always listened us saying “mami” and “Daddy” this or that and referring to him by his name. I think almost never we said “I”, “You”, “We”, etc. So the last month he started speaking a lot more, really fast in fact, but we noticed that he was confusing “I” and “you” and many times referring himself in third person. Now it seems that he’s getting the concepts because he’s using the pronouns correctly most of the times (in both languages) but even though we started the evaluation process because I’m not comfortable that at almost 4 years old he doesn’t have the appropriate language and comprehension for his age.
    I’m going to try one of your examples as well.
    Many people including the pediatrician tell me that he’s a “late talker”, but I don’t want to “guess”. What do you think?

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi,

      I applaud you for requesting a speech-language evaluation for your son despite being told not to worry. It sounds like there could be a few things going on and it would be best to seek the advice of a speech-language pathologist. I would suggest trying to find one that is bilingual (Spanish and English) so that both languages can be assessed.

      Have you considered enrolling him in a playgroup so he can gain some social and language skills by being around other children? It does not need to be daily, but perhaps a few mornings/afternoons a week.

      You are doing many things that will help his language development. Continue to model grammatically correct sentences in both languages, including using correct pronouns.

      Please take a look at the article I wrote about “late talkers” (if you haven’t already done so). I am sure this will make you feel good about your decision to have your son seen by a speech pathologist!

      Best of luck!

      Reply
      1. Mommy

        Thank you Tanya!
        Yes, we’re planning to enroll him next month in a pre-school. He went to a Spring Camp for one week and he did it great following instructions, doing activities, playing with other kids, etc.
        Thank you for your response!. I really appreciate it.

        Reply
        1. Tanya (Post author)

          You’re welcome! I think you will notice a big change in his language once he starts preschool.

          But make sure to still have him seen by a speech-language pathologist!

          If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

          Reply
  26. Liz

    That was really interesting and very useful to know! My daughter is nearly 22 months and I absolutely have assumed she understands everything…until now!! She is a real talker though, so I think we are good, but I must admit I am wondering if she understands under and over now.
    In general, do you think it is a good idea to go to a speech pathologist as a general check up at a certain age just to make sure everything is fine even if you think everything is ok? There does not seem to be anything routine here in Australia except for maternal child health nurse visits at certain age milestones, and they don’t seem to be overly comprehensive. What do you think?

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Liz,

      I would assume that your daughter is following along the developmental milestones as expected. Chances are she is understanding (especially if she is talking a lot).

      I don’t typically recommend going to a speech pathologist for a “check up” unless there are any red flags. I am in Canada and we don’t have child health nurse visits here. Most family Dr’s will see a child for regular check ups from birth until the age of 3, however some only do these regular checks until 18 months or 2.

      I wouldn’t worry in your case!

      Reply

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