Before we get started, keep in mind that all children develop at different rates.
Reaching certain speech and language milestones is no exception.
At 12 months old, my daughter was barely babbling.
Because of my background in the field of speech-language pathology, red flags went up for me.
Many family members (including my parents) and friends told me not to worry so much and that she would be just fine.
I went with my gut and the first thing I did was take her to an audiologist to make sure she was hearing properly.
My daughter had a few ear infections, but I wasn’t all that concerned.
But, the audiologist I took her to saw that she had fluid in her ears and this was impacting her hearing.
After having the tubes inserted at 16 months, it was like a light bulb went off.
She started babbling and saying words. By 2 years old she was speaking in short phrases!
She did not end up needing a speech-language evaluation, but that would have been my next step.
8 Signs You Should Take Your Child For A Speech And Language Evaluation
1. Your 6-9 month old isn’t regularly responding to sounds, making eye contact or babbling
By 6 months of age, your little one should be starting to interact with you. But many baby start doing so as early as 4 months old!
Your baby should be vocalizing through repetitive sounds as well as varied sounds (e.g. babababa, badadaba, papapa, etc), responding to sounds you make, turning when they hear sounds as well as looking at you when you are speaking.
2. Your 18 month old uses less than 20 words
18 months is the age where you will often see an explosion in speech. Some children babble but don’t use many words until about 18 months.
New milestones suggest that babies should have 3-5 words by 12 months.
If your baby does not have 3-5 months at 12 months, don’t fret just yet.
As long as all other areas are developing normally you will probably see a burst in speech around the 18 month mark.
However, if this has not happened, it may be time to speak with a Speech-Language Pathologist.
Not sure what some common first words are? Download my printable checklist below!
3. Your 2 year old is not putting words together
In order to put words together a child typically needs to have a spoken vocabulary of 50 words.
This is why it is so important for an 18 month old to have at least 20 words.
Examples of 2 word phrases a 2 year old might say are “daddy shoe”, “mommy go”, “eat cookie”, etc.
Between the ages of 2 and 3 you will see another word explosion and usually by 2.5 years children are speaking in 3 to 5 word sentences with some consistency (although pronunciation and grammar will still be an issue but this is ok).
4. Your 3 year old does not engage in pretend play
Pretend play is just as important to language development as speaking is.
If your 3 year old is not pretending to feed dolls/stuffed animals, making a “meal” for you, pretending some sheets over a chair are his castle, etc. you may want to start engaging in some pretend activities with them.
Some children simply need to be shown how to pretend.
If after you show your child some pretend play scenarios and they are still not interested I would suggest contacting a speech-language pathologist.
That being said, if there are no concerns in any other developmental area (speech, language or otherwise) you may not need to worry.
5. Most people cannot understand what your 4 year old is saying (even if you can)
By 4 years old your child should be understood by those around them approximately 80% of the time.
If you find that people are always asking your child to repeat themselves or looking to you for a translation, I recommend you setting your child up with a speech and language evaluation.
The speech therapist will let you know if some therapy sessions are needed.
6. Your 3-4 year old is not able to follow 2 step directions
By this age children should be able to follow 2 step directions such as “pick a book and then sit on your chair”.
If your child is struggling with understanding directions, try to see if they are also having difficulty understanding 1 step directions or even questions.
Understanding language is just as important as talking!
Children are very good at adapting and can actually fool the adults around them into thinking that they are understanding more than they actually are. If you want to know if your child does truly understand language and can follow directions, check out this article I wrote!
7. Your 5 year old cannot retell a simple story
By the age of 5, a child should be able to retell a simple story with a beginning, middle and end.
They should also be able to tell another person the steps in a routine activity.
For example, brushing your teeth.
The child could say “First I get my toothbrush, then I put on the toothpaste and last I brush my teeth”.
Most 5 year old children will be able to add a forth step as well (E.g. “last I rinse my mouth”).
8. Your 4-5 year old cannot answer wh questions such as “who”, “what”, “where”
The ability to answer questions shows that your child is understanding what is asked of them.
It also demonstrates that your child has the vocabulary to put together a sentence.
If your 4-5 year old is struggling to answer questions that start with “who, what and where” (why and when are a bit harder, but most 4-5 year olds can answer these as well) they may be having a hard time understanding certain aspects of the language.
Recommended Reading If Your Child Has Language Delay
Does Your Child Need A Speech-Language Assessment?
Many parents are hesitant to seek the advice of a Speech-Language Pathologist and adopt the “wait and see” approach because they may feel that they have failed as a parent if their child needs speech-language therapy.
However, studies are showing that although children will eventually learn to talk (most will do so even without speech therapy) about 20-30% of these “late talkers” will continue to struggle with language in school.
This would be in the areas of reading and writing.
It is impossible to predict which children will fall into that 20-30% range.
For more information please see this article “A Closer Look At The Late Talker Study” provided by The Hanen Program.
If you have any concerns about your child’s speech and language development, please contact a registered Speech-Language Pathologist as soon as possible.
Most areas have long waiting lists for these services if you want a publicly funded program.
You can also look for services provided by a private Speech-Language Pathologist where there are short to no wait lists.