Recognizing the Early Signs of a Language Delay

Anyone who spends a lot of time with kids knows they’re as unique as fingerprints, and no two are alike. These differences are what make children extraordinary, but it can also make it hard to pinpoint the skills they may lack.Fortunately, there are general guidelines you can use for reference when tracking their developmental milestones. They can help offer insights into when they’re on track and when there could be a problem. And, when it comes to delayed language development, finding professional help as soon as possible can help ease your concerns and get them the therapy they need to improve their skills.Our team at Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services in Scottsdale, Arizona, specializes in high-quality applied behavior analysis (ABA). This specialized approach helps us identify behavioral and developmental disorders, so we can help children and their parents navigate the challenges.Here’s what you should know about language delays and how to spot the signs of a problem.

Language vs. speech

When it comes to communication delays, there are two kinds: language delays and speech delays. And while these are two different conditions, they can overlap. Here’s a breakdown of each condition:

Language delays

Language describes being able to understand and communicate meaningfully, either verbally, nonverbally, or written. So if a child has a language delay, they may be able to pronounce words well but be unable to put them together in a coherent way.

Speech delays

Speech is the verbal way we express language, including the way we form and sound out words. So a child with a speech delay may be able to understand concepts and be able to express things in certain ways but be unable to express them verbally.

Children can develop speech or language delays for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Oral impairment, such as issues with the tongue or roof of their mouth
  • Oral-motor issues caused by problems in the area of the brain responsible for speech
  • Hearing problems

If your child has a speech delay, language delay, or both, speech therapy may be able to help them improve their skills and give you tools to help them at home.

General speech and language stages

The development stages for speech and language are the same for all kids, but the ages at which these stages develop can vary significantly. Regular checkups with your pediatrician can usually help measure developmental milestones.

0-11 months

At this stage, they should develop the early stages of speech, such as cooing, babbling, stringing sounds together, and paying attention to sounds.

12-15 months

At this stage, they should be producing a wide range of sounds and imitating actual words and sounds. They should also understand simple directions, such as “Please give me that toy.”

18-24 months

Generally speaking, most children can say 20 words at 18 months and 50 or more words by 24 months. By age 2, they should be able to combine two words into simple phrases, identify common objects, and follow two-step instructions.

2-3 years

At this stage, a child’s vocabulary should increase, and they should be able to combine at least three words into sentences. Their comprehension should also increase by age 3, and they should start to understand descriptive concepts.

Recognizing the signs of a language delay

These guidelines can help you know if there may be an issue. If it looks like there may be a problem, we can give your child a thorough evaluation and address the next steps if needed.

0-11 months

If an infant doesn’t vocalize or respond to sounds by 11 months, there could be a problem.

12-24 months

If a child doesn’t gesture by 12 months, or if the child prefers gesturing over vocalizations at 18 months, there could be an issue. There may also be a problem if a child has difficulty imitating sounds or understanding simple verbal requests at 18-24 months.

2 years and older

We recommend getting an evaluation if your child:

  • Only imitates actions or speech and doesn’t produce their own spontaneously
  • Only says certain words or sounds
  • Can’t communicate more than their immediate needs
  • Can’t follow simple instructions

You should also pursue a speech and language evaluation if your child is hard to understand for their age. In most cases, you should be able to understand about half of what they say by age 2 and approximately three-quarters of what they say by age 3. By the time a child reaches age 4, you should understand most of what they’re saying, even if you don’t know them.

If your child has a speech or language delay, speech therapy can help them develop the skills they need to communicate effectively. To learn more about evaluating your child’s language and speech skills, book an appointment online or over the phone with Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services today.