Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of parents.
The first kind truly believes that every child is different. If you are in this group, a milestone miss or two would not shake you. Some kids walk early, some walk late. Some kids talk early, some talk late. So if your baby does not speak much even though he is two, you are not that worried. And you do not do anything about it.
The second kind are worriers. If you are in this group, you follow the milestone chart like a holy book. And despite your best judgment, it would hurt you when you see your child’s peers yapping away while your kid can just say 3-4 words clearly. You are always worried and you are always asking your child’s doctor why your baby doesn’t speak.
Clearly, we need to find a way between the two – a path that doesn’t involve you being worried 24×7, while at the same time one that doesn’t stop you from getting help for your child when required.
The first step is to understand the speech milestones expected for each age group. While it is not “abnormal” for your child to miss these milestones, it should give you clues about what are broadly considered as average expectations.
Speech and Language Development Milestones
Less Than 12 months
Language developments begins at infancy (and some research suggests that it starts in the womb). The initial couple of months he might communicate only by crying. However, in the following months, he will start cooing and babbling incoherently. After 9 months, he will likely say his first word. Whether this happens or not, by 12 months, your baby should be able to respond to sound in his own way and recognize some common words – like milk, nappy, mamma, dada
1 year-1.5 years
You baby might start saying few words, mostly nouns that fascinates him (e.g car, ball, food, toys). Even if he cannot say full words, he might have started making new consonant sounds (e.g. be, pe, ge). He can also understand simple instructions like “sit down”
1.5 years-2 years
Most toddlers can recognize and say more than 20 words by now. At 2, he might also start stringing together two words to make a simple sentence like “throw ball” or “go there”. But often, he might make longer sentences which are gibberish to you. He should be able to recognize people whom he meets often, point at few things from his picture books correctly, and follow two step commands “take the book, and give it to me” or “go there and sit down”
2 years-3 years
Even if he missed some of the earlier milestones, he would most likely make up for it now. His vocabulary would improve a lot and he would often make up sentences that are 2-3 words long. He can also understand you better. He might even comprehend and communicate in multiple languages
Warning Signs of Slower Than Normal Speech Development
Seek advice and evaluation if a child of over 1.5 years
Does not respond to sound, but listens intently (could indicate hearing troubles)
Does not use any gestures, like pointing, or waving ta-ta
Prefers gestures over words and does not try to imitate any sound
Uses only few sounds like “gaga” or “baba” for communicating everything
Does not understand simple instructions
Seek advice and evaluation if a child of over 2 years
Does not speak spontaneously
Has a very limited vocabulary of less than 20 words
Cannot understand instructions
Cannot communicate much using words
Does not point at common words in a picture book when prompted
Reasons for Speech Delay
Physical problems: If your child is not showing any other developmental delays, delays in speech and language development might be caused by:
Physical impairments in mouth or tongue
Oral-motor problems that indicate problems in the area of the brain responsible for speech skills
Premature babies: He normally take longer than his peers to reach all milestones
Gender: Girls pick up words and show faster speech development skills than boys
Multilingual household: While kids exposed to 2+ languages end up learning all of them in his childhood, it can initially cause a delay in speech and sentence formulation
Read more about dealing with speech developmental delayshere.
Encouraging Your Child To Talk
If physical problems mentioned above are ruled out, then there is plenty you can do to encourage your little one to talk. In some cases, your doctor might suggest a speech therapist.
Talk, talk, and talk some more: We can’t stress this enough. Spend a lot of time daily talking to your child, from the day he/she is born. Start during pregnancy itself if possible to set the routine
Explain in simple animated voice everything you are doing (“Mumma will now change your nappy”, “wow! Look at your new dress”)
Ask him questions (“Which bib you want to wear today?”). Give him time to respond, and answer for him if he doesn’t (“Oh you want the pink one? Very well”)
Make eye contact
Simplify your speck. Use simple sentences. But do not “baby talk” – use the correct words in the correct way
Emphasize key words. (Can you pass me the ball?”)
Sing to them
Make animal sounds
Point at things and tell them the words for it
Talk all the time!
Read: Start with picture books. Or touch and feel books. Sit in front of the child with the book between you two and tell them words loudly. Let him see how you move your mouth and tongue. Once he is older, read out stories that are age appropriate
Repeat:: When he tries to form sentences, repeat after him. That will give him assurance that he communicated successfully. Do not get irritated if you cannot understand even after the child repeats a number of times. Do not show your disappointment to the child. Imitate him, his gesture and facial expressions
Encourage him to speak: Ask him questions. But not the ones that only has “yes” or “no” answers. Give him choices. Listen to him intently to show that it matters to you
Play groups: Let your child play with others in a supervised environment. He tend to pick up words and speech faster with his peers
As always, the important thing is not to panic and worry. A bit of delay in speech is not an indication of lack of intelligence. And here is something to motivate you to believe that. It is said that Alert Einstein had speech problems as a child and did not speak till he was four!