Signs of Speech and Language Delay & Typical Language Development in Children

Possible Signs of Speech and Language Difficulty or Delay

A child may be experiencing a speech and language delay if:

By 12 months

  • does not babble with using alternating tone – e.g. dadaDADADAdadada
  • does not use gestures such as waving “bye bye” or shaking head for “no”,
  • does not respond to her/his name
  • does not communicate in some way when s/he needs help (i.e. cry etc.)

By 15 months

  • does not understand and respond to words like “no” and “up”
  • says no words
  • does not point to objects or pictures when asked “Where’s the…?
  • does not point to things of interest as if to say “Look at that!”  and then look right at you

By 18 months

  • does not understand simple commands like “Don’t touch”
  • isn’t using at least 20 single words like “Mammy” or “up”
  • does not respond with a word or gesture to a question such as “What’s that? or “Where’s your shoe?”
  • can’t point to two or three major body parts such as head, nose, eyes, feet

By 24 months

  • says fewer than 100 words
  • isn’t consistently joining two words together like “Daddy go” or “ shoes on”
  • does not imitate actions or words
  • does not use pretend play, such as feeding doll or making toy man drive toy car

By 30 months

  • says fewer than 300 words
  • isn’t using verbs such as “run”, “eat”, “fall”
  • isn’t using some adult grammar, such as “two babies” and “teddy sleeping

3-4 years

  • does not ask questions by 3 years
  • isn’t using sentences (e.g., “I don’t want that” or “My truck is broken”)  by three year

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Typical Language Development in Children

A child typically will develop language as follows:

0-6 months (Prelinguistic Phase)

Very young babies communicate using facial expressions ( a frown, smile, or raised eyebrows) and eye contact. They will begin to use different cries to express different needs. This is the beginning of intonation in speech. At about 2 months a baby begins cooing; making repetitive vowel sounds. They start  to show pleasure and by varying their voice, including increase and decrease in volume and pitch. The baby should also begin to recognise different people’s voices, and smile with pleasure when they hear a voice they recognise, such as a parent. The ability to localise sound also develops around this time. The baby will turn his/her head to the direction of the sound. In a few more months a baby can tell that speech sounds are matched by the speaker’s mouth movements. The baby will slowly being to imitate and mirror these mouth movements. This is a vital step in language development. Like a conversation without words and lays the foundation for later conversations with words.

6-8 months

Consonant sounds appear about 6-7 months. For the first time the baby has the muscle control needed to combine the consonant sound with a vowel sound. This is the start of babbling. Early babbling involves repetitive strings of the same syllables such as dadadada or yayayayaya. In these early months babies produce a type of babbling called ‘jargon’, a string of different syllables often with sentence like inflections. Parents are encouraged to imitate the baby’s sounds in order to help language development.

Babbling is an important part of language development. It is the preparation for spoken language. Infant babbling gradually acquires some of the intonational pattern of the language they are hearing. A baby’s babbling will have rising intonation at the end of the string of sounds and seems to signal a desire for a responds and falling intonation requires no response. They will also begin to imitate the sounds that the parents are making in order to try and communicate with them.

9-11 months

At around nine months a baby will begin to try and ask for things by using gestures, sounds and body language. At ten months a baby will be begin to reach for an object they want, opening and closing their hands and making whinning noises, until the adult gives them the object they want. At about the same age, babies begin to play gestural games with their parents, such as ‘patty cake’ or ‘wave goodbye’.

Receptive language, understanding the meaning of words spoken, begins to develop around nine or ten months. Children generally understand before they can speak, understanding about 30 words by this age. They begin to understand simple instructions and would generally understand the meaning of ‘no’ and respond to their own name. All these bits of information seem to come together at around 10 months in a series of changes: the beginning of meaningful gestures, the drift of babbling towards heard language sounds, the first participation in imitative gestural games, and the first comprehension of individual words. The child is beginning to understand a little about the process of communication and has the desire and intention to communicating with the world.

12-18 months

By 12 months a child has about one to three words, mostly nouns. Often a child’s first words are used in only one or two specific situation and in the presence of many cues. For example a child might say ‘car’ in response to an adult prompting ‘what’s that?’. This early word learning is very slow and a child may need to repeat these words a number of times. Between 12 and 18 months a child may only learn to say around 30 words.

16- 24 months

At about 16 to 24 months children begin to add new words very rapidly, as if they have figured out things have names. At around 18 months a child has about 50 words. By age 24 months the child has acquired about 320 words. This is referred to as the naming explosion. However it is not a steady gradual process. A vocabulary burst begins once the child has 50 words.

During this first early vocabulary burst the majority of new words are names for things or people. Verbs tend to develop later. They may be harder for children to acquire as they label relationships between objects rather than just individual objects. Some studies suggest that it maybe due to the fact that parents emphasise nouns more than verbs in speaking and reading to infants.

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