Is Your Child’s Speech Normal? What to Watch Out For

I am thrilled to welcome our very first guest blogger, Shannon! As one of my best friends and an expert in speech development (she holds a Master’s in Speech Pathology and works with both adults and children), Shannon was always my go-to when I had questions about Olivia’s language skills and development. When I asked her if she would be willing to share some of her tips and information with my readers, she was more than happy to! Here is the first of her two-part post about speech and language development in toddlers.

As a practicing speech-language pathologist and mother of a 14-month-old boy, I am often asked about typical language development from friends and family members.  Speech and language development is more complex and abstract than physical development and, therefore, harder for parents to track.  For example, it is obvious to  parents if their child is or is not walking, but it is not so obvious if their child’s language is normal.  This post will answer some basic questions about speech and language development. My next post will provide suggestions to allow you to facilitate speech and language development for your child.

What is considered normal language development? Speech and language development varies widely from one child to the next.  On average, a child’s first word will come around 12 months of age but may come later if the child is more interested in motor skills than speech and language.  Children either walk or talk first, and it is very rare that these skills coincide.  It is too much for the brain to process walking and talking simultaneously at the beginning.  If a child begins walking early or right around 12 months, he might not say his first word until 13 or 14 months.  Once children say their first word, language development should progress rapidly. Your child should have at least 50 words by age 2.  If your child does not have 50 words by her 2nd birthday, she is considered to have a language delay. Some children that are delayed in language will catch up independently.  Others may require formal speech-language intervention.

Why can’t I understand my child? It is often very difficult to understand a one-year-old’s speech. Many sounds in the English language do not develop until ages 2-5.  For example, /r/ and /th/ are sounds that develop later and should not be expected until at least age 4 or 5. Other later-developing sounds include /s/, /z/, and /l/.  It is very normal for a child who is learning to talk to simplify words and make sound substitutions or deletions.  For example, my son says “ight” for light and “doodie” for cookie. He is deleting the more difficult consonant (the /l/ in light) and substituting an easier consonant for a more difficult consonant (saying /d/ for /k/ in cookie).   If your child is 2 years old, an unfamiliar listener should be able to understand 50% of her speech.  An unfamiliar listener should be able to understand a 3-year-old child 75% of the time, and a 4-year-old should be understood greater than 90% of the time.

When should I be concerned?  A speech-language evaluation is recommended for the following issues:

  1. If you are concerned about your child’s ability to understand language.  Receptive language is very important and is a key indicator to determine if a child will catch up or need speech-language intervention.  If your child is not talking and you are concerned about their ability to understand you, it is recommended that you talk to your pediatrician.
  2. If your child is 18 months old and not yet talking.  Some children do not talk until after 18 months and catch up independently.  However, if your child is still not talking at 18 months of age, bring it up to your pediatrician to see if he needs a speech-language evaluation.
  3. If your child is 12 months old and is not yet babbling.
  4. If your child is age 2+ and is talking but is not forming phrases/sentences appropriately compared to her peers.
  5. If your child is age 2+ and you feel that he is significantly less intelligible than his peers or if many people comment that they cannot understand your child.  If you are the only person that can understand your child, talk to your pediatrician about the need for a speech-language evaluation.
  6. If there is any concern about social/pragmatic language.  Children must learn the social rules of language and how to interact with their peers appropriately. Learning the social rules of language develops over time.  Major red flags include lack of eye contact and inability to respond to and initiate greetings appropriately.
  7. If your child is stuttering.  Stuttering can be a normal part of speech-language development, particularly between ages 2 and 4.  However, if stuttering becomes effortful, frequent, or if your child is aware of and/or upset by their stuttering, then a speech-language evaluation is recommended.

What are some online resources to help?

Resources for parents include: 

The American Speech Language Association Public Website

National Institutes of Health

Kids Health

About mommachine

I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and colleague. And trying to balance all of those roles at once can be utterly exhausting. Being the Type A control freak that I am, I try to run my life like a well-oiled machine. But sometimes the wheels get a bit squeaky (or just fly off completely, let's be honest). I have to slow down (yeah right, I know), give the different parts of my life a little tune-up and get back on the road.

3 Responses to Is Your Child’s Speech Normal? What to Watch Out For

  1. Jenn says:

    My older son (5) stutters over certain letters…he also went through a stuttering phase around age 3 which passed. I asked his teacher (he receives sp.ed. services) about it and they are not concerned for now. Of course, as his momma, I want everything to be perfect and it’s hard not to worry! It must be nice to have a friend who’s an expert in speech pathology! I’d probably call on her daily with questions. :)

    • mommachine says:

      Jenn, it’s so nice! And because she knows my daughter and sees her all the time, she can calm my fears instantly.

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