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Child trying to sound out words in a book

Language Delays in Children: When to Worry

By Dr. J. Ramon Ongkingco, Tidewater Children's Associates 

Language delays in children are the most common type of developmental delay. It’s not uncommon for children to learn to talk or use words later than other children their age.

Sometimes language delays are temporary and may resolve on their own; other times it may signal a more serious problem like hearing loss, a developmental delay, or an autism spectrum disorder.

Below you’ll find developmental guidelines on language and communication from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

12 Months

  • Looks for and finds where a sound is coming from.
  • Responds to their name.
  • Waves “bye-bye.”
  • Looks where you point when you say, "Look at the _________."
  • Babbles with intonation (voice rises and falls).
  • Takes turns "talking" with you — they listen when you speak and then resume babbling when you stop.
  • Says "da-da" and "ma-ma.”
  • Says at least one word.
  • Points to items they want and makes sounds while pointing.

18 Months

  • Follows simple commands.
  • Gets objects from another room when asked.
  • Points to a few body parts when asked, and knows the names of familiar people.
  • Points to interesting objects or events so you’ll look at them, too.
  • Brings things to show you.
  • Points to objects so you will name them.
  • Names a few common objects and pictures when asked.
  • Enjoys pretending. They will use gestures and words with you or with a favorite stuffed animal.
  • Says several single words.

2 Years

  • Points to body parts and common objects.
  • Points to pictures in books.
  • Follows one-step commands without a gesture.
  • Is able to say 50 to 100 words.
  • Says several two-word phrases like "Daddy go," "Doll mine," and "All gone."
  • Perhaps will say a few three-word sentences like "I want juice" or "You go bye-bye."
  • Can be understood by others about half of the time.

Encourage your child to “talk” to you with gestures and sounds, read to them, and spend lots of time playing and talking with them. This will inspire them to eventually speak on their own.

Early intervention is key. If you’re concerned about your child’s language development, talk to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician may refer you to a speech or language therapist.

* Information adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics

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