Speech Delay

Special Needs > Speech Delay

Children learn language at different rates, but most follow a general timeline. As a rule of thumb, children should be able to say one word at about 1, two-word combinations at 18 months to 2 years and three-word sentences before turning 3. When speech specialists evaluate delayed speech, they care as much about a child's understanding as they do about how much he speaks.

Heredity and temperament can make for a linguistic late bloomer, as can a parent's anticipating a child's every need rather than letting them speak for themselves. Boys often develop speech later than girls, though there's usually only about a one- to two-month lag. Babies born early often take longer than others to reach milestones, but by age 2 they usually catch up to their peers. Children with chronic ear infections especially during the first year, when a child is starting to process language can result in poor hearing, and thus delayed speech.

  • Before the child reaches age 2, there's wide variation in what's considered normal. But some signs that may indicate they need help: At 1 year: They aren’t babbling or speaking in mock sentences at all and doesn't seem to understand or respond when somebody talks. At 18 months: They haven't said even one word.
  • At 2 years: They say only a few words and communicates mostly through grunting and pointing, or they are losing language skills—either their vocabulary has shrunk or they no longer talk much.
  • At 2 1/2 years: They are still speaking in single syllables, drop final consonants or doesn't have a vocabulary of 50 words. At 3 years: Strangers can't understand their pronunciation, or they speak using only simple two-word phrases.

The best time to get professional help is when the child is around 2 1/2—the age when late bloomers usually catch up. Language problems are addressed with speech therapy or by treating undiagnosed ear infections or hearing problems. Before age 2 1/2, listening to the parent voice is a great way to learn to talk, so reading aloud, singing songs and asking open-ended questions to invite conversation will help the child to develop his speech.