When Should I be Worried About my Child’s Speech or Language?

First off, there is a wide range of “normal” among very young children. The information I will be giving you is based upon researched “averages.” Every child matures and develops at his/her own rate, and “average” does not apply to one individual child. Having said that, it is helpful to have some idea of what a child should be doing, and when to seek help.

Language is a means of communicating. It involves expressive language and receptive language or understanding language. A child should produce big smiles around three months of age and should make “cooing” sounds, especially in response to your talking to him. A child’s first words generally appear around one year of age, and he should use “jargon” or “babbling” that sounds like “real speech.” The child should begin to respond to requests around this age, as well, such as “Come here.”, “Do you want more?”, and should turn or look up when you say his name. You should look for 8-10 words by 18 months. These words may not be clear and people outside of the immediate family may not even recognize the words. If your child consistently uses a sound combination to mean one thing, that’s a word. For example, if your child consistently says “baba” for “blanket,” that is a word. You can expect around 50 words near two years of age, and he should begin to produce two-word combinations (“more cookie,” “mommy car,” “go bye-bye”). Between two-and-a-half and four years of age, your child should make most sounds correctly, with the exceptions of r, s, th and l. He should have 200-300 words, use two-to-three-word sentences and ask “why” questions (a lot!). He should be following conversations pretty well and point to named pictures while looking at books with you. The child should be understood by an unfamiliar listener 90% of the time.

All speech sounds should be correct by five to seven years of age. Your child should “sound like” other children in his same-age peer group, and he should use the same sentence structures as the family. He should understand most of what is said to him, follow conversations, and follow two-step instructions. He should enjoy playing with children in his same-age peer group.

If you notice any differences and are concerned, you might want to consult with a speech-language pathologist. She may recommend an evaluation to rule out a speech and/or language delay. The best way to know if your child has a delay is have an evaluation. The evaluation involves a hearing screening to rule out a hearing problem, a standardized speech sound test and a standardized language test. Testing will result in a standard score, which is obtained by comparing your child’s test performance with the hundreds of children of all ages tested around the country to determine the “normal” range for your child’s age. Testing may result in a score that is within the average range – remember, there is a wide range of “normal” among young children. In this case, no intervention is needed.

But what if your child’s speech or language development is found to be below average? The speech-language pathologist will probably recommend therapy for your child. This will likely involve one-on-one time spent with your child on activities designed to help your child learn the speech sounds and/or language structures that he is not using yet. It will likely involve some home practice activities AFTER the child is able to produce them correctly – just some extra practice at home.

Language problems can lead to misunderstandings, confusion and even behaviors due to frustration. Language problems can also have a negative impact upon learning to read. Speech problems can make it difficult for the child to express needs and wants, and to communicate effectively with teachers and peers, which can lead to frustration and social withdrawal. Early intervention is very important, as it is easier to correct problems when the child is very young; however, it is never “too late” to help your child.