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Potential Signs of a Pediatric Speech Developmental Delay

children speech therapist with child patient

Seeing your child grow and develop is one of parenthood’s truest joys. Some children move through their milestones quickly, others take longer, and some need a little extra help to master each step.

Learn about pediatric language delays, common milestones for your child’s first years, and signs they might need a helping hand.

What Is a Pediatric Language Delay?

Children with a pediatric language delay reach their language development milestones later than usual due to one or more speech, hearing or cognitive delays. This childhood communication disorder is the most common type of developmental delay — as many as one in five children learn to talk or use new words later than their peers.

Speech delays, a subset of language delays, may occur independently or combined with other challenges. While those with a speech developmental delay may express themselves verbally, they find it challenging to form sounds correctly.

A language developmental delay is either receptive or expressive. Receptive language refers to a child’s understanding of the language they receive. Children with receptive language delays may be physically unable to hear the words or may not understand their meaning. These children often find it challenging to:

  • Organize their thoughts
  • Follow spoken directions
  • Understand what someone has said

Expressive language refers to how a child communicates their thoughts through language. Expressive language delays can cause children uncertainty about what words to use or how to put them together. Other times, children with these delays may know the words they want to use, but they find it challenging to express them. The challenges facing children with expressive delays include:

  • Vocabularies below their age group’s expected level
  • Difficulty forming their words into sentences
  • Omitting words from their sentences when speaking
  • Difficulty finding the right word when speaking
  • Uncertainty when using tenses

Common Signs to Look For

While language development comes with many milestones, they serve as guidelines rather than strict rules. Every child develops at a different rate. While some language delays may indicate a need for additional testing, some resolve on their own or with simple assistance.

We’ve compiled a list of common speech milestones for children at 6, 12, and 18 months and at 2-3 years, along with potential signs of developmental speech delays. If you have questions about your child’s developmental progress, you can talk with your pediatrician or reach out for a consultation with professional language therapy services.

By 6 Months

Babies spend their first several months constantly learning, and by 6 months, they’re typically exploring the sounds they can make. They’ve also generally started connecting sounds with their sources by this age. Some common 6-month milestones are:

  • Playing with vocalizations: At 6 months old, most children have begun experimenting with the sounds they can make. They may growl, blow raspberries, squeal or babble. By this age, their babbling may have started to sound speech-like, with identifiable vowel and consonant combinations. Their vocalizations usually vary from week to week or even day to day.
  • Making different sounds for different stimuli: Six-month-olds typically laugh, coo and squeal when happy or excited. While they may babble in many situations, they begin developing different tones reflecting different emotional states. This variation often extends to crying — children this age frequently have different cries to signal different needs.
  • Reacting to sounds: Now that they’ve started associating sounds with their specific sources, 6-month-olds will often turn their heads to seek those sources. They frequently respond to voices, smiling and watching someone’s face when spoken to and may react to changes in your tone of voice.
  • Attraction to sounds: By 6 months, children have typically begun paying attention to music and toys that make sounds.
While these milestones vary from child to child, you may consider consulting a professional if your 6-month-old:
  • Doesn’t turn toward new sounds
  • Doesn’t squeal or laugh

By 12 Months

common speech development by one year

By the time they’re a year old, children’s language understanding has grown exponentially. Common language milestones at this age include:

  • Imitating speech: By 12 months, a child’s babble has typically begun imitating the speech patterns around them. They vary between long and short sounds, and their voice uses the rising-falling intonation of speaking in sentences. One-year-olds also enjoy “talking” with adults, paying attention when they talk and babbling in response.
  • Recognizing specific words: While their verbal abilities are limited, 1-year-olds generally understand and respond to words they hear often. They typically recognize and respond to their name. Twelve-month-olds also usually understand words like “dog,” “juice” or “bed,” as well as common requests like “come here.”
  • Supplementing verbal language: Children at this age use gestures to communicate. They might point to something they want that’s out of reach or raise their arms when they want someone to pick them up.
  • Building an initial vocabulary: By their first birthday, children have usually learned one or two simple words like “Mama,” “Dada,” “hi” or “no.”

Your 12-month-old may be showing signs of a language developmental delay if they:

  • Babble with no change in tone
  • Don’t respond to their name
  • Don’t use gestures like waving, pointing or shaking their head
  • Don’t communicate vocally or otherwise when they need help

By 18 Months

At 18 months, children’s language development has generally progressed from recognizing common words to understanding simple sentences. Some significant 18-month milestones are:

  • Understanding simple questions and commands: By 18 months, children usually understand simple questions like “where’s your toy?” They can understand and follow simple commands like “give me your jacket” with an accompanying gesture. Eighteen-month-olds also understand enough language to get something from another room if asked.
  • Making stronger associations between words and objects: Eighteen-month-olds can usually name a few familiar objects. They can often also point to body parts they know or at items in pictures if an adult asks them to.
  • Building a wider vocabulary: Children start building their vocabulary at this age, learning about one new word a week between 18 months and 2 years. At 18 months, they typically begin actively seeking out words, pointing at objects so adults will name them.
  • Putting words together: Eighteen-month-olds will put together short phrases of two to three words, most often communicating a question or request.

You should consider talking to a professional about potential language or speech delays if your 18-month-old:

  • Doesn’t understand simple requests or commands
  • Has difficulty imitating sounds
  • Doesn’t respond to questions with a word or gesture
  • Can’t point to at least two major body parts

From 2-3 Years Old

Children between 2 and 3 years old are typically well on their way in speech and language development. Common milestones for this age group include:

  • Identifying objects by name: By 2 years old, children frequently ask for objects by name. They may also use an object’s name to direct an adult’s attention and point to commonly encountered objects, body parts and objects in pictures.
  • Understanding and following simple verbal commands: Two-year-olds can understand and follow simple commands like “go get your shoes” without accompanying gestures.
  • Communicating more clearly: In addition to asking for things, 2-year-olds often use two- to three-word phrases to talk about things, as well. Family members and close friends can usually understand them.

Your child may be experiencing a language developmental delay if you understand less than half their speech or if they:

  • Don’t consistently use two- or three-word phrases
  • Aren’t using action words
  • Can only imitate speech or gestures
  • Can’t understand or follow simple directions
  • Only use a few sounds or words for everything
  • Can’t verbally communicate more than immediate needs

Learn More About Language Development

Every child develops at their own pace. It’s natural for children to experience occasional delays or need help reaching speech and language milestones. If you believe your child could benefit from professional language therapy services, Orlando Children’s Therapy, is a part of the family of companies here at Kids SPOT.

We offer speech, physical, occupational, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapies to guide your child through developmental learning and physical challenges. Give your child the benefits of professional children’s therapy as our committed experts help them improve their communication, social skills, and cognitive development and increase their confidence.

Contact us online to learn more or schedule an appointment for our pediatric speech therapy services in a location near you.