Baby Talk: Speech Milestones

It can be very hard to know if your child is keeping up with what is normal with their speech.  Speech can differ between children, even children in the same family.  There are a lot of different things that can cause speech delays in children.  There is a difference between language delay and speech delay.  Language delay is when a child speaks clearly, but they can’t put sentences or thoughts together into words.  A speech delay is when the child just repeats the same words over and over and is hard to understand.  There are four stages of child speech, pre-linguistic which is from birth to around 7 months old, babbling starts at 6 months, two word stage and finally telegraphic stage.

As a parent it can be easy to compare your child with other children around the same age as your own.  So it can become difficult to know if your child is on track in their speech milestones or a little behind.  Like everything else your child achieves there are speech milestones as well.  It is good to make sure your child is staying on track.  One of the first signs of them having speech troubles is if they aren’t meeting the milestones. 


Speech Milestones

The first speech milestones actually start at birth.  Your child coos and cries from birth, in many ways this is how they communicate to you in the early months of their life. 

Around 4-6 months of age your child should start sighing, grunting, squealing, and laughing. 

From 6-9 months milestones include babbling, imitating sounds, saying syllables, and start saying things like ma-ma or da-da with no meaning behind them, as well as understanding when you tell them no. 

Around the 12 month mark your child should be saying their first words, some include uh-oh, ball, mama, banana, hi, or bye.  Around this time as well and leading up to their year and half children should have a vocabulary of about 4-6 words, sometimes a few more.  Usually single words and they can answer simple questions nonverbally. 

Once your child hits 18 months till they turn 2 years old, their vocabulary should jump to about 50 words.  Still usually one word at a time of things like food, animal sounds, and sometimes combine two words such as all done, more water. 

When a child hits 2 years old to 3 years they start forming sentences of 4-5 words at a time.  They also learn spatial words such as in or on, and learn pronouns. 

By the time your child is 5 their vocabulary will have reached around 2,500 words. 


Causes of Speech Delays

Making sure your child stays up on their speech milestones will help you know if they have a speech delay.  There are lots of causes of speech delays.  The most common one is oral impairment, or oral motor problems.  This can be either from the tongue, or roof of the mouth.  Sometimes it can be that the child has a hard time coordinating their lips, tongue, and jaw all at the same time.  Some children with speech problems will also have feeding problems as well.  Speech problems can also be due to hearing problems, or even chronic ear infections. 


Warning Signs To Watch For

If your child isn’t trying to communicate at all with speech or gestures you will want to consult with your physician.  Another cause to have your child looked over is if by the age of two they don’t have fifty or more words they use frequently.  Other signs of concern are if by 12 months there are no gestures, pointing or waving.  At 18 months if they just prefer gestures than words, they have trouble imitating sounds, and have trouble understanding verbal commands.  At age 2 if the child only “parrot talks”, meaning they only recite exactly what you have said, with no spontaneous words on their own, can’t follow simple directions, or they only have a few words they use all the time.  


What You Can Do To Help Your Child

Parents or caregivers of the child should understand their words at about 50% at age 2 and by the age of 3 to 75%.  It can be challenging to understand what your child is saying at first.  Helping your child though can be one of the best things a parent can do to improve their speech.  Talk to them constantly.  Tell them exactly what you are doing, when you are doing a task.  Think of it like you are narrating your tasks.  Sing songs to your child, and read.  You don’t have to read the words in the book, but look at the pages and tell them what you see.  If your child doesn’t imitate sounds or words first have them mimic gestures or actions.  Have them learn and mimic animal sounds.  When talking to them, talk slow and use small sentences so they can best understand you.  When they do use their words and speak, make them know you are proud and pleased with them.  Praise can do wonders for a child.  Remind them to use their words, if they get to where they gesture too often.  


Diagnosis & Treatment

A speech or language delay is usually diagnosed when a child misses a speech milestone.  Your doctor will talk to you about what is best for your child to help them catch up.  This can be meeting with a speech therapist to help them.  Also your doctor will want you to do as much talking with your child as you can.  Depending on the child will depend on how long they would have to work with a speech therapist.  Most children though will catch up to their age milestones after some diligent work if they do become behind.  Speech differs between children.  As long as your child is hitting the milestones of their age then they are doing just fine. 

“Some children with speech problems will also have feeding problems as well.”


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