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What are the REAL signs of a communication delay?

Every child develops a bit differently. Your child has his own unique set of skills and own budding personality, even early on! You may notice that some toddlers learn to talk much sooner than others, while others are walking and running way ahead of pace. With so much variation, it can be hard to know when it's time to get help and additionally, where to find resources can be daunting.

You may have had a friend or doctor mention that your child may need extra support. On the other hand, you could be worried while your family tells you that is silly! While there is no set formula to making the decision to seek early intervention services, it can be helpful to gather information about typical development to get an idea about what skills your child has not yet mastered. Knowing the signs and red flags for a speech and language delay, language disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and other related developmental disorders can also help guide families.

Know the Signs:

Infants communicate in many ways before they learn to actually speak. Early signs of how they communicate and connect with their parents can give wonderful insight into their development of speech and language. Such things as eye contact, crying, cooing, and smiling are all examples of ways infants communicate with their caregivers early on. As a matter of fact, long before words, infants will make sounds, babble, and vocalize to let you know how they are feeling. As they continue to develop, they begin to imitate sounds, gestures (e.g., waving), and words. By age two, your toddler should be combining words together. Check out the below skills expected by different ages. If your infant or toddler is not reaching some or all of the milestones expected for their age, a screening or evaluation may help you get services to assist your child in meeting those milestones!

By 6 months

  • Reacts to loud noises

  • Follows sounds with his/her eyes

  • Responds to different tones of voice (e.g., an angry voice vs. a calm voice)

  • Calms down when spoken to

  • Recognizes a caregiver's voice

  • Coos

  • Smiles

  • Has different cries

  • Babbles using different vowels and sounds like p, m, and b.

By 12 months

  • Plays peek-a-boo

  • Follows sounds by turning his/her head

  • Understands words for their favorite items or familiar actions (e.g., eat, sleep, jump)

  • Responds to "come here" and "no"

  • Uses gestures (e.g., to ask for "up," waving, pointing to objects)

  • Imitates speech sounds

  • Says one or two words (e.g., mama, dog, hi)

By 12-18 months

  • Follows some simple commands (e.g., "roll the ball," "get your juice")

  • Knows some body parts (e.g. "hand," "head")

  • Points to familiar pictures in a book when named

  • Enjoys stories, songs, rhymes

  • Uses new words on a regular basis

  • Has a vocabulary of up to 50 words

By 18-24 months

  • Is understood by their parents/caregivers about 50% or more of the time

  • Begins to use pronouns (I, it)

  • Begins to ask questions (e.g., "What's that?")

  • Has a growing vocabulary of 200-300 words!

By 24-30 months

  • Has a vocabulary of 450 words

  • Combines 2 or 3 words together frequently ("daddy's shoe," "I want more," "throw ball")

  • Follows two-step directions (e.g., "get your cup and pour some water")

  • Asks a variety of simple questions (e.g., "Where go?" or "What's in there?")

  • Begins to use verb forms, plural -s, possessive -s (e.g., walking, walked, cats, mom's)

By Age 30-36 months

  • Is understood by their parents/caregivers about 75% or more of the time

  • Has a vocabulary of up to 1,000 words

  • Puts words together to make sentences

Get Connected:

If you are concerned about infant or toddler's speech and language development, you can start by speaking with a profession at a local pediatric clinic or by contacting your local regional center. The regional center can provide you with information, assessments, and early intervention services if your child is delayed.

For more information, see the following links:

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