Concerned about your child’s language development? Find out if you should seek professional advice

Before I became a homeschooling mom, I was a speech-language pathologist, aka speech therapist. As an undergraduate in the Communication Disorders program, I was required to take a language development class before doing any course work related to language disorders or delays. The theory being that one needed to fully know and understand the normal development of language throughout infancy and childhood before being able to recognize when that development had gotten off track to turn into a delay or disorder. I also took several extra child development and developmental psychology classes.

So you’d think with all of those classes and training AND being a licensed speech-language pathologist that I wouldn’t need outside professional advice when it came to my oldest son’s speech and language development.

But I did.

In other words, ditch the mom guilt if you are having doubts or concerns about your own child’s speech and language development. I think that as parents, we sometimes don’t really notice changes or even the absence of changes that should be occurring because we see our children every day. That’s why the grandparents visit and exclaim, “Oh, look how tall you’ve gotten!” –they haven’t seen your child in 2 months, so the change is really remarkable to them.

language development toddler wearing hat

My mom fail

When my oldest son was 22 months old, he only had a verbal (or expressive) vocabulary of about 5 words: mom, dad, dog, more and ah-oh. Granted, we had taught him some sign language, so he knew lots of signs like “all done” and “shoes” which really helped his frustration level. His understanding (receptive language) was terrific; he could follow directions and could point to items we named all day long.

One day, I was visiting with a friend who is also a speech-language pathologist. She politely enquired if I was getting at all worried about my son’s speech and language. Despite her delicately and diplomatically phrased question, I knew that what she really meant was “I think there’s a problem and you better do something now!”

Up until that point, although it had crossed my mind a few times, I had let it slide. I usually told myself one of these excuses: he’s the youngest; his sisters talk for him; he’s a boy (boy’s do tend to be slower at language development and faster at gross motor skills); and the classic, “I’ll think about it tomorrow, right now, what’s for supper?” I called the very next day to set up an appointment for an evaluation at the local university Speech and Hearing Clinic.

I’ve listed some of the most common language milestones for toddlers and preschoolers age 12 months to 4 years. Read them and see if your kiddo meets most of them. (Language is the words we use and understand; speech is the sounds we use in our words. If you are worried about your child’s speech production–how they say the sounds, read this article about typical speech development and speech delays.)

toddler looking over shoulder language development

Here are some of the language developmental milestones that you should look for in your child’s development.

12 months old

Responds to their name.

Responds when you say “no”

Uses gestures such as pointing and showing.

May speak one or more words although they may not be clear.

Follow simple requests with gestures (“Come here”).

15 months old

Mostly uses gestures and sounds.

Babbles strings of sounds together that almost sounds like real words.

Has a 4-6 word vocabulary

18 months old

Has a vocabulary of 10-20 words.

Begins to use two words together

Points to some body parts when asked.

Follows simple commands (“Give me the ball”).

2 years old

Has a vocabulary between 150-300 words.

Uses words more than gestures to communicate

Uses short 2 word phrases

Points to objects or pictures in a book when named

Learns a few new words each week.

Understands simple questions

Uses pronouns: me and it.

3 years old

1,000 word vocabulary

answers yes/no questions

Uses simple 2 to 3 word sentences

Uses some regular plurals

Uses some pronouns

Uses the prepositions in, on, and under.

Uses -ing and -ed endings, although not always correctly

answer some simple yes/no and “what” and “where” questions.

Follows simple two-step commands

4 years old

Asks lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions!

Uses 4 to 5 word sentences.

Most regular verbs, pronouns and plurals are used correctly.

Can retell short stories and recent past events with a beginning, middle and end.

When in doubt, ask for advice.

If your child isn’t able to do most of the items listed for his or her age, ask your spouse or a trusted friend if they agree with your concerns. If they do, don’t hesitate to get some professional guidance regarding your child’s language development.

Most speech-language pathologists are happy to give your child a 5-minute free screening to see if an evaluation is even needed. Waiting to see if they “grow out of it” could result in a less positive outcome.

Reading and writing are a part of language and if your child struggles with the verbal expression of language, those academic skills are also going to be more difficult. On the other hand, there really isn’t a downside to getting some extra help through language therapy.

Other helpful resources to check out:

Read about typical Speech development in children and what to do if you think your child has some speech errors HERE.

ASHA’s Typical Speech and Language Development Page

Pin this post so you can check back later to make sure your child’s language is still on track.

toddler language

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