Child development tip: Stages of speech development

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“Should I worry if my two-year-old is not talking?” This is a question frequently heard by speech language pathologists. There are many aspects about talking that need to be addressed when this question is answered.  

Receptive and expressive language components need to be considered, including:

• How well does the child respond to noises in his environment?

• How does he request items?

• Does he try to make any words?   

• How well can he identify named objects?

• Can he follow directions?

• Does he seem frustrated when others don’t understand him?

Here are some general guidelines for the development of the speech aspect of talking that may help you decide if you should worry about your child’s language skills.

The most obvious parts of speech are the sounds that your child is able to make. Babies start making sounds in response to the speech of others as early as two months. The early consonants develop from the back of the throat, and are often made as the baby laughs and giggles.  

By six months, you should hear your baby do a lot of vocal play experimenting with many sounds, noises and pitches. This is also a time of exploration of sounds that the lips can make like raspberries, blowing and spitting on purpose.

By 12 months, you should be hearing repeated or reduplicated babbling, for example: dadadadada, or mamamama. You will hear your child produce greater pitch control and have the ability to sound out some consonants and vowels.   From here until the production of real words, a child continues to experiment with all kinds of sounds and pairings of vowels and consonants.

From 12 to 15 months, a child should have quite a repitoire of consonants (p,b,m,d,n) and start imitating sounds modeled by familiar people. Now is when the first real words are spoken. Nouns are most commonly produced first; binky, bottle, baby, or names of favorite toys.

At 18 to 24 months is the age when most children start to use real words. A child’s lexicon (vocabulary) of spoken single words is typically 20 or so at 18 months and 50 or so at 24 months.  

It must be remembered that all children develop at their own pace due to numerous reasons including personality, number of family members, birth order, need to talk etc. That being said, there are developmental stages that need to expand prior to a first word. This is when assessment by a speech language pathologist can determine if there is truly a need for a parent to worry about their child’s speech development or not. If you have concerns about your child’s speech, talk with your primary care provider about ordering a speech therapy consult.

(Carolyn S. Peterson is a speech language pathologist.)

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