Signs of Speech and Language Delays in Infants

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Are you concerned about your child's speech and language development? If so, you're not alone. Most parents are concerned about their children's developmental stages in all areas. As in other areas of development, children develop speech and language skills at different rates. Developmental delays in communication skills are not absolute signs of a speech or language disability.

Speech and language development should be thought of as occurring within a range of time rather than by exact ages.

However, there are common signs of potential speech and language delays that you can watch for.

Infants Birth to 18 Months

The first stages of speech development involve behavior cues such as looking at or turning toward sound, meeting a caregiver's gaze, and making babbling noises. As the baby continues to develop, she will begin to mimic the movements and sounds of others around her. Around the age of twelve months, a baby begins to learn that his caregivers have associated specific sounds with objects and people. He begins to utter words such as da-da, ma-ma, and ba for bottle.

During this period, delays may be a concern if the child:

  • Has limited eye contact or does not respond to sounds in her environment
  • Does not babble or make buzzing, bubbly noises with lips
  • Does not respond to sing song play with others
  • Does not appear to listen or be concerned with words of caregivers or siblings
  • Does not make common gestures such as pointing toward a wanted object, waving bye or in greeting
  • Appears uncomfortable, crying often in a whining manner

Toddlers 18 to 24 Months

Toddlers at this stage should begin to watch others in their environment. They develop the ability to show emotion in their body language and babbling. They will begin to show understanding, or receptive language skills by pointing to objects when asked to do so or by following simple directions.

During this period, delays may be a concern if the child:

  • Continues to show little eye contact with caregivers and other children
  • Appears to show a limited range of emotions
  • Has not begun to say single words for common people and objects
  • Cannot point to two or three major body parts such as his head, arms, feet, or legs
  • Does not point to familiar objects or people when asked or cannot point to pictures of common objects when asked
  • Seems uninterested in her environment
  • Does not try to get others' attention or interaction

Toddlers 24 to 36 Months

By this age, children typically begin singing simple nursery rhyme songs or imitating tunes by humming. They begin to show early expressive language skills. They can name several familiar objects in their homes or daycare settings and can make simple two- to three-word sentences.

During this period, delays may be a concern if the child:

  • Cannot point to or say the names of common objects in her environment
  • Does not say simple sentences such as "want milk," "Da-da's home," or "not time go bed"
  • Does not enjoy listening to stories or following along in a book
  • Is not interested in children's television shows
  • Is more difficult to understand than other children his age

Where to Turn for Help

If you suspect your infant or toddler may have speech and language delays, you can get free screenings through early childhood programs in your area. Your child's pediatrician can help you get a referral to these services, or you may contact area early intervention services.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Important Milestones: Your Child By Eighteen Months. Updated February 8, 2019.

  2. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Important Milestones: Your Child By Two Years. Updated February 8, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important Milestones: Your Child By Three Years. Updated February 8, 2019.