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Speech and Language Development Concerns

What to do when you have concerns about your child's speech and language development.

By Allison Martin

Concerned About Your Child’s Speech and Language Development? Five Steps to Take:

  1. Ignore advice to wait and stories about the cousin who did not speak until age three. It’s never too early to address language delays.
  2. Contact Early Intervention for an evaluation.
  3. Have your child’s hearing tested.
  4. Evaluate your child’s oral motor functions.
  5. Read either The Late Talker or Childhood Speech, Language & Listening Problems for reviews or to purchase these helpful books).

Parents Can Encourage Language Skills

Have a give and take. Whether it’s bath time, dinner time, or drive time, respond to your baby’s babbling or engage your preschooler in a discussion about something that interests him. Ask open-ended questions and elicit his opinions.

Read together. Ask questions about the story and illustrations: What’s happening in this picture? Why did the character do that? What do you think will happen next?

Keep up a running commentary. Describe what you and your child are doing and why, whether it’s feeding the dog or putting away toys. This technique helps build vocabulary and comprehension

Keep corrections subtle. When your child makes an error in speech, gently rephrase what he was trying to say. If he says “I runned to the car,” you can respond with: “Oh, you ran to the car?” If a child is prone to short sentences, elaborate on what she says to encourage longer statements.

Be patient. Some children need extra time to process a question, think of an answer, and get it out. Giving your child as much time as she needs shows that you're interested and encourages communication.

Speech and Language Development Milestones to Watch For

Consider an evaluation if your child’s language development falls outside this timetable:

  • Birth to 5 months: Turns head toward sound, makes noise when spoken to
  • 6–11 months: Babbles (“ba-ba-ba”), tries to repeat your sounds
  • 12-17 months: Answers simple questions nonverbally, follows simple directions with gestures, points, says two to three words to label an object
  • 18-23 months: Follows simple commands without gestures, says 10 or more words and begins to combine them (“more milk”)
  • 2-3 years: Speaks about 40 words at 24 months; understands some spatial concepts (on, in), descriptive words (big, happy), pronouns (you, me); begins to use plurals, regular past tense verbs, and two- to three-word phrases
  • 3-4 years: Uses most speech sounds, though some (l, r, th) may be distorted; groups objects such as food and clothes; expresses feelings and ideas; recognizes language absurdities (Is that an elephant on your head?)
  • 4-5 years: Speech is largely understandable; describes how to do things; answers “why” questions; lists items in a category, such as animals
  • 5 years: Engages in conversation, uses complex sentences, carries out a series of three directions, uses imagination to create stories

Read first part of article on adoption and speech and language development.


Allison Martin is involved in adoptive family support activities through both her Web site Comunity.com and Families with Children from Viet Nam. This article was previously published in the terrific resource, Adoptive Families Magazine.

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