Language Delays in Toddlers: A Parent’s Guide
Language delays in toddlers can be a concerning experience for both parents and families. We all want to see our little ones thriving, and the ability to communicate and speak to those around us is important when we’re little and as we grow up.
As a team of passionate Speech Pathologists, we’ve gone ahead and developed this Parent’s Guide to Language Delays in Toddlers to help you know what to look for that may indicate a need to seek professional support.
Keep reading to learn about what language delays are and the speech and language milestones to be mindful of as your child grows and develops.
What is the difference between Speech and Language?
This might be surprising to learn, but there is a difference between ‘speech’ and ‘language’ when it comes to Speech Therapy. It’s important that we discuss this before we go any further into the world of Language Delays in Toddlers as what you may be noticing with your child could be an undiagnosed speech disorder instead.
Speech refers to the actual sound of spoken language. It’s the oral form of communicating. Language on the other hand, involves the whole system of words and symbols — written, spoken, or expressed with gestures and body language — that is used to communicate meaning.
With this terminology in mind, it might make it a little easier to determine which area your child may be experiencing challenges with. For example, a child with Speech (Sound) Disorder will have difficulty pronouncing sounds in words. Whereas a child with a Language Delay may have trouble understanding what others are saying to them (receptive language) or may struggle to express their own thoughts and feelings with language (expressive language).
What is a Language Delay?
The term ‘Language Delay’ is often overused when it comes to discussing speech and language challenges. A language delay is different from a diagnosed Speech Disorder or Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).
In toddlers, a Language Delay simply describes a delay in the child reaching speech and language milestones typical for their age. Delays in language are the most common type of development delay, with one in five children learning to talk later than other children their age. On the other hand, if a Language Delay persists it can be an indicator of a potential disorder, such as DLD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
If a child has a Language Delay that doesn’t go away, it could be a sign of a Developmental Language Disorder. Children diagnosed with DLD typically have difficulty understanding language and/or speaking. As you can imagine, these difficulties significantly impact their everyday lives.
Can a toddler have a language delay and not be autistic?
While language delays are very common with children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there are also plenty of children with language delays who are not autistic.
According to a research paper from 2018, a big predictor of ASD in children up to 12 months of age was a lack of gesturing. Using the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory, Words and Gestures form (M-CDI), gestures (including aspects of joint attention and pretend play) at 12 months predicted risk category and ASD diagnosis. The authors state, “…a lower rate of gesture use by the first birthday can be associated with a later ASD diagnosis.”
If you’ve noticed regression in your child’s speech and language skills and believe your child may have ASD, get in touch with a professional for an assessment.
How do you treat language delays in toddlers?
Whether your child is a ‘Late Talker’ with a simple Language Delay or a more specific diagnosis like DLD or ASD, working with a Speech Pathologist to get an assessment and an individualised Speech Therapy plan is a great idea.
There are many Speech Pathologists around Australia and the world who will be able to support you and your toddler with a language delay concern.
At SpeechEase Speech Therapy, we have three clinics across Queensland with passionate clinicians experienced in a variety of speech and language concerns.
Get in touch with our friendly team here or give us a call on 1300 773 273 for more information on how we support toddlers with language delays.
When should you worry if your child is not talking?
Children develop language at different rates. However, there are some widely accepted speech and language milestones to look out for. If you’re concerned, make sure you book your child in with a Speech Pathologist as soon as possible – research shows that early intervention is key for children with language delays.
Childhood Speech and Language Milestones
At 12 months old your child should understand about 10 words and respond to their name when called. They should be able to recognise greetings like ‘hi’ or ‘bye’ and make eye contact. Your child will be babbling and starting to say a few words. They may copy different sounds and noises.
18 Months – 2 Years
At 2 years old your child’s speech should be at least 50% intelligible. They should be able to use the P, M, B, T, D, N, W and H sounds, however they may still omit final consonants (at the end of a word). Your child should be able to understand about 50 words and be able to point to familiar objects when named.
At 3 years old your child’s speech should be at least 70-80% intelligible. They should be saying 1-2 syllable words and using the K, G, F and Y speech sounds. Your child should be able to respond to simple questions and be able to point to body parts or pictures in books when named. They say ‘no’ when they don’t want something and they’re starting to say ‘mine’ and ‘my.
At 4 years old your child’s speech should be 90-100% intelligible, and they should be saying 3-4 syllable words. They should be able to use the S, Z, L, SH, CH, and J sounds. At this age your child should be asking lots of questions and be able to answer most questions about daily tasks. They understand some numbers and understand most wh- questions (what, why).
At 5 years old your child’s speech should be 100% intelligible and they should be saying S and L blends like Spoon or Play. They should also be able to say the R sound. At five years old your child should begin to recognise some letters and use well-formed sentences. They can take turns in conversations and tell simple stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
Want to keep these milestones handy? Download your copy of our Speech Sound Development Milestones information sheet by clicking the above image or the button below.
For more information on how to support your child’s language skills, take a look at our guide to the best toys for language development.