How do I know if my child has a language delay?

Communication and language development is an important milestone, but it can also be one of the most bewildering. Many parents find themselves wondering, “Shouldn’t my child be talking by now?” or “How much should my child be talking at this age?” Even though all children develop their language skills at different times, there are signs and milestones that can help you identify what is ‘normal’.

How do I know if my child has a language delay?
Speech-Language Therapist, Savannah Senior, says that an easy way to recognise a language delay is to use the following milestones:

  • 1 year = 1 word (mom)
  • 2 years = 2 words (want tea)
  • 3 years = 3+ words (I want the apple)

“Although this is an oversimplified way of viewing language development, it is an easy way to remember when to seek help,” says Savannah. “However, it is also important to remember that all children are different, and they learn and grow at different rates.”

Signs to look out for if you are concerned

Hearing: If your child doesn’t respond to his name and doesn’t follow instructions, he may have hearing difficulties. Children with hearing difficulties often leave off the ends of words when speaking and often struggle with high frequency sounds such as ‘f, s and th’. If you are concerned about your child’s hearing, consult an audiologist.

Vocabulary growth: Take note of how many words your child understands and says. Your child should understand more words than they are able to say.

  • 18 months: +- 50 words
  • 24 months: 200-300 words
  • 3 years: 500-1100 words

Remember, this is only a guideline and not all children’s vocabulary will grow at this rate.

Articulation: Does your child have difficulty saying certain sounds? Some sounds are harder to say than others and only develop later. Some early developing sounds include ‘p, m, h, n, w, b, k, g and d’.

Intent: Is your child interested in communicating and talking with you and others?

Consistency: Take note whether others understand your child, and whether your child will follow instructions given by others.

If you are at all concerned about your child’s speech and language development, contact a speech-language therapist, who will conduct an assessment and provide therapy if necessary.

Tips to promote your child’s language development

Liz Senior, occupational therapist and founder of Clamber Club, believes that children need an environment in which parents and caregivers are verbally responsive. “Talking, listening, conversing and reading to your child is what makes all the difference,” she says.

Savannah suggests using ‘OWL’ (Observe, Wait, and Listen) to follow your child’s lead and encourage them to interact with the world around them. For example, if the doorbell rings, observe, wait, and listen to what your child says. Instead of opening the door immediately, wait for her to tell you that someone is at the door. She suggests the following activities to promote language development:

Labelling: Provide a name or description of something for your child. For example, instead of just handing them an apple, say: “Here is an apple.”

Expansion: This is when you add onto what your child says. It will teach your child how to increase his sentence length appropriately.

Positive reinforcement: This is when you reward your child for doing well, encouraging them to repeat an action again.

Use everyday activities: Promote language during everyday activities such as bathing, cooking, getting dressed, etc.

“These activities will increase your child’s vocal, verbal and nonverbal behaviours,” says Savannah. “As a parent, keep encouraging your child’s speech and enjoy each language milestone as it happens,” she concludes.

*You can find more excellent articles from Clamber Club here.

To find out more about Clamber Club, click here.

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