Expert Health Articles

Speech Delay

Brenda WaltzBrenda Waltz, MS, CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech delay is a broad term used for children who begin speaking later than usual. Each child is different and will learn speech and language skills at his or her own rate. Below is a speech and language guideline typical for children ages 1-3 years:

1 year: Most children begin speaking at approximately one year of age. A child’s first words usually consist of “mama,” “dada” and other nouns such as pet names, foods or toys. Children can wave goodbye, play pat-a-cake, understand “no” and follow simple directions.

1.5 years: Most children begin using 10-20 words, including names of people. They also begin recognizing pictures of familiar people or objects, pointing to their eyes, nose and toes, and humming or singing simple songs.

2 years: Most children have a vocabulary of around 300 words and use 2-3 word sentences. They begin referring to themselves by name, carrying on a “conversation” with themselves and dolls, and naming people and objects in pictures. Additionally, children begin listening to stories with pictures more attentively and can remain with an activity for 6-7 minutes.

2.5 years: At this stage, most children have a vocabulary of 450 words. They can tell others their first name, use past tense and plural nouns and speak to other children as well as adults. Further, children now understand the difference between “big” and “little” and can match 3-4 colors, answer “where” questions, and hold up fingers to tell someone their age.

3 years: By now, most children have a vocabulary of nearly 1,000 words and use 3-4 word sentences. They can match primary colors and name at least one color, understand the difference between night and day, and comprehend time concepts such as “yesterday,” “summer” and “lunchtime.” Children at this stage can remain attentive during an activity for 8-9 minutes, and they can usually sing songs.

If your child appears to be behind according to these benchmarks, he or she may be experiencing speech delay. If you suspect this, contact your child’s provider. You may be referred to a speech-language pathologist for speech therapy. During speech therapy sessions, speech-language pathologists use play strategies to help children develop speech and language skills. Speech-language pathologists can also provide you with ideas on how to practice speech and language development at home with your child, such as:

  • Read colorful books to your child regularly, preferably every day
  • Use short sentences (1-3 words long) when speaking with your child
  • Talk to your child about what you are doing
  • Talk to your child about what he or she is doing
  • Sing songs or say nursery rhymes with your child
  • Imitate and identify sounds in your surroundings with your child
  • Look at your child when he or she talks to you
  • Praise your child’s speaking effort

Ask your provider today if speech therapy is right for your child.