Our guide to speech delays and signs to look out for

Oh, how we wait for that first proper word… for the first coherent utterings of our precious little one. And in the years that follow we can sometimes barely stop our talkative darlings from chattering! But often we are eager to know exactly when we can expect this milestone, and whether our own child’s progress with speech development is ‘normal’.

Well, as we always say, there are lots of different ‘normals’ and all children are unique in their developmental milestones. Some young children start speaking later than others, and mostly catch up of their own accord. There are some things to look out for, however, and plenty of support available for those that need a little extra help.

What do specialists look for?

Typically toddlers and young children can understand far more words than they can speak. Specialists will often evaluate a child’s development based on their understanding of words, as well as their speaking skills. Communicating and making gestures may confirm that your child hears and understands what is being said.

Why do speech delays occur?

Mostly speech development is down to genetics, but always remember to let your little one speak for themselves as much as possible. As good parents, we often have an excellent intuition about what our child needs, but we mustn’t try to speak for them… “You want your toy?” “You’re thirsty?” etc. Give them a chance to try voicing their needs whenever possible.

Premature babies will sometimes be delayed with speech, as with other milestones. Try working things out from their due date, rather than their birthdate.

Boys will often develop their speech slightly later than girls.

Multiple birth babies can also experience delays due to low birthweight and other associated complications. An estimated 50% of multiples have some speech delay.

Ear problems in the early years can cause hearing problems at that crucial time when a child is listening and learning language skills. Children with ongoing hearing problems may need some extra support.

Some young children are simply so absorbed with perfecting their favourite skill that the others take a back seat. So if your child is excelling at something else, this will explain a delay in their speech.

Signs of a delay (a very rough guide)

We know there is no ‘normal’ so these are just signs to look out for. Seek professional advice from your doctor or at your local medical centre if you have any concerns, and your child may be able to get help to catch-up.
1 year old – If there is no response or chatter. If your child is not murmuring made-up baby words or trying to mimic you.

1 ½ years – If there have been no spoken words.

2 years – If there are no, or very few, simple words. If they communicate in other ways or with gestures only. Or if any progress in speech development is deteriorating.

2 ½ years – If there is a vocabulary of below 50 words and is unable to pronounce simple words.

3 years – If they are unable to pronounce any words that can be understood by people other than parents. Unable to make simple sentences.

Childcare centres can help!

Make sure to tell your childcare centre if you suspect that your child may be experiencing a slight delay. Professional educators can keep an eye on your child’s development while in their care and also give helpful tips and advice.

At the Cherry Bridge Station Early Learning & Childcare centres in NSW, we encourage plenty of vocabulary based games and activities. With songs, rhymes, reading aloud and lots of open-ended questions, we’ll soon have your little ones nattering all day long!