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Language and Speech Delays

Dear Debi,
I am a mother of a one-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. I have recently noticed that my daughter is talking a lot more than my son. While my two-year-old understands what we tell him, he does not talk. Should I be worried?
Irma, Downey, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Talk with the parents
  • Early intervention is important
  • Guide parents to local regional center or school district
Expert Advice
Laura Gottlieb
Laura Gottlieb
Speech Language Pathologist
It’s important to understand that speech and language development go hand-in-hand together. A speech delay has to do with how a child is saying his or her sounds. Language delay is a difficulty in understanding words and their meaning and an inability to put them together into phrases. When a child lacks sufficient vocabulary to express oneself, it can be similar to the feeling one has when beginning to learn a new language and not being able to communicate.

There are several important benchmarks to look for when evaluating a child’s speech and language development:

Before 6 months – eye contact, gestures; turning head or crying when he or she is tired of an activity; smiling and laughing.

6-12 months – babbling; putting multiple speech sounds together; recognizing people; responding to their name.

12-18 months - 10-50 or more words; follow simple directions; turn pages of a book; respond to a question by pointing; groups objects in play (i.e., all of the toy cars go here and the play food goes there).

18-24 months - 2 words put together (i.e., “more milk”); name and show parts of body; should be able to make the sounds of various animals.

24-36 months - 50-300 words or more; 3-word phrases; being able to ask “why?” Also, the child should be able to understand and use some prepositions.

3-5 years - Most language and sounds are in by this point. However, it should be noted that some sounds and sound processes have not developed yet. It is not uncommon, for instance, that a 3-year-old child has difficulty producing some later developing sounds, such as the “R” and the “L” sounds. Hence, they say “wabbit” instead of “rabbit” or have difficulty blending words in consonant clusters (i.e., “geen” for “green” or “tes” for “tres”).

A parent or child care provider should take notice if a child is developing 6 months later than these benchmarks. It is important to look at the child’s overall communicative competence. For example, how do they try and communicate with others? Do they use gestures? Do they play with siblings or other children, or do they play alone? Do they take turns? Can they sustain attention for a period of time? Can they imitate any words? A history of middle-ear infections or other upper respiratory infections can contribute to a possible speech and/or language delay.

Parents should trust their intuitions about suspected speech and language problems. Finding help as soon as possible can be a great advantage for a child. Speak with the child’s pediatrician as a sounding board to rule out any medical and/or audiological problems.

If you suspect your child may have speech or language delays, there are many free services available to help. For kids under the age of 3, contact your local regional center. For kids 3 years and older, contact your local public school system. According to the law, a school must provide this evaluation within 60 days.

Once the school district or local regional center is contacted, the child will be tested for speech and language delays. Then they will recommend a course of action and intervention to help that child if delays are detected. Some school districts have “early start” programs that provide intervention with for child aged 3 and under.

For additional information and referrals, you should contact the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) and the California Speech Language Hearing Association (CSHA).
Child Care provider Comments
Sonnia Corzo
Sonnia Corzo
Child care provider for 6 years, mother of four
I wanted to make sure that I was doing the best job I could in caring for my children so I contacted a local program to have someone come out to test all the kids on their speech, motor skills, sensory, etc. I did this because I wanted to know what I needed to do to improve my program and help any kids that might need any extra help.

I informed all my parents about this prior to having someone come out and gave them the option to be present. All of the moms actually showed up that day and got reports directly from the coordinator. The coordinator suspected that one 3-year-old boy had language delays and informed his mother. I helped his mom by referring her to the local regional center to get additional assistance for her son.
Karolina Ramirez
Karolina Ramirez
Child care provider for 6 years
think the best thing to do is observe the child and see if you suspect any kinds of delays. If you do, it’s important to talk to the parents, but approach them in a delicate way. Many parents are very sensitive about their children possibly being delayed. I think the best way to approach them is to inform the parents about your observations and then ask them if they’ve noticed similar patterns at home.
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
I think it’s important to observe and document what you see in a child’s language development to see if it is necessary to get help to assist that child. Keeping a notebook of the sounds and words a child makes is important. Once it’s determined that there is some sort of delay, the next step would be to go to a regional center where they can refer you to specialists at no cost. If the child is older than 3, it’s the school district you need to go through.

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