Children begin to develop speech ability at the age of just three months. Their speech development continues until the age of eight, and their language development continues well into adolescence. Your child’s first five years are critical for both speech and language development and it’s vital to watch for missed developmental milestones that could indicate a delay, particularly during the early stages. If you notice a problem, pediatric speech therapy can make a big difference to your child’s development.
Speech and language development milestones
When do babies start talking? Late talkers?
Babies begin to laugh and coo around the age of three months. At the same time, they begin to experiment with different sounds, and they start to use hand gestures, too. These are the earliest speech development milestones, even though no words are formed.
As your child grows, they’ll develop language – the ability to assign meaning to the sounds they make. Here are some key speech and language development milestones:
12 to 18 months - Babies usually begin talking.
2 years old - Most children around this age can string together short sentences and understand some of the things you say.
3 years old - Your child should be able to say many words correctly, and they should be able to form short, meaningful sentences that even strangers can understand. At age three, many children can speak while doing other activities such as coloring or playing.
3 - 5 years old - Children at this age typically engage in conversation. They develop curiosity about abstract subjects and they often use complex sentences. Many children start to tell stories during this period.
5 - 8 years old - Most children gain language ability by leaps and bounds. By the age of eight, many kids can carry on conversations with complex themes.
Children develop speech and language at different rates, and it’s completely normal for some to progress faster than others. But if your child is a late talker, check with your doctor to ensure that there are no underlying conditions.
Warning signs of possible speech and/or language disorders in children
Most children are born ready to develop speech and language abilities. Knowing which milestones your child should be reaching is key to detecting problems with language and speech. At the same time, there are some indicators to watch for; for example, a 2 year old not talking could indicate a speech delay.
By 12 months old:
- Doesn’t use gestures like pointing or waving
By 15 months old:
- Doesn’t say words
By 18 months old:
- Doesn’t say at least six words
- Prefers gestures instead of vocalization
- Has difficulty imitating sounds
- Doesn’t communicate needs or wants in some way
Between 19 and 24 months old:
- Doesn’t learn new words at the rate of at least one word per week
By 24 months old:
- Can’t join two words together
- Doesn’t imitate words and actions
By 30 months old:
- Can’t be understood – even by family members
By 3 years old:
- Has no interest in interacting with other children
- Can’t say short phrases
- Has unclear speech
By 4 years old:
- Has not mastered (most) consonant sounds
- Isn’t mostly understood, even by strangers
If your child seems to have a problem with language or speech development, ask their healthcare provider for an evaluation. A speech language pathologist can help by conducting an assessment to determine whether your child has a problem with speech or language and if so, what type of treatment to apply. Importantly, if you have detected problems with language or speech in your child, don’t worry - there are a huge range of ways in which parents and speech pathologists or speech therapists can help children master language.
How parents can help children develop speech and language
Children learn language by hearing others speak – and by practicing the sounds that make up language, even before they are old enough to form words.
One of the easiest ways to help your child develop speech and language skills is to simply talk to them about all kinds of things. As your child points, waves, or babbles about something that seems interesting, interact by talking with them.
Whatever their age, treat your child as if they already know what you’re saying. Although they might not understand yet, they’ll begin to comprehend speech as they develop.
Read to your child, even before they can understand words. Point to pictures in books and say the names for the objects, animals, and people on the pages.
Once they begin to use words, start repeating and building on what they say. For example, if your child says “ball” you can ask “Do you like the blue ball?” Just responding and speaking to your child will encourage them to communicate. Have fun babbling back and forth!
Know that the more speech your child hears, the more words they will be likely to learn. Let them hear your conversations and be sure to interact as much as you can. Children who are surrounded by speech usually learn how to use language faster. Conversely, kids who aren’t often spoken to or read to have a tendency to learn language later than others in their age group.
Tracking your child’s speech and language abilities keeps your finger on the pulse of their development. Catching and treating any issues early is the key to overcoming many problems with speech and language.
Related: Monkey See Monkey Do!
What is pediatric speech therapy?
Speech language pathologists – also known as SPLs – diagnose and treat speech disorders, language disorders, voice disorders, communication disorders, and swallowing disorders.
Speech language pathology can help children learn to communicate effectively using verbal and non-verbal language. While every child is different, speech therapy for kids can address difficulty using words, phrases, and sentences, as well as difficulty understanding or organizing information.
SLPs ensure that speech therapy for toddlers and older kids feels like play; for example, they might focus on fun games and toys that encourage children to practice targeted sounds.
At the same time, speech therapists note that it is very important for families to practice what they learn in online speech therapy. Using the tools learned during a pediatric speech therapy appointment is key to creating lasting change.
If your child is in speech therapy, ask how you can help your child succeed with activities. It takes time and effort for children to overcome speech and language disorders, and all family members can help by offering patience and understanding.
Related: Early Intervention Speech Therapy
What are speech disorders in children?
A speech disorder is a problem making sounds. There are different types of speech disorders:
Articulation disorders are problems forming syllables, or problems with saying words incorrectly so that others can’t understand.
Fluency disorders involve interruptions in the flow of speech, such as stuttering, prolonging certain sounds and/or syllables, or having partial word repetitions.
Voice (resonance) disorders are problems with voice pitch, volume, or quality, which can prevent listeners from really understanding what’s being said. These disorders can also cause discomfort for children.
What are language disorders in children?
A language disorder is a problem with communicating ideas or understanding. Children with language disorders might not be able to put words together.
Expressive language disorders are problems forming even short sentences, using language in socially acceptable ways. Children with expressive language disorders might have a limited vocabulary.
Receptive language disorders are problems processing or understanding language.
Cognitive-communication language disorders are problems with specific communication skills. Children with cognitive communication language disorders might not be able to use or understand language that requires the use of attention, memory, perception, problem solving, regulation, or organization.
What are feeding disorders?
Feeding disorders, also known as dysphagia or oral feeding disorders, are problems that affect the way a person eats and/or drinks. Coughing, gagging, and problems with chewing and swallowing might occur with a feeding disorder, and so might refusing food.
How can a speech language pathologist and online speech therapy help?
Speech language pathologists work with children one-on-one to address and overcome specific problems. Beginning in preschool online speech therapy might include language intervention activities that incorporate games, reading and objects.
SLPs also model correct grammar, sounds, and syllables for children, often during activities that feel like play, and that are directly related to the child’s needs.
In feeding disorders, speech language pathologists encourage children to participate in oral exercises and facial massage aimed at improving muscle tone and strengthening specific muscles used during eating, drinking, and swallowing motions.
Speech language pathologists can help children with a variety of difficulties including:
Weak oral muscles
Motor planning problems
Traumatic brain injuries
Find speech therapy near me!
Speech language therapists or speech pathologists help children learn language, addressing a wide range of speech and language issues that affect toddlers, preschoolers, and older children.
Better Speech brings licensed, accredited, experienced speech therapists to you online. Office visits can seem intimidating for children, so online speech therapy for children offers affordable, professional assistance inside your child’s comfort zone. Online speech therapy is just as effective as in chair speech therapy, plus it is more convenient, it increases parental involvement, and it is much more affordable, at just $59 a session.
Curious? Contact us to learn more about online speech therapy or fill in this questionnaire and we will match your child and their specific needs to a speech therapist who will be able to provide life-changing help. Better Speech can give your child the tools they need to overcome speech delays, communication disorders related to autism, stuttering, and more.
FAQ on pediatric speech therapy for kids
Speech pathologist vs speech therapist: What’s the difference?
There is no difference between a speech pathologist and a speech therapist. The two terms are interchangeable.
What does SLP mean?
SLP stands for speech language pathologist.
What are talking baby games that encourage language development?
Talking baby games are fun, interactive play sessions you have with your baby, to encourage them to learn speech and language skills. This might be pointing at pictures in a book, responding with enthusiasm whenever your baby babbles or coos at you, or simply leaving blank spaces when you chat to your baby – and continuing to speak after they respond. Be sure to point out different sights, sounds, and colors whenever you have the opportunity.