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Speech Delay in Toddlers

What is speech delay?

Speech delay refers to the delay in the development or use of the mechanisms that produce speech. It can be difficult to spot behavior that indicates children are just late talkers and what requires professional attention. Every child develops at different stages and there are factors such as growing up in a bilingual home and growing up with older siblings who ‘do the talking for the younger child' that result in some children taking longer to speak. However, generally speaking, the milestones for each age group are as outlined below.

What is speech delay

Between 1 and 2 years most toddlers will:
  • Follow simple commands
  • Get objects from one room to another
  • Point to body parts when asked
  • Bring things to show you
  • Name some objects and pictures
  • Know 2-10 words
1 2 year old

2 year old
By 2 years most toddlers will:
  • Say about 50 words
  • Point to many body parts and common objects
  • Point to some pictures in books
  • Follow one-step commands such as "Put your pencil on the table"
  • Say several two-word phrases like "all gone"
  • Say a few three-word phrases such as "I want juice"
  • Be understood by adults about 50% of the time

By 3 years most toddlers will:
  • Vocabulary extends to about 250-500 words
  • Able to recite the alphabet
  • Speaks in three and four-word sentences which include nouns, verbs, and adjectives
  • Calls themselves and others by name
  • Asks questions
  • Tells stories, sings songs and nursery rhymes
  • Adults understand about 75% of what they say
3 year old

Signs of speech delay:

Toddlers should generally reach the above milestones as outlined. Not reaching them is not always a sure sign that they have a speech delay, but it may be an indication, so if you are worried, contact your pediatrician for advice.

What can cause speech delay?

Problems with the mouth: A speech delay may be because of a problem with the mouth, tongue, or palate.

Hearing loss: Children who can't hear well or hears distorted speech, may experience difficulties in speaking as they can't pick up words as easily from hearing others speak. Children who have a lot of hearing aches may have problems with hearing loss.

Autism spectrum disorder: Speech and language problems are very often seen with an autism spectrum disorder.

Neurological problems: Certain neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy can affect muscles necessary for speech.

Lack of stimulation: We learn to speak to try and join a conversation, so it is important for children to be around adults who are speaking and stimulating toddler's interest in engaging.

Treating speech delay:
  • Speech and language therapy; with early intervention, attending speech and language therapy can greatly increase your child's speaking level and can have them on the same track as their peers by the time they begin school.
  • Treating the underlying condition; it's important to speak with your pediatrician to bring awareness to any possible underlying condition that may be causing the speech delay.
Treating speech delay

What can parents do
What parents can do:
  • Talk to your toddler, encourage imitation of gestures
  • Read to your child
  • Focus on what the child knows rather than on what they don't know yet
  • Label everything to built up their vocabulary
  • Listen; give them time to say what they mean, don't rush them as this may cause them to feel anxious
  • Use straws; blowing liquid through straws and strengthens muscles around the mouth. Blowing bubbles also help children to form the correct shape around their lips and cheeks
  • Sing simple songs that they can repeat

Note: All information on is for educational purposes; please contact your doctor for specific medical advice, treatment, and diagnoses.


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