by Valerie Johnston, MS, CCC-SLP
Long before babies say their first words, they are communicating by crying, cooing, smiling and using hand or body movements. Even before they understand words, they respond to tone of voice and gestures. These first ways of relating to the environment are important precursors of talking. Failure to exhibit them at appropriate ages is often the first indication that a child will experience difficulty acquiring normal speech and language abilities.
Although no two children develop at exactly the same rate, they do follow a definite pattern when learning to speak. Being aware of the sequence and approximate ages at which certain behaviors typically occur will assist professionals in addressing parents' concerns about the speech and language development of their children. The earlier a problem is identified and appropriate treatment begun, the better the prognosis for normal speech and language functioning. The old advice to "wait and see" is not appropriate when a child fails to exhibit many behaviors that are typical of his age-level peers. When this occurs, it is best to refer the child for a complete assessment by a qualified speech-language pathologist in order to determine if a problem exists.
By the time a child turns three, he is quite conversant in his native language. He has an expressive vocabulary of approximately 900 words, is talking in short, grammatically correct sentences, and is understood 90% of the time by strangers. Significant discrepancies between a child's speaking abilities and those of his age-level peers can be identified and treated well before this age. With early intervention, the prognosis for normal communication abilities is improved and the duration of treatment is typically shortened. The chart below will help professionals recognize the early warning signs of speech and language disorders, answer parents' questions, and make appropriate referrals as soon as significant discrepancies are identified.
BIRTH TO 2 MONTHS
3 TO 4 MONTHS
5 T0 6 MONTHS
6 T0 9 MONTHS
9 TO 12 MONTHS
12 TO 18 MONTHS
18 TO 24 MONTHS
2 T0 2½ YEARS
2½ TO 3 YEARS
Bangs, T. (1982). Language and Learning Disorders of the Preacademic Child with Curriculum Guide. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Bzoch, K. and League, R. (1971). Assessing Language Skills in Infancy: A Handbook for Multidimensional Analysis of Emergent Language. Baltimore: University Park Press.
Leitch, S. (1977). A Child Learns to Speak: A Guide for Parents and Teachers of Preschool Children. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas.
Nicolosi, L., Harryman, E., and Krescheck, J. (1989). Terminology of Communication Disorders: Speech-Language-Hearing (3rd ed). Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.
If you have questions or need more information you can contact me at:
Speech & Language Center, Inc.
Fort Worth, TX