Babies and toddlers learn skills and reach milestones at different ages. This also includes language. A baby can merrily burble “mama” or “dada”—maybe even both—before the age of one year. If they don’t, there’s no need to worry just yet.
To recognize if there is a problem in the language learning department, you first have to understand what is termed as ‘normal’ and what is not. Warning signs of a toddler’s language delay can vary. This will help in determining whether there's a possible problem with their language skills, or if your child is developing and reaching their milestones at the correct age.
What Is the Difference Between Language and Speech?
Before we begin talking about delayed language in your toddler, it is important to note that language and speech are different—but they can overlap.
Speech is the art of being able to communicate verbally and is the way language is conveyed.
Language is the way that a toddler gives and receives information and begins to understand both verbally and non verbally. Being able to make you, as a parent, understand their needs.
So when we talk about language delay, it means even though they may babble and speak, it may not be understandable.
What Are the Normal Stages of Language Development?
What we term as 'normal' stages of language development are as follows:
- By the age of 12 months, your baby should be making noises and sounds, and generally like the sound of their own voice. By 15 months, they should be able to say a few basic words as well as “mama” and “dada”. They should recognize simple directions and other words such as “ball” and the name of a loved toy.
- At the age of around 18 months, your toddler should start to imitate words, and be able to make the noun sounds of the letters p, b, n, m, and d. They may have a vocabulary of about 20 words but only say singular words.
- At 2 years old, they should have a vocabulary of about 50 words and be able to make two words fit together as a short sentence.
- When they reach the age of 3 years old, they should be able to string a few words together in a sentence. They should also have started to understand colors and descriptions.
Of course, these are general milestones that apply to most children, but not all will reach the same stage at the same age.
How Is a Language Delay Explained?
When we talk about language delay, we are talking about a form of disorder in communication. Your child might have a language delay if they are not achieving the milestones that they are expected to have reached by a certain age. It may not be a problem though as all children develop at different rates, and your toddler may just be developing at a slower pace than others.
Unfortunately, this in itself brings problems as they may not be able to express their feelings or understand other children or adults. Your child may not be able to make you understand what they want, which could manifest itself in frustration and bad behavior.
If there is a language delay, they may have hearing problems, speech problems, or a cognitive impairment that is delaying their advancement.
If your child has a language development issue, you are not alone. Around language difficultiespercent of children of preschool age have this same problem.
What Types of Language Delays Are There?
Language delays can be seen in the three following types:
- A delay can appear as receptive, where the toddler has some difficulty understanding language and what people are saying to them.
- It can also appear as expressive, when the toddler has difficulty in expressing themselves verbally.
- It could manifest itself in both receptive and expressive.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
When a child displays a delay in their language, the milestones won't be attained at the expected age. Their specific symptoms and milestones missed will be dependent on age and the reasons for their language impediment.
Some of the more prevalent symptoms are:
- Not making jabbering noises by the age of 15 months.
- Not putting words together and speaking by the age of 2 years.
- The failure to communicate in relatively short sentences at the age of 3 years.
- Cannot follow the simple instructions given.
- Unable to pronounce words properly or express themselves clearly.
- Have problems putting words together.
- Missing words out of sentences.
What Are the Known Causes for Language Delay?
There are many known possible causes. Sometimes more than one aspect can cause this delay.
Common factors are:
- Possible hearing impairment. If your child has problems with hearing loss, it naturally follows that they will have problems with communication.
- Your toddler may have dyslexia or a learning disability which will impact on their ability to understand language.
- Potential autism. Not all children with autism suffer from language delays, but it can have an effect on some.
- Doctors neglecting to pick up on these traits during routine check-ups.
- In an average developing child with language difficulties, it could be due to an oral problem.
How Is a Language Delay Diagnosed?
When you realize that your toddler may have a language delay, the first step is to take your child to your pediatrician. They should receive a full examination and assessment.
From there, the doctor will refer you and your toddler to a certified speech and language therapist where they will conduct a thorough assessment. This will include a fully exhaustive appraisal including the level of your child’s expressive language and receptive language in order to resolve if there is a language delay.
The examination will concentrate on tests in the form of verbal and nonverbal interchange using standardized measures under informal conditions.
When the specialist has completed their assessment, they may recommend having a hearing test. Many children are overlooked in that department, especially when they are young. Parents put it down to selective hearing—only wanting to hear what they want when they want.
What Types of Treatment Are Available?
When the diagnosis has been given, then it is time to turn to the treatment aspect.
The standard treatment is usually to be referred to a speech therapist. They will work to encourage your child to communicate and evaluate their progress over time.
If your child is diagnosed with possible underlying medical conditions, they may be referred for an evaluation by a child neuropsychologist. They will run tests that can evaluate anything that may be wrong with the brain.
The effectiveness of early treatment will give your child a good chance of catching up with their peers, and in some cases surge ahead. For some, though, they will not be as lucky, and their problems could be far-reaching, maybe into later childhood.
Children with problems that are hard to overcome tend to have reading difficulties and behavioral issues.
It is essential not to delay treatment. As soon as your child is diagnosed with language delay, the earlier treatment starts the fewer problems will arise. These problems include social behavior, learning difficulties, and emotional development.
How Can You Help Encourage Language Development?
While it may not always be possible to prevent a language delay, you can help with encouraging language development:
- Talking to your baby as soon as they are born encourages noises in response.
- When baby is gurgling, make noises back to them, it encourages them to carry on.
- Read to your infant, even at a young age they love to hear voices.
- Describe your activities and point out shapes and colors.
- When old enough to sit up, play with them with their toys. Repeat what they are called and converse with your baby.
Are There Any Risk Factors in Toddlers With Language Delay?
There are some risk factors that have been found to have an impact on language delays in toddlers. These include:
- Being born to parents with a low IQ.
- Baby has a low birth weight.
- Being born prematurely.
- There is a history in the family of language problems.
To put it bluntly, it is up to you as a parent to decide if your child is not making the correct milestones. You are the best judge. Making an early diagnosis helps in the outcome of your toddler’s future development, and any delay can have a detrimental effect.
If you have any worries at all, it is best to consult a professional. Don’t only listen to advice from those around you.
Remember, your child is unique and will develop in their own way and not like the child next door. Do not measure your child against others; nobody develops at the same rate.