You've probably heard it dozens of times (if not more) before - "every child is different" and "there is a range of normal". If you're a parent who's worried about whether your toddler's language is normal, those well intentioned words might just not be cutting it. So what could you be looking out for? When should you think about asking for a more in depth look at your child's communication? Here are a few things to think about:
Has their hearing been checked since the screen done at birth? Hearing difficulties are a common cause of language delays. It could be that your child is not completely deaf, but just has "gaps" that mean he is missing some sounds/words. This is especially important if your child has a history of ear infections.
- Social Skills
Are these normal? Do they use and understand basic facial expressions, use gesture (like pointing), follow your gaze to see what you are looking at, play age appropriately with other children, enjoy silly play, respond when you call their name, look at you? If you are worried about this, it's a good idea to talk to your GP about a referral for a developmental assessment.
- Receptive Language (understanding)
Does their understanding seem normal for their age? Can they follow simple instructions (e.g "give me teddy")? Can they understand simple questions (e.g. "where's daddy?") and point to common objects in a picture book (e.g. dog, hat, tree)?
If what you've just read is normal - then even if your child's expressive language (the amount and type of words they use) is delayed, they will more than likely catch up by their 3rd birthday. True "late talkers" (children without difficulties in any other area) often do without need for therapy.
You can see a summary of some research on that here.
- How much are they saying?
Studies vary, but as a rough guide, a child uses an average of 200 different words by their second birthday. An 18 month old uses around 50.
Another good rule of thumb that is easy to remember is: 1 word by 1 (ie. Single words by first birthday), 2 words by 2 (ie. Joining 2 words together by second birthday) and 3 words + by 3 (ie. By 3 children are using phrases and simple sentences - although it's fine if these are missing words and are not grammatically perfect).
Obviously, there is an endless list of contributing factors - this is just a place to start!
- How clear is what they are saying?
Sometimes it's not WHAT they are saying, it's HOW they are saying it! That is to say - their pronunciation (aka "articulation"). It's normal for someone who doesn't know your 2 year old to have difficulty understanding about half of what they are saying. Lots of sounds are still developing at this age - like: G, K, S, Z, Ch, J, Sh, L, Th, R, V, F and blends.... not surprising it's tricky!!
Two important things to keep in mind:
- Trust your intuition! You are the expert of your child! If you think something might not be progressing the way it should, then that's enough of a reason to investigate further.
- There really IS a range of normal and every child really IS different!