Our two year old isn't talking yet. Could he have a speech delay?


Danny is our first and only child, so we don’t know a lot about kids. How would you know if your two year old has a speech delay? He’s very smart and really happy most of the time.  The only thing I worry about is that compared to other two year olds I’ve seen he doesn’t say very much.  He understands everything we say so I know his hearing is fine.  He  says Mama and Daddy, and he will point to things and either say the word or something that sounds like the right word.  My husband’s mother said that he was really slow in talking but she doesn’t remember when he started to say more.  I don’t know what’s normal and I don’t know who to ask .  

You’re already doing the right thing about Danny’s speech by noticing that he isn’t talking as much as you would expect at his age.  It’s true that children learn to talk gradually, and there’s a wide range of ages when that happens.  At the same time, if a child is lagging behind his age mates in speech, it’s important to do everything you can at home and elsewhere to make sure that his language continues to develop. The earlier you begin helping a child who is behind in language development the easier it is for him to catch up with his peers.

Does Danny seem to understand what you and other adults say to him? Can he follow simple directions? Even if Danny doesn’t have a lot of words yet, it’s important that he is letting you know by his responses to your words that he understands simple questions and commands. If you have any doubts about this, make sure that he gets his hearing tested, especially if he has had ear infections.

Between two and three years old children make huge leaps in their abilities to talk and be understood.  A normal just turned two year old may have very simple language:  many single words and a few two word sentences and phrases.  A young two year old should be showing interest in labeling people, objects, and actions in the world around him. He should be able to point to his body parts and say the names of most.  He should be able to say his friends' names. Is Danny asking a lot of questions? A two year old can drive his parents to exhaustion with never ending queries of "What's that?"(or "dat?") 

In addition to labeling lots of things he sees, Danny should be starting to use more and more two word phrases and to start to use the words “me” and “my” or “mine” (some parents discover that to their two-year-old, everything is “mine”.)   A two-year-old starts to understand prepositions such as on, under, and behind  that you use when you are talking to him:  "The ball rolled behind the chair!" or "Let's put lunch on the table!"  And, of course, all two-year-olds use negative expressions, beginning with a simple "no" and eventually to “not”.  (“That not your truck, that mine!”)

It’s important that Danny get lots of help from the adults around him to help him develop more language.  Sometimes adults don’t talk a lot, especially if a child isn’t saying much yet.  (If there are adults around Danny who don’t speak English, it’s important that they talk to him a lot, too.  It’s fine for Danny to hear more than one language, as long as he is learning to express himself in one language.) Limit background noise such as TV and music, since that can interfere with a child listening to conversation.

Here are ways to help Danny learn to speak more and more.

•  Be a good listener.  It's sometimes hard for a two-year-old to put all of his thoughts into words.  Give him time to say what he wants to tell you.  Try not to interrupt him, and don't correct his pronunciation or word order, since his own listening skills will eventually help him to correct himself.  Look at Danny when he talks, and let him know that you are paying attention.

•  Talk to Danny about the things you are doing together, the sights and sounds that surround you, and your plans for the day.

•  Help Danny to increase his vocabulary and his understanding of language patterns by reading picture books together.  Sometimes you can read the words and at other times just talk about the pictures and the story.

•  Give Danny simple directions and requests to follow  during your daily  routine . "Go get your shoes," “Where’s your jacket,” or "Let's put the ball on the floor and roll it behind the door!"

• Expand Danny’s language by responding to his simple sentences with slightly longer or more complex sentences.  If he says, "See the big dog!" you can say, "Yes, that's a big brown dog.  Do you want to pet him?"

•  Make language fun for Danny by making up rhymes, silly words and teaching him concepts such as opposites, same, and different by using pictures and games.

•  Watch children's television together to get ideas for songs and games you can use to teach your child about concepts such as counting, colors, and categorizing objects.  

*  Some TV shows and computer apps that are designed for toddlers can help develop vocabulary. Investigate what is available by searching online (programs and apps change all the time!)

More advice for parents of two and three year olds at any language level:

• The most important activity for all parents who want to encourage their child's language development is to model good conversation and listening skills themselves.  When you are with your family, try to pay attention to what other people are saying or doing.  Keep the background noise of music and television to a minimum, because these distractions can interfere with your child learning to listen and communicate with you. 

•  If you are a quiet person by nature, make an effort to talk to your two-year-old anyway, even if it sometimes feels awkward.  If you are a non-stop talker or a loud talker, try to quiet down to leave some space for your two-year-old to express himself.  Danny will learn to talk and understand a tremendous amount this year, and much of what he learns will reflect your own patterns of communicating with others.

If you are doing these types of language boosters already, or if you begin and don’t see a great deal of progress in Danny’s speech in the next month, call your pediatrician and explain that you are worried about Danny’s speech and want to have an appointment to talk about it.  Make a list of all the words you have heard him say (not partial words). Write down what Danny is saying and the ways in which he seems to be different than other children his age.  Ask your pediatrician to refer you to a speech and language specialist to evaluate whether Danny may need extra help in learning to have effective speech skills.