20 No-nonsense Signs Your Young Child May Be Speech-Delayed

BarbBaby Behavior, Child Development, Preschool Behavior, Toddler Behavior



Sandy never thought much about her three-year- old son’s inability to say much until her mother and mother-in-law started incessantly nagging her about it.

“Are you sure there is nothing wrong with Sam?  He should be speaking a lot more words and phrases than he does,“ opined Sandy’s mother.

“I can’t believe that Sam is only using hand signals to indicate what he wants.  Have you mentioned this to his pediatrician?” Sandy’s mother-in -law inquired.

“Mom, did you know that Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4-years’ old. Sometimes gifted children are speech -delayed,” replied Sandy.

Frustrated by her family’s concerns, Sandy headed off to her local library one day to arm herself with some information about delayed-speech in young children. She’d settle the matter once and for all.  There wasn’t anything wrong with her precious Sam.

As Sandy anxiously searched though the pile of books she had selected on the topic, here is what she learned:

What defines a young child as “speech-delayed”?

If your 18-month-old to 30-month-old toddler has a good understanding of language and is developing play, motor, thinking, and social skills but doesn’t speak many words, he may be speech- delayed. These children have the foundation for speaking but don’t talk or talk very infrequently.

Are there common characteristics of speech-delayed children?

Research has indicated some commonalities of speech-delayed children:

  1. Late talkers are more prone to have a family history of delayed speech.
  2. Speech -delayed children tend to be male.
  3. Children who don’t talk at an early age either have been born at less than 85% of their optimal birth weight or at less than 37 weeks’ gestation. [1]
  4. Approximately 13% of two-year olds are late talkers. [2]

Although children learn language at different rates, most follow a general timeline. It’s important to recognize any unusual problems as early as possible as it is easier to correct speech-delays when caught at an early stage.

Signs Your Child May Be Speech-Delayed

At 12-months’ old

Cannot say “mama” or “dada”

Does not use gestures such as waving, shaking head, or pointing to communicate

At 15-months’ old

Does not utter single words

Does not babble as if he were talking

At 18-months’ old

Doesn’t speak at least 6 words

Can’t point to a specific body part upon being asked where it is

Doesn’t point to what she wants

At 19-20-months’ old

Isn’t learning about one  new word per week

At 24-months’ old

Does not know the purpose of common household items such as toothbrush, fork, plate

Cannot combine two words

At 25-months’ old

Can’t name a few body parts

Does not ask simple questions

Can’t complete simple, familiar nursery rhymes

At 30-months’ old

No one in the family can understand the child

At age 3-years’ old

Does not want to play with other children

Doesn’t use common pronouns like “you “, “I”

Cannot speak in short phrases

At age 4-years’ old

Is unable to pronounce most single consonants

Doesn’t comprehend similarities and differences

Doesn’t use pronouns like “me” and “you “correctly

When Sandy looked at the signs of delayed speech in all the books she researched, she was convinced that perhaps she should take Sam to her pediatrician to get his opinion which would end her mom’s and mother-in-law’s persistent inquiries about the child’s speaking patterns.


How to Help Your Speech-Delayed Child

It’s important to realize that most kids will improve their speech patterns with some encouragement, more social interaction, and speech therapy. If you notice any of the 20 signs your young child may be speech-delayed, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to ensure there is no hearing problem. Your pediatrician can refer you to speech-therapy programs within your community.  Remember – the earlier you identify and address whether your child has a speech-delayed problem, the easier it will be for him to overcome it.


  1. Ellis, E. & Thal, D. (2008). Early Language Delay and Risk for Language Impairment. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 15: 93-100.
  2. Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (2008, May 16). Mixed Results For Late-talking Toddlers. Science Daily. 16 May 2008. Web. 10 Jun. 2011.

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Barb20 No-nonsense Signs Your Young Child May Be Speech-Delayed