The age when kids start to learn language and actually start talking can vary. Babies start with babbling some simple words well before their 1st birthday typically starting with “mama” or “dada”. It was always a fun contest between my husband and I whether the kiddos would say my name or his name first. Toddlers should know typically about 20 words by 18months. But, what if your two year old isn’t talking a lot or isn’t putting many two word phrases together??? What is normal in speech and language development? When should you be concerned? This is where we are at now with our two year old (almost 3 year old) identical twin boys. They babble and know exactly what we say to them or tell them to do. They don’t form many sentences or clear words which is what led me to research is this normal or should I start to worry.
So Speech and Language – is this the same thing? What is the difference?
Speech is the way sounds and words are formed – the verbal expression. Language is the process of understanding and being understood through verbal/nonverbal and then later when the child is school age written communication.
Your child may not have speech and language problems at the same time – it could be both but, possibly could be just one or the other. Your child may have a language delay – not being able to pronounce words well or put two words together “blue ball”, “more milk”, etc. A speech delay the child will use words and phrases but they are difficult to understand “boo bah” instead of “blue ball” “lub ew” aka “love you”.
We started to notice that our twin boys would say many words but, not many two word phrases and many times only we could understand what they were saying. For instance we are potty training and my mother in law was watching the boys while I was on conference calls in my home office. I could hear one of my twins yelling “AFTA BEEE” and my mother in law did not understand he was saying “Have to Pee” which resulted in an accident.
I started to do some research at how I can help my boys with their speech and language development. I have found that the stages of speech/language development are the same for all kids BUT the age when they develop these skills can vary…….A LOT! This does not mean your child isn’t smart or has other issues – this could just mean that your child is learning at a different rate – remember we are all different and unique. I always think…..well Einstein didn’t speak until 3 and he was a genius…….soooooo maybe I have two little Einstein’s!
Typical Milestones your Pediatrician will look for during routine checkups include:
Before 12 Months
Cooing and babbling are early stages of speech development. By 9 months babies will string sounds together, use different tones and may say a few basic words but, may not understand the meaning of those words yet. You may start to hear “mama” or “dada”.
Babies also should be paying attention to sound and starting to recognize names of common objects (bottle, binky, etc.).
12 to 15 Months
Kids this age should have a wide range of speech sounds in their babbling, begin to imitate sounds and words they hear, and may say one or more words (not including “mama” and “dada”).
Nouns usually come first, like “baby” and “ball.” They also should be able to understand and follow simple one-step directions (“Please give me the toy,” etc.).
Of course our boys decided to learn words like “beer” since my father in law would have a beer when he would come visit or “butt” since my older two children are in love with butts, farts or anything that is silly/goofy– such lovely words to be yelling out in awkwardly quiet places like …….church!
18 to 24 Months
Most (but not all) toddlers can say about 20 words by 18 months and 50 or more words by the time they turn 2. By age 2, kids are starting to combine two words to make simple sentences, such as “blue ball” or “Daddy big.”
A 2-year-old should be able to identify common objects (in person and in pictures); point to eyes, ears, or nose (or butt in my case lately with my boys!) when asked; and follow two-step commands (“Please pick up the toy and give it to me,” “Give this pretzel to your brother,” for example).
2 to 3 Years
A toddler’s vocabulary should increase (to too many words to count) and he or she should routinely combine three or more words into sentences.
Comprehension also should increase — by age 3, a child should begin to understand what it means to “put it on the table” or “put it under the bed.” Kids also should begin to identify colors and understand descriptive concepts (big versus little, for example).
So this is my current stage, my boys will be 3 in May. They comprehend everything and will even joke around with us. When we ask them who are you sometimes they’ll laugh and say their brothers name and they know they are being silly. They know many words although they don’t pronounce them very clearly just yet. Our current concern is they do not form many three or more words into a sentence. We decided to reach out to a college close to our home that offers free speech sessions with graduating students. We figured it is a win/win for everyone. The students get to learn and our boys get one on one time with someone who can help them form sentences and feel more comfortable talking. We have the boys signed up for preschool in the fall and we’ll have to determine if a more professional speech therapy is needed – we definitely know it is not their hearing which is a good thing. At this point I think it is more a stubborn streak in them they just don’t feel like talking! My older kiddos (and my husband and I) do have a tendency to talk for them.
Here are some things to watch for. Call your doctor if your child:
by 12 months: isn’t using gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye
by 18 months: prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate
by 18 months: has trouble imitating sounds, has trouble understanding simple verbal requests
by 2 years: can only imitate speech or actions and doesn’t produce words or phrases spontaneously
by 2 years: says only certain sounds or words repeatedly and can’t use oral language to communicate more than his or her immediate needs
by 2 years: can’t follow simple directions
by 2 years: has an unusual tone of voice (such as raspy or nasal sounding)
Parents and regular caregivers should understand about half of a child’s speech at 2 years and about three quarters at 3 years.
By 4 years old, a child should be mostly understood, even by people who don’t know the child.
What Causes Speech or Language Delays?
You may be thinking “Great, Why My Baby?!” There are many reasons that can cause a speech or language delay in an otherwise normally developing child.
Oral Impairment – problems with the tongue or roof of the mouth
Oral Motor Problems – potential problem in the areas of the brain responsible for speech, making it hard to coordinate the lips, tongue, and jaw to produce speech sounds.
Hearing problems – Have an audiologist test a child’s hearing to determine if this is an issue.
Chronic Ear infections – kids get ear infections sometimes a few of them – this shouldn’t be a concern. Your doctor will let you know if your child is at risk. Many ear infections does not equal and issue – my boys had many ear infections and after seeing a specialist she wasn’t concerned over their hearing ability.
Twins and Speech
Multiples tend to experience a higher rate of speech and language development disorders. Multiples often engage in twin talk, a spoken language or a language of gestures and body language. Multiples are often so effective at communicating with each other that their speech and language development can be delayed. My boys babble to each other and even when they aren’t speaking they seem to just understand each other. Multiples place increased demands on parents limiting the amount of one-on-one attention and interaction each child receives. Those of you with twins will COMPLETELY understand that twins is a whole new world. I had so much time to read and work with my singletons but, now with the twins I might be reading to one and then get interrupted by the other who is yelling he has to pee or trying to feed the dog his breakfast. One multiple may “talk” for another multiple reducing the need for the “quiet” child to talk. This can also occur with older siblings who are quick to talk for the child instead of having the child verbalize their feelings. My one twin will speak more often and the other is definitely the quieter one. We are really trying to not speak for the twins and encourage them to tell us what they feel instead of whining or just screaming.
Diagnosing and Therapy
Your doctor may recommend an evaluation by a speech therapist if there is a concern. They did recommend this for our twins. Let me tell you though it has been an incredibly lengthy process for us. Many of the offices I called didn’t have any openings for twins at the same time/day or openings that would even work with our schedule. Also the evaluation cost was extremely expensive especially if you are like me with twins. I’m not saying my boys aren’t worth the cost if they need therapy. But, if you are concerned with cost or you aren’t finding availability check with your doctor office for recommendations, city hall for suggestions on programs they offer to local residents or even a nearby college or university. The speech therapist will observe/assess your child to determine what therapy (if at all) might be needed.
What can YOU do at home?
EASY EASY EASY steps – talk to your child, sing even if you think you sound horrible they will love it and encourage them to imitate sounds/gestures that you might make. (like waving/blowing kisses……or even in my case with my 2 year old silly things like dancing and shaking their butts!)
READ – You can read to your child at any age. Obviously pick age appropriate books – you don’t necessarily want to read your Fifty Shades of Grey book to an infant – think along the lines of board books and pictures books that provide your child with something interesting to look at while you read. If your child is older encourage your child to point to pictures and try naming them – “What is that picture” in response they could say “Blue Truck”. It is ok to re-read books your child will enjoy recognizing the story and “predicting” what will happen.
TALK – Talk through everything you do in the day. Explain what food you gave them for a meal – what it looks like, tastes like, the name of the food. Point out objects around the house, outside, sounds you hear, things you smell, etc. Keep things simple, but avoid “baby talk.” This doesn’t mean you need to sound like a college professor but, avoid saying “Does babe wanna samo?” …..instead ask “Would you like a sandwich?” This will help encourage the proper use of speech and language.
TOOLS/GAMES –place objects in a pillow case and have your child reach in and select – then ask them questions about the object. Or you can use flashcards….”Find Mommy the apple”…..”the apple is red!”. You can practice some exercises to build the appropriate speech muscles (hey I’m not a speech therapist but, I’ve researched this can help!). This can be done by Blowing bubbles and then say “Pop, Pop, Pop”…..”All Gone!”….”My Turn”. Use a straw to have them blow a cotton ball across the table/floor/etc (Obviously an uncarpeted area!) to have a race.
MIRROR and REPEAT – Have your child look in a mirror and watch their mouth as they move their lips and repeat words that you tell them.
I am still in the early stages of Speech Therapy for my twins. I do notice they are starting to try and say more words and phrases. I’m not sure if their speech delay is because they are boys, or twins, or just have too many people speaking for them. I’m hopeful that our speech therapy with the college will be successful and when they begin preschool in the fall they will be ready (and speaking more!). Remember all children are different and learn at different paces. Don’t feel bad if you try out doing activities at home and realize you need a professional speech therapist to help out! I’m sure there will be a time (sooner I hope rather than later) where I’m asking my boys to STOP talking!
Is anyone in the same boat? Does anyone have any other helpful suggestions or experiences to share?