Speech Delay in Toddlers: When is Delayed Speech a Concern? (2023)

Parents often wonder what their little one’s first words will be and when they will start talking and sharing with them what they’re thinking and feeling.

Sometimes, it takes a little while for children to begin speaking. If you have a toddler between the ages of 2 to 4, you may be concerned if they haven’t begun talking yet or if they very rarely speak.

How do you know when it is considered a speech delay or normal development?

This article will provide you with the most current research and information to answer what a speech delay in toddlers is, provide some common reasons why it may occur, explain what the typical language and speech development milestones are for kids, and when delayed speech is an issue to address.

Related: The Complete Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech

What is a Speech Delay?

In terms of the ability to speak, there are two areas of focus: speech and language. Speech refers to how we form words and sounds and is the ability to verbally express language and articulate ourselves.

Language refers to how we communicate information between ourselves and others, ensuring we are being understood and that we understand what is being communicated. Language includes verbal, nonverbal and written communication.

A speech delay is when a child has an issue using words and phrases to verbally express themselves and their speech isn’t developing at an expected rate. They may be hard to understand.

It is estimated that 3 to 10 percent of children have a speech delay and it is more common in boys than girls.

At what age is speech considered delayed?

It can be difficult to know whether your toddler is taking longer than expected to reach their developmental milestones for speech.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the normal pattern of speech development for age and achievements is the following:

  • 1 to 6 months: Coos in response to voice
  • 6 to 9 months: Babbling
  • 10 to 11 months: Imitation of speech sounds; says “mama/dada” without meaning
  • 12 months: Says “mama/dada” with meaning; often imitates two- and three-syllable words
  • 13 to 15 months: Vocabulary of four to seven words in addition to jargon; < 20% of speech understood by strangers
  • 16 to 18 months: Vocabulary of 10 words; some echolalia and extensive jargon; 20% to 25% of speech understood by strangers
  • 19 to 21 months: Vocabulary of 20 words; 50% of speech understood by strangers
  • 22 to 24 months: Vocabulary > 50 words; two-word phrases; dropping out of jargon; 60% to 70% of speech understood by strangers
  • 2 to 2 and a half years of age: Vocabulary of 400 words, including names; two- to three-word phrases; use of pronouns; diminishing echolalia; 75% of speech understood by strangers
  • 2 and a half to 3 years of age: Use of plurals and past tense; knows age and sex; counts three objects correctly; three to five words per sentence; 80% to 90% of speech understood by strangers
  • 3 to 4 years of age: Three to six words per sentence; asks questions, converses, relates experiences, tells stories; almost all speech understood by strangers
  • 4 to 5 years of age: Six to eight words per sentence; names four colors; counts 10 pennies correctly

What causes speech delay in toddlers?

Speech Delay in Toddlers: When is Delayed Speech a Concern? (1)

It’s understandable for parents who have a toddler who has not begun to talk yet to worry about their child. Children do not all speak at the same time, but there are definite periods during which certain sounds and combinations of sounds should be produced.

The most common causes of speech delay in toddlers include the following:

Hearing Problems

When your child was an infant, they should have had their hearing tested to determine if they are developing normally and healthily. Hearing loss can have an impact on learning to speak.

Therefore, it’s important to have your child’s hearing checked regularly. A child who has difficulty hearing may have trouble talking, understanding, imitating and using language. Ear infections, especially persistent ones, can also affect hearing.

Oral Impairments

Your pediatrician should also assess whether the parts of your child’s mouth and throat that are necessary for speech are physically intact and functional. They can assess whether your child has an oral impairment such as issues with the roof of the mouth.

The child may also have difficulty moving their tongue if they have a short frenulum (the fold beneath the tongue). Checks like these ensure your child is physically capable of making sounds. For instance, as infants, they should respond to noise, make baby sounds, babble and vocalize concerns.

Some other causes that can cause speech delays in toddlers include the following:

  • Development disorders: Neurological and developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy can cause speech delay.
  • Maturation delay: This is also known as developmental language delay and refers to the parts of the brain that is required to produce speech maturing at a later time.
  • Bilingualism: A child who is raised in a bilingual home may have a temporary delay in using two languages. Their language skills are developing normally; however, they aren’t able to communicate in both languages proficiently until the age of 5.
  • Psychosocial deprivation: Children who grow up with psychosocial deprivation are more likely to have problems with speech development. Some examples include poverty, poor housing, malnutrition, abuse, emotional stress, neglect, and a lack of exposure to a variety of sounds and conversations.
  • Elective Mutism: This is when a child has the ability to speak but chooses not to. They may speak with their friends and sometimes with their parents or when they are alone; however, they do not talk at school, in public places or with people they do not know well.
  • Developmental Apraxia: This is a condition in which the child is unable to move the muscles involved in speech.

Lastly, there are some other, less serious explanations for speech delays in early childhood. Some children in big families don’t talk a lot because they don’t really have to.

Older brothers and sisters (or even the kids in a daycare center) may be hovering over them, doing all the talking for them. Sometimes adults give things to children too quickly and don’t give them a chance to ask for things.

When should I worry about toddler speech delay?

Some common signs and symptoms of a speech delay in young children may include the following:

  • 12 months: Does not use gestures such as waving bye-bye or pointing
  • 18 months: Gestures significantly more than vocalizing; has difficulty imitating sounds and understanding simple verbal requests
  • 2 years: Cannot follow simple instructions; can only vocalize some words or says words repeatedly; can only imitate actions or speech; doesn’t say words or phrases spontaneously, without prompting; unable to use oral language to express more than their immediate needs; has an unusual tone of voice such as nasally or raspy sounding; caregivers understand less than 50% of what their child is saying.
  • 3 years: Parents and caregivers understand less than 75% of what their child is saying
  • 4 years: Those who interact with the child cannot understand mostly what they are saying.

When should you bring kids to speech therapy?

Speech Delay in Toddlers: When is Delayed Speech a Concern? (2)

It’s important for parents to speak with their pediatrician if they have any concerns about their child’s development. Early intervention for speech and language problems is critical and can be very effective.

If your child shows any of the signs or symptoms, you can take them to see a speech and language clinic at a children’s hospital. A speech therapist will have the latest equipment and more experience with lots of children with speech and language delays. The speech-language pathologists and neurologists there can also help you determine whether any other conditions might be causing language developmental delays.

How to help toddlers talk more and improve speech development

Parents want the best for their children. Although it can be frustrating to watch your child’s speech delay, it’s important to remain positive, supportive and patient.

Try not to compare your child’s speech development to another child’s, even a sibling’s. Everyone develops at their own pace. The constant comparisons may make your child feel inadequate and negatively affect their self-esteem. In addition, your child may have an underlying condition that requires medical treatment.

Do not force your child to speak, criticize or get angry with them if they aren’t responding to you. Do not threaten them by removing privileges or verbally abusing them. These actions are harmful and detrimental to a child’s development.

There are several ways toencourage your child to talk.

Read to your child

Take time every day to sit together and read. While you’re reading, be sure to point at pictures and verbalize what is going on so they can connect what they see with what they hear.

Lead by example

Talk to your child frequently and demonstrate good communication skills. Use simple words and phrases. Give eye contact. Use body language and facial expressions to communicate.

Narrate your actions and describe what is going on at the moment. For instance, if you’re putting on your jacket, say, “I’m about to go outside. I’m putting on this green rain jacket because it is cold.”

Be patient and compassionate

Encourage your child’s language development skills by asking them to imitate you or taking turns asking and answering questions. Give them time and space to respond. Don’t jump in immediately or interrupt them by saying the words or phrases for them. Be sure to praise their efforts.

Ask an Expert: Why is My Child’s Speech Delayed?

To understand more about how to address language delays in young children, one parent wrote to expert, Jerome Schultz, the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges.

Q: Hi, my name is Sandra. I have two children with speech delays. My son is three and only says a few words. My daughter is two and she does not say a single word.

Both of them had their ears checked; no problem with them. My son has seen a speech therapist for over one year now. She helps him, but I am still feeling very hopeless because his progress is been very slow and I don't know what else I can do to help them. As far as I know, they don't have any other problems. Their doctor says they are very normal children with only a speech delay.

I want to know why a problem like this happens with children like mine. Can this be genetic?

A: Significant language delays, and certainly the absence of speech are reasons to be concerned. You have done the right thing by having the children's ears checked since hearing problems can definitely have an impact on learning to speak.

Have any other children in your extended family, in this or other generations, exhibited speech problems or language delays? If so, share this information with your pediatrician, so he or she can rule out any genetic causes.

It's also good that your son is being seen by a speech therapist. What does she think the cause of the problem is? Does she tell you that he is making acceptable progress, or does she feel that he should be improving at a more rapid rate?

You can ask your pediatrician to refer you to an early intervention program that will help determine whether there are any identifiable reasons for the language delays.

Children do not all speak at the same time, but there are definite periods during which certain sounds and combinations of sounds should be produced. Your daughter should be seen by a specialist in speech and language pathology.

Thank you for your feedback.


Speech Delay in Toddlers: When is Delayed Speech a Concern? ›

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), late talkers are toddlers (18 to 30 months old) who have a limited vocabulary for their age, but do not have any other developmental delays. Some late talkers may talk by three to five years of age.

At what age do late talkers talk? ›

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), late talkers are toddlers (18 to 30 months old) who have a limited vocabulary for their age, but do not have any other developmental delays. Some late talkers may talk by three to five years of age.

How serious is speech delay? ›

Sometimes delays may be a warning sign of a more serious problem that could include hearing loss, developmental delay in other areas, or even an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Language delays in early childhood also could be a sign of a learning problem that may not be diagnosed until the school years.

What are 2 possible causes for a speech delay in a toddler? ›

Developmental Delay of Expressive or Receptive Language

Trouble with language processing is usually caused by one of four problems: delayed expressive or receptive language, autism spectrum disorder, hearing loss, and global developmental delay.

Can a toddler have speech delay and not be autistic? ›

Not necessarily. While speech delays, language delays, and learning differences are often a hallmark of ASD, a speech delay by itself does not mean a child has autism. In fact, there are key differences between communication delays caused by autism and other types of speech-language disorders.

Do toddlers with speech delays catch up? ›

If your toddler is speech-delayed, they might catch up naturally. But there's a 20-30% chance they'll continue to struggle without support.

What is the difference between autism and late talker? ›

A child with a speech delay tends to naturally use body language and eye contact. Autistic children, on the other hand, may have trouble with social interaction, play skills, communication, and behavior. Children with autism may prefer to be alone.

Is speech delay usually autism? ›

Children with autism often have speech delays, but speech delays alone do not mean your child has autism. Autistic speech delays usually occur along with other communication issues, such as not using gestures, not responding to their name, and not showing interest in connecting with people.

Is it normal for a 3 year old not to speak? ›

So if your toddler is 2 or 3 years old and isn't yet talking, it's vital to go ahead and speak with their pediatrician, or with a speech-language pathologist. They will likely recommend a speech evaluation in order to assess your child's current abilities. Early intervention is so important in these situations.

What is the most common cause of speech delay? ›

It's often caused by brain damage before or during birth or in a child's first years. Often there can also be hearing issues and a disconnect between cognitive function and stimuli.

Can parents cause speech delay? ›

Delays can also be caused by neglect, abuse, or an event or circumstance that was really disruptive to development. These are atypical scenarios though that we rarely encounter. For the average parent doing their best, you can rest assured that your child's speech or language delay is definitely not your fault.

Can too much TV cause speech delay? ›

Studies report a link between TV and language development in young children. The more time kids spend watching television, the more slowly they learn to talk.

What does speech delay indicate? ›

What are speech and language delays? Speech and language delay means that a child is not able to use words or other forms of communication at the expected ages. Language delays include problems understanding what is heard or read. There can also be problems putting words together to form meaning.

What does autistic speech sound like? ›

When children with autism speak they sound different from most people. Their speech usually follows one of several characteristic patterns: Some talk in a flat, toneless voice, others in an exaggerated, hyper way that doesn't match the subject matter.

Does speech delay mean learning disability? ›

Speech and language problems are often the earliest sign of a learning disability. Hearing loss is often overlooked, and easily identified. If your child is speech/language delayed, their hearing should be tested.

Why is my toddler not talking at 3? ›

A 3-year-old who can comprehend and nonverbally communicate but can't say many words may have a speech delay. One who can say a few words but can't put them into understandable phrases may have a language delay. Some speech and language disorders involve brain function and may be indicative of a learning disability.

How many kids with speech delay catch up? ›

Between 70–80% of Late Talkers seem to catch up to their peers by the time they enter school. Sometimes these children are called “late bloomers” because they eventually seem to catch up to other children their age.

Do ADHD toddlers have speech delays? ›

A delay in speech or language is one of the earliest signs we have for kids that do go on to get a diagnosis of ADHD later in childhood. In this 2012 study, researchers found that two-thirds of the elementary-aged kids with ADHD had a speech or language delay at 18 months.

Are speech delay kids smart? ›

To be sure, most late talking children do not have high intelligence. However, there are certainly many cases on record indicating that there may be trade-offs between early, precocious development of reasoning and analytical abilities and the development of verbal skills.

What age autism starts talking? ›

Some children with autism may start talking at 12-16 months. Most don't start talking until later. Some will start talking between the ages of 2-3 years. Other children talk even later, and some children never learn to talk.

What percentage of late talkers are autistic? ›

It may surprise some to learn that the odds of the late talking being ASD—or some other dire condition is much less than 50-50.

What is the treatment for speech delay? ›

How Can Parents Help?
  • Focus on communication. Talk with your baby, sing, and encourage imitation of sounds and gestures.
  • Read to your child. Start reading when your child is a baby. ...
  • Use everyday situations. To build on your child's speech and language, talk your way through the day.

What are warning signs of autism? ›

Social Communication and Interaction Skills
  • Avoids or does not keep eye contact.
  • Does not respond to name by 9 months of age.
  • Does not show facial expressions like happy, sad, angry, and surprised by 9 months of age.
  • Does not play simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by 12 months of age.

Is speech delay hereditary? ›

But not many people realize that speech and language patterns and abilities are also inherited from one's parents. Developments in scientific and medical research have revealed that it is also possible to inherit a predisposition or susceptibility to speech and language disorders.

What causes speech delay not autism? ›

Other causes of speech delay in children

Hearing problems. Apraxia of speech (speech muscle-control issues) Cognitive setbacks. Learning disabilities.

When toddlers refuse to talk? ›

There are several reasons why a 2-year-old is babbling but not talking. Sometimes, it may be because they are shy or introverted. It can also be related to hearing loss or other developmental delays. In most cases, however, the cause is unknown.

Why is my 3.5 toddler not talking? ›

If you think your child has a problem with their speech or language, let their doctor know right away. The doctor will need to test their hearing. They'll probably also suggest that your child see a professional who can diagnose and treat these delays, called a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist.

Why does my child just not talk after 3? ›

If your child is over two years old, you should have your pediatrician evaluate them and refer them for speech therapy and a hearing exam if they can only imitate speech or actions but don't produce words or phrases by themselves, they say only certain words and only those words repeatedly, they cannot follow simple ...

Is speech delay something to worry about? ›

Speech delays should not be viewed as bad or embarrassing — it just means that your child has specific learning needs, and we can help you figure out what they are.

What deficiency causes speech delay? ›

It is well documented that B 12 deficiency can cause developmental delay, hypotonia, tremor, seizures, failure to thrive, reduced IQ, and mental retardation. Children with B 12 deficiency exhibit speech, language, and social delays, behavioral issues, and problems with fine and gross motor movement.

What deficiencies cause speech delay? ›

Cerebral Folate Deficiency (CFD)

In other words, the brain doesn't have enough folate to function properly. Symptoms of CFD include developmental delays, speech difficulties, sleep issues, irritability, and more.

Why is my 3 year old not talking but babbling? ›

Children develop at their own rate. If your child has a speech delay, it doesn't always mean something is wrong. You may simply have a late bloomer who'll be talking your ear off in no time. A speech delay can also be due to hearing loss or underlying neurological or developmental disorders."

What food is good for speech delay? ›

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds as well as healthy grass-fed meat, wild game and oily fish and avoiding processed foods, can go a very long way in maintaining a healthy balance and limiting oxidative stress.

Is CoComelon bad for toddlers to watch? ›

The main issue is too much screen time and children's shows with fast-paced sequences. Psychologist Dr. Melissa Dvorsky told the news outlet that some studies state that watching shows like CoComelon before the age of 2 can negatively impact executive functions at age 9, but that the exact cause is unknown.

Why does CoComelon cause speech delay? ›

It's over stimulating which can delay a lot of developmental milestones," one mum claimed. Another mum shared on Reddit that her little one was so addicted to CoComelon, she would tantrum to the point of harming herself when she wasn't allowed to watch it.

What noises do autistic toddlers make? ›

Repetitive behaviour

For example, children might: make repetitive noises like grunts, throat-clearing or squealing. do repetitive movements like body-rocking or hand-flapping. do things like flicking a light switch repeatedly.

What is Asperger's speech pattern? ›

Uncoordinated Speech: The speech of the individuals affected by this disorder are different from that of others. Most individuals with Asperger's are incapable of modulating the volume of their voices. They also tend to speak in a monotonous pitch. Others may tend to be incoherent or lack rhythm in their speech.

What are the signs of autism speech pathology? ›

How does ASD affect communication?
  • Repetitive or rigid language. Often, children with ASD who can speak will say things that have no meaning or that do not relate to the conversations they are having with others. ...
  • Narrow interests and exceptional abilities. ...
  • Uneven language development. ...
  • Poor nonverbal conversation skills.
Apr 13, 2020

Can my 2 year old get SSI for speech delay? ›

To qualify for SSI benefits for a speech or language disorder: A child must be from a family living in poverty. A child must present with speech and language delays that are more than 2–3 standard deviations below the mean. The disorders must persistently affect the child's ability to function and learn.

What is the difference between speech delay and speech disorder? ›

A speech sound delay is when speech is developing in a normal sequential pattern but occurring later than is typical. A speech disorder is when mistakes are not “typical” sound errors or are unusual sound errors or error patterns.

What is the difference between a late talker and a speech delay? ›

A late talker is a toddler between the ages of 18 to 30 months, who is developing normal play, social, thinking and motor skills, but who is limited in spoken vocabulary for their age. Toddlers who are late talkers do not necessarily have speech delay. Most late talkers have difficulty with expressive language.

What is verbal apraxia? ›

Apraxia of speech (AOS)—also known as acquired apraxia of speech, verbal apraxia, or childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) when diagnosed in children—is a speech sound disorder. Someone with AOS has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently.

When should you worry about late talkers? ›

A late-talker has mastered 50 words or less by age 2, and can't yet combine words, such as “more juice”. Reach out to your pediatrician or a pediatric speech-language pathologist if your child is exhibiting at least three of the following signs: Hearing issues or frequent ear infections.

What is late talking a symptom of? ›

And of course, late talking is one of the primary symptoms of autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and for intellectual disability (which was formally known as mental retardation).

Is it normal for 3 year old not talking? ›

Some late talkers will catch up by 3 years old; however, many other late talkers may not catch up by age 5 without the support of a speech therapist. Learn more about speech therapy for toddlers here.

What causes a child to speak late? ›

A delay in speech development may be a symptom of many disorders, including mental retardation, hearing loss, an expressive language disorder, psychosocial deprivation, autism, elective mutism, receptive aphasia and cerebral palsy. Speech delay may be secondary to maturation delay or bilingualism.

What percentage of late talkers catch up? ›

Between 70–80% of Late Talkers seem to catch up to their peers by the time they enter school. Sometimes these children are called “late bloomers” because they eventually seem to catch up to other children their age.

Is late talking autism? ›

Children with autism often have speech delays, but speech delays alone do not mean your child has autism. Autistic speech delays usually occur along with other communication issues, such as not using gestures, not responding to their name, and not showing interest in connecting with people.

What are late talker issues? ›

Children who are late talkers will often have trouble with spoken or expressive language. While they understand instructions, and can point at objects etc, they may not be able to verbally express their wants and needs, or perhaps are less clear in producing common speech sounds.

What causes toddlers not to talk? ›

There are several things that can cause speech delays, such as hearing loss, physical problems in the roof of the mouth, learning disabilities, or certain diagnosable conditions like autism spectrum disorder or cerebral palsy.

What is Einstein syndrome? ›

What is Einstein syndrome? Einstein syndrome is a condition where a child experiences late onset of language, or a late language emergence, but demonstrates giftedness in other areas of analytical thinking. A child with Einstein syndrome eventually speaks with no issues, but remains ahead of the curve in other areas.


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