Q: My sister has a kid that is a couple years older than my 2 year old. I remember her kid being so much more talkative than my son. I’m worried he might have a speech problem. What is normal at this age and what should I do if he is lagging behind in his development?
A: I hear you. One of the joys of parenting a toddler is watching them develop their communication skills. I remember the first time my oldest put her stuffed animal under a blanket and said “Nigh nigh!” I thought she was quite possibly the cutest and smartest child ever to grace the planet. When my second was born, I did the thing you’re not supposed to do and watched videos of her big sister at the same age to compared them. I noticed that around age 2, my youngest wasn’t as communicative as her big sister was at that age, so I did a little research about language development in toddlers that I would like to share with you.
By a child’s second birthday, they should be able to say around 50 words. After they turn 2, they should be putting together simple sentences or two-word phrases; usually a noun and an adjective or a noun and a verb. For example, “I swim.” or “Bunny soft.” Some indications of possible speech delays in a 2 year old would be if the child imitates speech but doesn’t speak on their own volition, or if they are unable to follow simple directions.
If you discover your child does in fact have a diagnosed speech delay, you’re not alone. As many as 18% of children have what is known as expressive language delay. It’s also true that 2 year olds who are behind in speech development are more likely to have behavioral issues. This makes sense because they’re frustrated with being unable to express themselves effectively. The good news is a study found that 70-80% of children who experienced speech delay presented normal language skills by the time they entered school. The study also found that the children did not continue to experience behavioral difficulties once their language skills developed to normal standards.
Because the majority of children who are classified as “late talkers” eventually catch up, some subscribe to a “wait and see” approach. While that may work just fine, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to intervene early with the following steps recommended by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:
- Have your child’s hearing tested
- See a speech-language pathologist
- Point out colors and shapes
- Speak clearly (model good speech)
- Repeat what your child says to show them you understand
- Sing nursery rhymes
- Read books
- Complete their sentences. For example, if your child says “milk?” say to them, “Would you like to have some milk?”
Don’t be afraid to speak to your pediatrician about your concerns. There are far more resources available for parents than there used to be because recent research has proven that early intervention can be instrumental in overcoming speech delay.