Help! My Child Won’t Talk!

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The development of communication and language skills is one of the most important tasks of early childhood. It is the key to early learning and social skills. So understandably, any parent whose child shows any signs of delay is worrisome.

But doesn’t talking seem like something that should come naturally to any child? What about when it doesn’t? Though it is natural to compare your child’s verbal skills against another child of their same age, you should try to avoid this. And just because your child isn’t as verbal as the next child, doesn’t necessarily mean that your child isn’t smarter or more advanced.

Our first baby, now a two-year-old, would only say three words by 18 months (mom, dad, and garbman [garbage man]) and has still only slowly progressed. Even though I’m married to a physician, this was new for both of us and we wanted to make sure we did everything possible to get him talking. So where do you start when you’re worried? A good place to begin is with your child’s doctor. If they find it appropriate after their exam, you will be referred to a speech/language or early childhood specialist for further evaluation and attention. Any concerns about hearing loss should also be addressed here.

For us, our next step was getting that evaluation from our state’s Early Intervention (EI) program. This is a mandated program that provides an initial evaluation for children younger than three years who are referred for developmental concerns. Ongoing services are provided for children who meet eligibility criteria. They do a variety of testing here with a team of specialists. One specific area that is evaluated is language milestones (listed in the table below by The American Academy of Pediatrics):

Language Milestones for Your Two-Year-Old

·      Follows a two- or three-part command, such as “Go to your room and bring back your blanket and a book.”

·      Recognizes and identifies almost all common objects and pictures

·      Understand most sentences

·      Understands physical relationships (“on,” “in,” “under”)

·      Uses four- and five-word sentences

·      Can say name, age, and sex

·      Uses pronouns (I, you, me, we, they) and some plurals (cars, dogs) and understands the concept of mine.

·      Stangers can understand most of their words

What else is “normal”? They should be able to understand most of what you say to them, and also speak with a rapidly growing vocabulary of 50+ words. And over the next year, go from two- or three-word sentences (“Help me,” “Mama come here”) to four to even six words.

There are two distinct areas of language processing, and each are closely examined.

  • Receptive language, the ability to understand information, involves understanding the words, sentences and meaning of what others say or what is read, whereas
  • Expressive language is being able to put thoughts into words and sentences, in a way that makes sense and is grammatically accurate.

It is less concerning if your child has expressive language delay than receptive because it means your child is understanding, but for whatever reason, not speaking. Our pediatrician was not too worried since this is what our son was displaying. You know this because your child follows commands and shows signs of understanding what you are saying.

Let’s Get Talking!

What can we do to help as a parent (beyond what we talked about above)?

Talking– Without any formal instruction, just by listening and practicing, your child will master many of the basic rules of grammar by the time they enter school. Talk about your daily activities, explaining what you are doing and commenting to your baby (eg, “Mommy is reading from the computer. Now I’m washing the dishes. I’ll start with your bowl. This is a white bowl. . . “). It is also important that they learn to recognize and associate sounds of the letters of the alphabetOur son loves flashcards, so I went searching and found the most darling alphabet set on Etsy from Kate Durkin Illustrations. And she is offering readers a 20% discount off her shop with code “REALMOMS”!

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Gestures– accompany with words to make them more understandable. Using “more” as an example here:

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Choice– Asking questions and having the child indicate a choice in response. This made our toddler angry that we were “forcing” him to speak, but eventually, he learned that he has to tell us his choice (Do you want an apple or orange (holding one in each hand)?).

Listen– to the child and respond to their conversational lead, repeating and expanding on the conversational output.

Reading– aloud and make this a part of your everyday routine! This will enrich their vocabulary and language skills. They can follow a storyline and will understand and remember many idea and pieces of information presented in books. Books that are short and that allow touching, pointing, and naming will keep their attention. And provide exposure to advanced or unusual words (can be done by sharing books).

Dialogic reading– a style of book-sharing in which parents encourage toddlers and preschool-age children to comment on pictures and the story to engage the child and promote conversation.

Fine Motor Skill Activities– Grasping and manipulating objects shows to be a strongly related to the language part of our brain. That is why speech therapists encourage sensory rich activities like finger painting, water or sand play, and manipulations involving small objects (coloring, buttoning, etc.) in children with speech delays. Such activities help to form new neural connections that are necessary for planning movement sequences and controlling fine-grain movements. We love the the lacing beads from Mama May i for this reason and she has other fine motor and toddler-learning toys, too. If you use code “REALMOMS” at checkout, she is offering a 15% off your entire order!

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If you have other tips, methods, or even questions, please comment or send me an e-mail! Thanks!



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