As every parent knows, a child's development against key milestones can vary and may not always align with key development stages. While every child develops at their own pace, speech and language skills follow a relatively expected development path.
Around the one-year mark, children start to imitate the sounds around them and in the following months, tend to string words together. It's important that during this time you monitor your child's development and encourage speech development.
- Unable to say previously learned words
- Having trouble imitating sounds
- Preferring to point or use non-verbal cues instead of calling things or people by name
- Strangers finding it hard to understand their pronunciation of words
Signs of possible speech delay at two-years-old
Here is what to look out for in your child’s speech:
- Your child found it difficult learning and saying their first words
- They struggle to say 50 proper words
- They don’t understand simple directions and commands
- They can’t combine words to create two-word phrases such as “more food”
- It affects their normal routine and time spent with other children
- They rarely sing songs
Speech delays can be disheartening for parents however early treatment can help your child reach speech milestones similar to their siblings and peers.
If you have a late talking toddler that is displaying these signs, it is vital you go to see a doctor and get your child evaluated by a qualified speech pathologist so that the problem can be treated accordingly.
Signs of possible language delay in a two-year-old
Different to a speech delay, a child with an early language delay can make the correct sounds and knows the correct pronunciation of words but may struggle to form coherent sentences and words.
Peer reviewed studies show that symptoms include:
- Not babbling at 15 months old
- Not talking at two years old
- Struggling to pronounce words
- Leaving words out of sentences and not adding new words to their vocabulary
- Not expressing themselves through language
- Struggling to converse with other children of the same age because of their lack of communication skills
Early intervention is key for language delays. A speech pathologist can assist with your child’s progress and development.
Possible reasons for the speech delay
There are various risks that should be considered if your toddler is struggling with speech and language delays, including neurological and hearing problems.
Primary risk factors can include:
- Developmental Expressive Language Disorder (DELD): a condition that affects a child's ability to express themselves through spoken language, gestures and writing.
- Receptive language disorder: a condition that affects a child's ability to understand and process language they hear. This can impact a child's primary speech and means they will struggle to learn new words.
Secondary risk factors may include:
- Hearing loss: if you have a late talking toddler, they may need a hearing test. A child’s speech can be largely affected by their ability to hear and clearly understand what other people are saying.
- Cerebral palsy: a group of disorders that affects a person’s ability to control their muscles and maintain their speech.
- Childhood apraxia of speech: a condition where a child has serious speech and language delays because they have difficulty making accurate mouth and tongue movements when speaking.
- Dysarthria: a condition where speech is delayed because of damaged nerves from the brain to speech muscles.
- Autism spectrum disorder: a condition that can affect speech and language development, but children with autism tend to meet other communication milestones, such as gesturing. They may have difficulty articulating so it is important to monitor your child’s social skills and if they speak in a robotic or unusual tone – this can be an indication of autism spectrum disorder.
Speech delays can be indications of anything, from regular but slow development to an intellectual disability. As every child is different, it's important to speak to your child's doctor and closely monitor their developmental delays.
Although these factors should be considered, your child may have late language emergence, where no other diagnosed disabilities are evident. In this case, it is still important that you facilitate your child's language development by getting help from a speech pathologist to prevent any future speech disorders that may develop.
What should I do if I am concerned about my two-year-old child's speech and language development?
The number one action you should take is contacting your child’s doctor and speaking with a speech pathologist.
This way your child can be assessed with a speech and language assessment to find out what may be causing their developmental delay.
Your doctor will want to know how your child has been progressing, it is helpful to monitor their development and any specific parts of their speech and language they struggle with.
Assessment and diagnosis
Through different tests and communication tasks, your doctor and speech pathologist will be able to appropriately diagnose your child and their possible developmental disorders.
Think hearing first
Before undertaking a speech and language assessment, it is always recommended that children have a hearing test to confirm whether or not a hearing loss may be impacting their speech or language development.
Early intervention is key and any child with a suspected speech and language delay should see a health professional (such as their GP or speech pathologist) as soon as possible.
Speech and language assessment
The speech and language outcomes of an assessment will assist your speech pathologist in making an accurate diagnosis for your child. This assessment will test your child on:
- If and how they make a range of sounds
- If they can understand and respond to cues from the speech pathologist
- If they can consistently repeat and pronounce words correctly
- If they have strength in their speech muscles to speak effectively
Treatment and methodologies
A speech pathologist and a surrounding team of allied health professionals, play an essential role to improving a child’s speech and language skills.
After the diagnosis, an individualised treatment plan will be developed by a speech pathologist to address the needs and concerns of your child.
If the hearing test reveals a hearing loss is present, treatment options such as hearing aids, cochlear implants or bone anchored hearing aids are available, alongside speech therapy depending on the severity of your child’s condition.
It can be difficult find out that your child has speech and language delays. It’s even harder to know what the next steps are going forward. With the guidance of health professionals, your child will be given the skills needed to reach milestones at the same rate as their peers.
Early intervention often consists of highly specialised speech therapy sessions, with the aim of helping children and families overcome speech and language delays. A qualified team of speech pathologists will carefully follow the progression of the child to ensure milestones are being achieved.
Therapists will also teach families more about their child's specific challenges and provide the necessary resources and skills to improve communication skills.
Families can work one-on-one with a speech therapist, either in-centre or via telehealth, to learn a variety of strategies that will assist a child's speech and hearing development.
Tips for parents of a late-talking two-year-old
“Late talker” is a term used for children typically within 18 and 30 months of age who display late developments in speech with no reason.
For children with hearing loss, most of those who receive early intervention prior to 12 months of age, develop age-appropriate speech and language skills by the time they’re three years old.
Early intervention with a qualified speech pathologist is recommended to encourage speech development amongst late talking toddlers. However, parents can help their children to develop early speaking skills with the following tips.
- Avoid excessive questions: Constantly asking questions can be more stressful than encourage for your toddler. Make sure you use a calming tone of voice to avoid the feeling of anxiety.
- Speak slowly: Remember to speak slowly to ensure that your child has a better understanding of each word.
- Keep responding: It's important to make sure that you continually listen and respond to your child regardless of if they can't speak full words or sentences yet.
In some cases, a speech delay is caused by an underlying condition that requires immediate treatment. Speech or language therapies are available, alongside other therapies to help deliver the best possible outcome for your child.
One in five children learn to talk later than their peers, so it’s not always a cause for concern. If your two-year-old is showing signs of speech delay or you have any questions or concern with their language development, then please seek advice from a certified paediatrician.
Early intervention programs, alongside speech and language are available to help your two-year-old reach milestones.