Early Signs of Language Delay

Signs of a possible language delay can be detected in infants and toddlers. Early intervention is critical. It is seldom in the child’s best interests to adopt a “wait and see” approach.

The following developmental milestones provide some important guidelines for monitoring a child’s speech and language development.

Being Behind in these Milestones Suggests a Language Delay

Does your 6 month old do the following?

  • Turns to source of sounds
  • Startles in response to sudden, loud noises
  • Makes different cries for different needs – (e.g. one cry for hunger, another for when tired)
  • Watches your face as you talk
  • Smiles and laughs in response to your smiles and laughs
  • Imitates sounds you make, like a cough or a sound – e .g. “Oooh”

6 months language delay

Does your 9 month old do the following?

  • Responds to own name
  • Responds to phone ringing or knock at the door
  • Understands when you say “No”
  • Sends clear messages using gestures – e.g. reaches arms up to be picked up
  • Makes sounds back and forth with you
  • Plays social games with you – e.g. Peekaboo (and lets you know that he wants to play again if you stop), and games like giving objects back and forth
  • Enjoys being around people
  • Babbles and repeats sounds like “babababa” or “duhduhduhduh”

Does your 12 month old do the following?

  • Follows simple one-step directions – e.g. sit down
  • Looks across the room when you point to something and say, “Look”
  • Consistently uses 3-5 words
  • Uses gestures frequently, such as pointing to show you things, waving for “bye bye” and shaking head for “no”
  • Gets your attention by using a combination of sounds, pointing and gestures, while looking directly at you
  • Brings toys and objects to you to show you
  • Performs just to get your attention and praise
  • Combines lots of sounds – e.g. ababa baduh abee
  • Shows interest in simple picture books

Does your 18 month old do the following?

  • Understands concepts of “in” and “out” and “off” and “on”
  • Points to many body parts, familiar people and objects, when asked
  • Uses at least 20 words consistently
  • Understands and responds appropriately with words or gestures to simple questions – e.g. “Where’s teddy”, “What’s that?”
  • Pretends with toys – e.g. pretends to talk on a toy phone, gives teddy a drink, drives toy car
  • Makes at least four different consonant sounds – p,b,m,n,d,g,w,h
  • Enjoys being read to
  • Points to pictures using one finger

24 months language delay

Does your 2 year old do the following?

  • Follows 2-step directions – e.g. go find your teddy and show it to Grandma
  • Uses 100 – 150 words
  • Uses at least two pronouns – e.g. “you”, “me”, “mine”
  • Consistently combines 2-4 words in short phrases – “daddy hat”, truck go down”
  • Enjoys being with other children
  • Begins to offer toys to other children and imitates their actions and words
  • Can be understood by strangers at least half the time
  • Forms words and sounds easily and effortlessly
  • Holds books the right way up and turns pages
  • Pretends to read to stuffed animals or toys
  • Scribbles with crayons

Does your 30 month old do the following?

  • Understands the concepts of size (big/little) and quantity (a little, a lot, more)
  • Uses some adult grammar – two cookies, bird flying, I jumped
  • Uses more than 350 words
  • Uses action words – run, spill, fall
  • Begins taking short turns with other children, either by using toys and/or by having little conversations
  • Shows concern when another child is hurt or sad
  • Combines several actions in pretend play – feeds doll, washes her hands, dresses her in pajamas, then puts her to bed
  • Puts a consonant sound at the beginning of most words that start with a consonant – eg. “cup” is not reduced to “up”
  • Says words with two or more syllables – e.g. banana, computer, apple
  • Recognizes familiar signs and logos – McDonalds, stop sign
  • Remembers and understands familiar stories

Adapted from the Early Learning and Child Development Branch, Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2007. 

Steps you can Take if you Suspect a Language Delay

Step One: Find out if your Child is Having Hearing Difficulties

  • Ask your doctor to look in your child’s ear to check for middle ear difficulties.
  • Ask for a referral for a full hearing test from an audiologist.

Step Two: Treat Infections and Allergies Promptly

  • Ask for a referral to an ear-nose-throat specialist.
  • Ask for a referral to a pediatric allergist.

Step Three: Find out if your Child needs Intervention

  • Request a referral to a pediatrician.
  • Contact your local Infant Development Program and ask about their referral process.
  • Contact your local health unit and ask for a speech and language screening.


About the Author Neuroplan

Online speech language therapy and literacy apps. We offer treatment programs for people who struggle with Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities, ADD/ADHD, Autism, Auditory Processing, Acquired Brain Injury, Stuttering and English Literacy.

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