Understanding Speech Delays and the Role of New Vista First Steps

Speech Therapist with toddler

Some parents may notice their toddler is not understanding or talking like other toddlers their age and wonder if something is wrong.  Sometimes a speech/language delay can be a red flag for a developmental disorder, but frequently with some speech and language intervention, your child can “catch up” to their peers and begin meeting age-appropriate milestones.

We have all heard the old saying, “Parents are the child’s best teachers” and it is absolutely true! Children learn from observing and interacting with their parents and others around them. Many everyday activities and routines offer great opportunities for caregivers to help enhance their child’s communication skills.

It is never too early to start working on language development. Infants from birth – 3 months will startle at loud sounds. They will quiet or smile when you talk to them. They will start to play with sounds/babble very early by around 3 months and will make cooing sounds. You will also notice around this time you may be able to tell what different cries mean (hungry, wet, or dirty, pain, tired). At around 4-6 months, your child will begin to move their eyes in the direction of sounds. They may pay attention to music and will notice toys that make sounds. They will coo and babble when playing alone or with you. They will make speech-like babbling sounds like “pa” “ba” and “mi”.  From 7 months to about a year, your child will begin to turn and look in the direction of sounds. They will turn when you call their name. They will begin to understand words for common items and people. They begin to babble long strings like “mimimi” “bababa”. Later it will change to various sounds strung together like “mabadida”. Parents who copy the sounds their child makes, and respond with happy smiles when their baby babbles, are encouraging language development. Who knew enjoying and playing with your baby, actually helps them learn?

Around your child’s first birthday you may notice those sounds your baby has been making are starting to sound more like words. You child will try to imitate words you say and will babble with inflection like they are talking. They are also starting to say, “ma ma” and “da da” and simple sayings like “uh oh” and “hi”. Your one year old is also able to follow some simple directions and is understanding more of what you are saying. They will play games with you like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake. They will listen to songs and stories for a short time. Your child will begin to use gestures like waving bye, reaching for “up” and shaking their head no. They will begin to use sounds to get and keep your attention. Parents can enhance the language skills of their one year old by talking about everything you are doing using simple language models such as “Change your diaper.” When reading books with your one year old, label the pictures in the books with words. Pause and allow your child a chance to imitate you. Singing simple songs and finger plays also encourage language development.

Your child will continue to add to their vocabulary and increase their understanding of language. By the time your child turns 2 they are now using up to 50 words! You will notice they are starting to put two words together to make small sentences like “more juice,” “help please,” “go bye-bye.” They are also able to follow more complex 2 step directions like “Go get your shoes and bring them to me.” They can also point to objects or pictures when named and name body parts. Parents should encourage their children to use words instead of pointing. Try not to anticipate all of their needs so they have an opportunity to use their communication skills. Encourage your toddler to use simple phrases and sentences instead of producing just one word. When your toddler says “milk,” respond back with a short sentence, “I want milk.” 

If you are unsure if your infant or toddler may have a developmental delay, you can contact our New Vista First Steps Program in Lexington or Elizabethtown for a free developmental screening.

New Vista First Steps includes child evaluation specialists, who conduct initial evaluations, and service coordinators, who help families navigate the program. Our staff coordinate services with professionals who can help coach parents and caregivers to enhance their child’s development. These professionals include speech, physical, and occupational therapists; developmental interventionists; deaf and hard-of-hearing as well as visually impaired teachers, psychologists, and audiologists.

If you are concerned a child under the age of three is not meeting developmental milestones, you call New Vista First Steps at 1.800.454.2764. New Vista First Steps is located at 343 Waller Avenue, Suite 201 in Lexington and at 2936 Dolphin Drive, Suite 204 in Elizabethtown. Click here to visit our First Steps page.