Having children and watching them develop new skills is as rewarding as anything else we do as parents. We cherish our children's achievement of milestones from their first tooth to their first step, but hearing a child speak his first word is like music to our ears!

What should we do if those first words don't come or if our child's speech is difficult to understand? Do we take the "wait and see" approach, or do we seek answers to our questions? Many of us turn to the Internet to try to find information about our concerns and answers to our questions. However, that can be an overwhelming experience for concerned parents. While the Internet may provide some answers, it often creates more confusion and more questions because of the over-abundance of information available.

I would like to speak directly to parents who are concerned about their child's development of communication skills and provide you with some information regarding communication milestones, red flags, and strategies to enhance your child's speech and language development.

It is important for parents to be aware of general time frames for communication milestones. Remember that skills are developed in age ranges and that all children develop skills at different rates. If your child is missing one or two skills in an age range, it does not necessarily imply that a delay is present. Consulting with a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist (sometimes called a speech therapist) is the best way to determine if there is reason to be concerned.

Speech and Language Developmental Milestones

Birth to 6 Months

  • Makes cooing sounds
  • Makes eye contact with adult
  • Smiles and laughs
  • Expresses pleasure and displeasure by vocalizing
  • Makes sounds when talked to

6 to 12 Months

  • Waves bye-bye
  • Says 1-2 words by first birthday
  • Babbles many different sounds
  • Participates in speech games such as "pat-a-cake" and "peek-a-boo"
  • Responds to own name
  • Says "mama" or "dada"
  • Shouts or vocalizes to gain attention
  • Understands the names of familiar objects

12-18 Months

  • Says 5-15 words
  • Imitates new words  
  • Indicates wants and needs primarily by pointing or grunting, but words are emerging
  • May leave off the final sounds of words (says "ca" for "cat")
  • Imitates several animal sounds
  • Follows simple one-step commands
  • Can point to 3-4 body parts on self
  • Understands at least 50 words

18-24 Months

  • Says 50 words by 24 months of age
  • Understands at least 300 words
  • Speech is about 60% intelligible by 24 months of age
  • Speech is more intelligible to parents than to less familiar listeners
  • Imitates animal sounds, car sounds, and other noises during playtime
  • Starting to put the sounds on the ends of words (now says "cat" instead of "ca")
  • Imitates two- and three-word phrases
  • Points to 5 body parts

2-2½ Years

  • Says 200 words by 30 months of age
  • Understands about 500 words
  • Speech is 70% intelligible
  • Starting to combine 2 words together frequently
  • Names pictures in books
  • Understands and uses action words

2½-3 Years

  • Says 500 words by 36 months of age
  • Understands about 900 words
  • Speech is 80% intelligible
  • Asks and answers simple "wh" questions (e.g., where, why, when)
  • Talks in two- to three-word phrases consistently
  • Can count to 3
  • Says first name 

3-4 Years