How Do I Know if My Child Has an Early Language Delay?

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The development of communication skills begins in babies through listening to the sounds, chatting and conversation around them. Babies have been shown to respond to their parents’ voices while in utero! Once out of the womb they are a ‘sponge’ and their brain is primed for learning language and sounds they hear. That is why reading to your baby even before they are talking and simply just talking to them about everyday ‘goings-on’, is such a great thing to do. ‘Reading Magic’ by Mem Fox affirms this. It’s never too early to talk to your baby, helping the language centres in your baby’s brain to develop.

The process of a child developing language, learning to use words and grammar, follows developmental guidelines. While there is variation between children and gender, when language is developing, it is good to know that your child is basically ‘on track’. If there are delays, it is best to rectify them early to ensure their language skills are up to expected competency by the time they reach school start age.

Roughly speaking, by age 1, infants should be using single words, by age 2 starting to combine 2 words together e.g. ‘daddy car’. The rule breaks down after age 2 as words and word combinations in sentences accelerate after this age and they are usually using well beyond 3-word sentences at age 3. By the time they are 5, they should be using fully formed sentences with correct grammar, apart from making some errors on some of the ‘irregular’ grammar rules.

Any speech or language problem at the start of school is likely to have a significant effect on the child’s social and academic skills and behaviour. The earlier a child’s speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is that problems will persist or affect learning. Early speech and language intervention can help children be more successful in reading, writing, schoolwork, and interpersonal relationships.

For more details on developmental language norms, please go to:

What Can I Do to Help My Child?

If you have identified that your child has a language delay, try some simple strategies to stimulate your child’s language and encourage him or her to say more words, rather than using gesture, during everyday activities and during play.

The easiest strategy is to show real excitement whenever your child communicates with words, any attempts. You may then use a modelling strategy such that, whenever your child says something, repeat it back to them adding an extra word or two so that they are constantly hearing correct models for talking.

Using exaggerated intonation can also help to draw your child’s attention to words. Avoid asking your child questions and teaching them, just have fun, exaggerate and be silly with words. Kids love it. This can help your child enjoy words and it helps them to start repeating what you say and using more words independently. Encourage your child to look at your face while you are talking. There are many other strategies that can be used to help kick start your child’s language.

When Should I Seek Help?

As early as possible, don’t wait!

At Well Spoken we use the much loved ‘Grandma’s Rules’ protocol for kick-starting ‘littlies’ language with a range of activities that can be easily followed at home. Where there are more specific developmental delays, language or learning difficulties, or a diagnosed disability like dyslexia, that requires a literacy or numeracy approach, Well Spoken collaborates closely with other Speech Pathologists in the region and will refer you to a suitable practitioner, who specialises in that area of disability.

Sharon Moore

Author, speaker, sleep health advocate and speech pathologist

I'm Sharon Moore, author, speaker, sleep health advocate and speech pathologist at Well Spoken Upper Airway & Communication Solutions. I've seen more than 40,000 families over 4 decades of clinical work and I’ve seen first-hand how upper airway issues impact both health and happiness. The ripple effects span across family, school, community and society, and left untreated can last a life-time. I believe that great treatment transforms lives, the earlier the better and that everyone has a right to be happy, healthy and heard. I've worked in medical settings in Australia and London and currently run Well Spoken clinic in Canberra treating patients of all ages referred by medical and dental specialists for disorders of function of the upper airway that impact breathing, eating and communication.

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