Toddler Speech Delay


Every parent wishes to hear sounds and words from their child, especially calling them mama and dada. But some children may take time to reach this developmental milestone. Let us have a look on what toddler speech delay is, its causes and how it can be corrected.

Last Updated: 23 October 2020

Toddler Speech Delay
Toddler Speech Delay
What is toddler speech delay?

Speech and language are an integral part of communication and are pivotal to track a child’s development. Speech is the ability to express thoughts and feelings by using simple words and creating sounds. A toddler with a speech delay can use words and phrases to express ideas but might find it difficult to understand.

Children reach their developmental milestones at their own timeline and hence comparison will not help. However it is important to remember that speech delay can sometimes be a sign of any developmental disorders.

Signs of speech delay                     

The table below describes the speech developmental milestones in different age groups.

Age group

General developmental milestones

Before 12 months

Coos in response to you, smiles, babbles, looks at new sounds, responds to name, gathers attention, imitates familiar names, shouts, says at least one word

12-18 months

Understands simple instruction, calls mama and dada, could imitate familiar sounds, waves bye bye, identify body parts, tries to copy words from you, use gestures and sounds to communicate

18-24 months

Most toddlers will be able to use 10-20 words by 18 months. By 24 months, a toddler can use few words and make simple sentences and will be able to identify common objects. Also he can identify pictures from books and surroundings.

24-36 months

Understands well, able to say more than 50 words, will be able to use phrases and frames sentences, can identify colours and shapes, will start expressing what they feel


Some of the signs of toddler speech delay include

·         Does not cuddle

·         Not smiling in response

·         Fail to hear noises

·         Trouble in imitating sounds

·         Prefers to be alone

·         Unable to follow instructions

·         Lack of interest in playing with toys, plays with unusual objects instead

·         Using minimal words or phrases for their age group.

Causes of Toddler speech delay Physical problems

Oral motor problems: Speech impairment can sometimes be due to cleft lip palate, which is a birth defect. In modern days this can be rectified by plastic surgeries. Other causes can be having an unusually short frenulum, which is a fold that holds the tongue to the lower mouth.

Hearing loss: Babies who watch you with full attention and unable to react to sounds may have signs of hearing loss. Some babies may also have chronic ear infections which can cause a speech delay.

Certain neurological problems like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and traumatic brain injury can affect the muscles needed for speaking.

Childhood apraxia: This is a disorder in which a child faces difficulty in forming sounds in the correct sequence to form words.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can also affect communication, in which a child keeps repeating the phrases and tries to avoid social connect.

Speech delays can sometimes be due to premature birth.

Other causes of speech delay can be lack of involvement from parents in communicating with the child and allowing the child to use mobile phones for a longer duration.

Diagnosis of speech delay

Each child tends to grow and pick up skills at their own rate and timeline. But it’s important to differentiate whether it is speech delay or there is any underlying disorder. Boys generally develop speech and language skills a little later than girls.

Consult a pediatrician if you notice speech delays. Early diagnosis can help a lot. A pediatrician will evaluate your child’s development and checks whether there are any problems in hearing and also assess the child’s mouth, palate, and tongue.

If required a pediatrician can refer your child to an audiologist, speech therapist or a neurologist, depending upon the issue. The speech language pathologist evaluates verbal and nonverbal communication of your child and treats her accordingly.

Treatment of speech delay

If there is a speech delay, a speech language therapist can help in making your child acquire normal speech. They will also instruct how parents can help.

Hearing loss and other developmental delays have to be rectified by the specialist team involving a neurologist and audiologist.

What parents can do to improve language and speech?

Parents can help a lot in correcting the speech delays.

·         Spend time with your children. Respond to their gestures and smile

·         Teach them colors and help them to identify body parts.

·         Sing simple songs so that a child can repeat it easily

·         Ask simple questions and wait for their responses

·         Allow them to interact with other children.

·         Move step by step. Teach words, then phrases

·         Don’t force them to speak

·         Narrate stories, read books and encourage story telling.

·         Don’t point out grammar errors

·         Allow them to share their feelings

·         Use mobile phones only when necessary. According to pediatricians, handheld screens can cause a delay in speech.



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