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Toddler Health: Speech

It may look silly when adults make funny faces or sounds to make a baby laugh, but it helps babies learn! Participating in exaggerated play can help babies develop their own speech skills as they mimic the people around them. Regularly reading to your child, talking to them, and practicing animal sounds are great ways to promote language skills at home, and can make a huge difference in a child’s development. Children benefit from being regularly exposed to speech, noises and interactions, including overhearing the adults around them converse normally.

At Cone Health, we use milestones to measure average development to give parents an idea of what to look for in their child:
• By 18 months, children should be able to say between 10 to 20 different words and know the names of about five things. Only approximately 25 percent of their speech is intelligible, but they can use words to express wants (more, up, etc.) and can gesture to objects around them. Around this age they will start to combine words into phrases like “all gone,” and they can follow simple commands.
• By two years, toddlers start asking “why?” and can use two to three words together to talk about or ask for things. On average, they know a word for almost everything and can talk about things that aren’t in the same room as them. At this point, they’re about 50 percent intelligible although the people that know them can generally understand them. They should understand opposites (go/stop, up/down) and can follow two-part directions (get the ball and bring it to me).
• By three years, their vocabulary will have grown to nearly 1,000 words and they should be able to tell simple stories. They may ask “what” questions frequently and will practice new words by talking to themselves. Children should know their name, gender, street name and can recite nursery rhymes. They’ll start to understand instructions with prepositions (put the ball under the table) and can match primary colors. At this age, they’re about 80 percent intelligible and can consistently produce “m, n, p, f, h, b, w” sounds.

All children develop at a slightly different pace and a slower pace doesn’t necessarily mean there is an underlying problem.

If your child isn’t vocalizing very much or at all by 18 months old or continue to cry to get things instead of gesturing for what they want, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician. Share your concerns with them so they can put you at ease or guide you to a speech and language specialist. At Cone Health’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Center, our specialists work with children and their parents to teach them how to overcome developmental delays.

Physician Background:
John Preston, M.A., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist with Cone Health Pediatric Rehabilitation Center at Greensboro. He received his Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the College of Wooster and his Master of Arts in speech-language pathology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.