What Is Typical Language Development in Toddlers?

Does this sound familiar? Every week when you take your two year old son to music class, you notice that the other children are talking much more.  Not only do they seem to have more words in their arsenal, but they are also putting words together to make short phrases like, “Mommy look!” or “More push.”  Your son, on the other hand, uses about five words and many hand gestures to communicate.  You find yourself feeling more and more anxious that something is wrong. Many parents of toddlers are confused about what constitutes normal language development.

Here are some general guidelines to find out whether your child falls within normal limits or if this would be a good time to get professional input.

Typically your 18 to 24 months old should be able to:

  • Name common objects: BallDoggy, ‘BaBa
  • Use simple pronouns: me, it, I
  • Use two or three prepositions: on, in, under
  • Say social words: bye bye, hi
  • Use two-word phrases consistently: “No night night!”, “More cracker!”, “Want juice!”
  • Has a vocabulary of 100+ words
  • Asks questions:“What’s that?”, “Where’s duckie?”

In addition, a familiar listener (caregiver, sibling) should be able to understand 50% – 75% of the child’s speech.

If your child’s ability to communicate is very different than the capacity listed, it may be helpful to have an evaluation by a speech language pathologist.

There are various ways to seek assistance. You might decide to get help from your state or city early intervention program. Here is the link to New York State’s site. If your child qualifies, based on the extent of the delay, services are often provided free of charge. The second suggestion would be to contact a speech and language graduate program at the closest university to your home. Another option would be to ask for a recommendation for a private practitioner from your pediatrician or toddler/preschool program.

Whichever option you choose, the evaluation itself should involve very similar procedures. The therapist will rely upon both caregiver report and professional observation.  Activities might include both pretend and structured play, reading books and completion of standardized testing.  Examination of your child’s mouth, including his tongue, lips and teeth help to inform the therapist of any structural issues that might be inhibiting your child’s speech development.  Regardless of the setting, the evaluation should be fun and engaging for your child.

At the end of the session, the speech therapist may discuss overall impressions with you, but be prepared to wait a week or more for a formal written report which should include goals and therapy recommendations.

Remember, you are the ultimate authority on your child. If you disagree with the evaluation of your child it is important to feel comfortable seeking a second opinion.