Speech & Language Developmental Norms


Are My Child’s Speech-Language Skills on Track?

Do you wonder if your child’s speech stages are on-par with peers?

Parents know their children better than anyone and are often first to recognize speech and language delays. As your child begins speaking, you may notice some struggles, some of which persist well-past typical developmental milestones. As a busy parent with a full plate of responsibilities, identifying problematic speech and language delays can feel like trying to predict whether the storm clouds will pass.

Rather than staring up at the sky and hoping for the best, trust your instincts when you suspect that your child is struggling to speak or comprehend. A pediatrician or family practice doctor will be able to determine when a child is falling behind in the child skill development timeline, but it falls to the parents to sound the alarm when they suspect that there is a problem.

What is Considered “Normal” Progress For Your Child?

When it comes to child development, parents and professionals alike know that there really is no such thing as normal. In fact, some children may develop speech and motor skills months after their peers and still be perfectly healthy. However, general developmental guidelines and milestones do help signal parents to pay attention and to seek a second opinion when foundational skills seem to be lagging behind schedule. You may notice your child exhibit a lack of response to sound, difficulty sucking, failure to use gestures or failure to vocalize, problems vocalizing specific sounds, or general shyness and frustration when it comes to speech.

If you suspect your child may be exhibiting signs of speech or language delays, take a look at some of the milestones in the child’s speech skills chart below. Should your child not demonstrate two or more specific skills per age range, or if you have other concerns about their communication, consult with your pediatrician or a local speech therapist as soon as possible. A simple speech-language evaluation is often enough to determine a diagnosis and when it comes to communication challenges, the best gift you can give your child is early intervention.

Childhood Speech Skills Chart [1]

The following child speech stages are general guidelines provided by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and should not be used as a definitive tool for diagnosis.

Birth to 3 Months:

  • Recognizes your voice and quiets if crying
  • Quiets or smiles when spoken to
  • Becomes startled to loud noises
  • Smiles when caregiver is seen
  • Uses different cries for different needs
  • Changes rate of sucking behavior in response to sound
  • Makes sounds of pleasure, such as cooing

4 to 6 Months:

  • Attends to music
  • Shifts eyes in the direction of sounds
  • Recognizes toys that make sounds
  • Responds to changes in tone of voice
  • Vocalizes when pleased and displeased
  • Laughs
  • Makes gurgling sounds when left alone and when in contact with others
  • Babbles with sounds such as p, b, m

7 to 12 Months:

  • Turns and looks in the direction of sound
  • Listen when spoken to
  • Enjoys games such as peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake
  • Recognizes words for common items, such as “cup”, “shoe”, “juice”
  • Starts to respond to requests, such as, “Come here”, “Want more?”
  • Babbling long and short groups of sounds, like, “tata upup bibibibi”

12 Months:

  • Responds to their name
  • Understands simple directions with gestures
  • Uses a variety of sounds
  • Plays social games like peek-a-boo
  • Says first word around this age

15 Months:

  • Uses a variety of sounds and gestures to communicate
  • Uses some simple words to communicate
  • Plays with different toys
  • Understands simple directions, such as, “Get the ball”

18 Months:

  • Understands several body parts
  • Attempts to imitate words you say
  • Uses at least 10-20 words
  • Uses pretend play, such as pretending to feed a baby doll

24 Months:

  • Uses at least 50 words
  • Recognizes pictures in books and listens to simple stories
  • Uses many different sounds at the beginning of words
  • Begins to make two word combinations, such as “Ball go” and “More milk”

2 to 3 Years:

  • Speech is understood by familiar listeners (mom, dad, teacher) most of the time
  • Understands differences in meaning (go v. stop, in v. on, big v. little, up v. down)
  • Combines 3 or more words into sentences, such as “Doggy go eat”, “I want juice please”, “Where is daddy?”
  • Understands simple questions
  • Recognizes at least 2 colors
  • Understands descriptive concepts (big v. little, happy v. sad)

3 to 4 Years:

  • Uses sentences with 4 or more words
  • Talks about activities at school or at friends’ homes
  • People who are not a part of the family (unfamiliar listeners) generally understand the child’s speech
  • Identifies colors
  • Compares objects
  • Answers questions logically
  • Explains how objects are used

4 to 5 Years:

  • Answers simple questions about a story, such as, “What is the boy doing?”
  • Voice sounds clear
  • Tells stories that stay on topic
  • Communicates with other children and adults
  • Says most sounds correctly
  • Can define some words
  • Uses prepositions (i.e. in, on, under, over, behind)
  • Understands more complex directions

[1]How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Web. 14 Mar. 2015.

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