Language delay is when a child is behind in their language development. They may have difficulty learning new words (building vocabulary), putting words together to make sentences, or understanding words or sentences.
This is different from speech delay. For example, a child with a speech delay may have an age appropriate vocabulary but be difficult to understand, whereas a child with a language delay might say a few words clearly but at their age should be speaking in sentences. It is possible to have one without the other or both together.
Language delays that persist are considered language disorders and may be due to a hearing impairment or developmental disorders such as Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Some children develop language skills faster than others. However, you can use the following age markers as a guide for language delay. If your child is showing any of the following signs, seek professional advice.
By 12 months
Your child is not trying to communicate with you using sounds, gestures or words, particularly when needing help or wanting something.
By 2 years
isn’t saying about 50 different words
isn’t combining 2 or more words together eg. ‘more drink’, ‘daddy gone’
isn’t producing words spontaneously – your child only copies words from others
doesn’t understand simple instructions or questions eg. ‘pick up the book’, ‘where’s Daddy?’
1 in 5 children aged 2 show signs of language delay but many catch-up as they get older.
By 3 years
isn’t combining words into longer phrases or sentences eg. ‘Help me Mummy’, ‘Want more drink’
doesn’t understand longer instructions or questions eg. ‘pick up the book and put it on the shelf’, ‘What do you want to eat for lunch today?’
takes little or no interest in books
isn’t asking questions eg, ‘why?’
At any age
has been diagnosed with a hearing loss, developmental delay or syndrome where language may be affected
stops doing things they used to do eg. stops talking
Tips to encourage language development
don’t pre-empt – let your child indicate what they want by pointing or using words
point and use gestures to indicate meaning eg. wave while saying ‘bye-bye’
point to and name objects
speak clearly with eye contact, repeat single words
talk about what you are doing eg. ‘mummy’s changing your nappy’
talk about what your child is doing eg. ‘baby’s eating carrots’
NOTE: This is a guide only. If you think your child has a language delay it is best to see your doctor sooner rather than later. The earlier your child is assessed, the earlier they can receive the help that they need. This may include have a hearing test, seeing a speech pathologist, and possibly a paediatrician, particularly if your doctor suspects that your child has a developmental disorder as well as a language delay.
Related Children's Book
ANY children's book that you read with your child will help develop language skills. I love books that rhyme as it gives children the chance to fill in the end of the rhyme.
Fairy Tales illustrated by Stuart Lynch
Fairy tales are classics for a reason. This book has a collection of 9 classic fairy tales retold in funny, rhyming text - Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, The Ugly Duckling, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Princess and the Pea, and Puss in Boots.
Available at Angus & Robertson