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4 Common Signs Of Speech Delay In Toddlers

Do you suspect that your child has a speech delay? Here are the top signs that you need to look out for if your child has a speech and language delay.

You might hear some jibberish, jargon, babbling throughout the day or even when your toddler attempts to communicate with you. But then days go by and your child seems to be stuck in the babbling phase. You start to suspect that your toddler may have a speech delay especially if you start seeing other kids around his/her age saying one or more words to communicate.

This post will point out the top signs of a speech delay in a toddler.

4 Signs Of A Speech And Language Delay

1. Produces limited number of sounds and words

Between 7 months and 12 months, children should begin babbling and producing 1-2 words around their first birthday (e.g. mama, do, hi). When a parent tells me that their child is not speaking or using real words in their conversation, I typically ask whether or not they can link up a variety of sounds or use jargon language. Jargon language, which are long strings of different syllable combinations, usually emerge around 12-18 months. This includes baby-like language that may contain real words and adult-like speech patterns. It’s unintelligible to you but you know your child is trying to communicate with you in their own language. By the age of 2, children should have at least 100 words in their vocabulary repertoire. When parents indicate that their child may have 30 words or less and/or does not combine 2 words together, it tells me that there may be a delay in their speech and language skills and could benefit in speech therapy intervention.

2. Difficulties following simple instructions

“Johnny, give me the bear.” “Throw the ball.” “Go to the room and bring back a diaper.” These are examples of simple instructions that your toddler should understand and follow without any difficulties, especially if they are exposed to these instructions on a daily basis. I have parents say to me, “He understands them but doesn’t want to do it.” That could be the case SOMETIMES. However, if your toddler is not following simple directions as well as not producing age appropriate sounds, or does not have an age appropriate vocabulary inventory, then I would suggest that you talk to your toddler’s pediatrician about having him/her evaluated and referred to a speech language pathologist. Remember, a child needs to understand the structure of language before verbally communicating.

3. Speech is unclear to not only strangers, but also to family members

A lot of parents and/or caregivers start to realize that their child’s speech is not understandable when unfamiliar listeners, such as a long distant grandparent or neighbors, have difficulties understanding their child. According to Bowen, C. (2011). Table1: Intelligibility, a child over 2 years of age should be understandable by an unfamiliar listener 50% of the time. Meaning, if I were, an unfamiliar listener, to hear your child speak, I should be able to understand him or her 50% of the time. And by the age of 3, it increases to 75%. And usually when the child sees that people are having trouble understanding him or her, their behavior can lead to cries, frustration and other behavioral issues.

4. Difficulty imitating sounds

This to me is a BIG one! Imitation is important because it is one of the primary ways your toddler begins their language development. Children start to learn how words connect to actions and verbs through imitation. During an assessment, I like to ask parents or caregivers if their child picks up on sounds or words around them; whether it’d be real words, close to real words (e.g. “wa” for “water) or environmental sounds (e.g. animal sounds). If the caregiver indicates that they have tried and there wasn’t any success, that’s usually a sign of a possible speech and language delay.


If you would like to know more about your child’s language development, check out this article that summarizes what your child should be doing depending on their age. A visual chart is also available to you to print or save.

If you believe that your toddler shows any of these speech delay signs and is not progressing, I highly recommend communicating your concerns with the pediatrician so that they can refer your child to your local Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP). Or you can search for an SLP near you through

If your child is under the age of 3, they may qualify for Early Intervention in your county. They can provide you with the resources you need for your family.

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