Most toddlers say their first word around 12 months and can create two-word sentences between 1 and 2 years of age, according to the University of Michigan Health System. However, some toddlers are slower to begin talking. In fact, delays in speech and language development are the most common developmental problem, occurring in 5 percent to 10 percent of preschool children. Speech and language delays are sometimes associated with disorders, but don't panic. In many cases, kids are just late bloomers.
Speech and language development is a complex process that starts long before a toddler's first words. Remember the first time your baby cooed in response to you? Cooing, babbling and even crying in different ways are examples of early communication. Most children begin to babble with expression by 6 to 11 months and say their first word around 12 months. By 18 months, toddlers typically know five to 20 words; they usually learn words such as "no" and "more" between 1 and 2 years of age. Toddlers usually know about 450 words at 2 to 3 years, and 1,000 words between 3 and 4 years.
Causes for Speech and Language Delay
Delays in speech and language can result from a specific cause such as hearing loss or might be part of a larger disorder such as autism or intellectual disability. Speech and language delays can also be caused by language-based learning disabilities or prematurity. In addition, some kids have trouble speaking because of structural problems in their mouth, such as cleft lip or cleft palate. Finally, children who talk in some situations but refuse to talk in others -- such as a kid who talks at home but remains completely silent at school -- might have a disorder called selective mutism.
Diagnosing Speech and Language Delays
No matter how much you research online or confer with your friends, only a doctor can determine whether your child has a disorder or is simply a late bloomer. Early intervention in speech and language disorders makes a big difference, so don't hesitate to talk to your doctor about your concerns. And if your doctor thinks your child is just a late bloomer but you still feel as though something's not right, trust your instincts and see a speech-language pathologist for a second opinion.
Encouraging Speech Development
It's not your fault if your child has delayed speech or language development, but you can take steps to encourage your child's development. Spend lots of time communicating with your child, even if you don't understand his answers or he doesn't seem to communicate back. Talk to babies and toddlers in simple terms, but resist the urge to slip into baby talk. Sure, baby talk is cute, but kids learn better by hearing proper language. Finally, read to children every day, starting as early as 6 months. Try books with texture, nursery rhymes, books with a predictable structure or your old favorites.